Hoi An isn’t just one of the highlights of Vietnam, it’s a highlight of Asia. This beautiful old town brings a complete change of pace to the usual bustle of built up areas in Vietnam, with quiet streets you can walk down easily, tranquil waterways and the coast within a short distance.
We would put Hoi An up there with Luang Prabang, Pai and Kampot as the hardest places to leave in Asia. It’s picturesque and very chilled, it leaves you with that feeling that no amount of time seems enough.
The best things to do in Hoi An
There’s so much going on that working out what to do in Hoi An can be confusing! You can easily spend a week in Hoi An, but you should be able to squeeze in our best things to do in three days.
Wander the Old Town
All trips to Hoi An should start with wandering the Old Town. This is the superstar of Hoi An and the reason it became so popular.
Somehow, Hoi An has managed to deter progress and maintain all the traditional buildings in the centre. Every street is how it was 100 years ago with terracotta roofs, yellow painted walls and a lantern hanging from the entry. There are no neon signs, no modern architecture, just traditional brick, wood and terracotta everywhere.
The best part is that it’s pedestrianised, making it the only place in Vietnam where you won’t have to fear that you’re about to be run off the road. Having said that a few motorbikes do flout the rules, but compared to the rest of Vietnam you hardly notice it.
Add to that numerous amazing coffee shops and restaurants and you have the perfect combination. We could have spent a week alone wandering the streets, sipping coffee and watching the world go by.
Whilst some people may complain that Hoi An is “chintzy, very touristy. It doesn’t feel like the real Vietnam” (genuine quote), we disagree. Whilst we could see what they meant - almost all the shops are aimed at tourists - the traditional buildings of the area still have an authentic feel.
If the main streets all feel a bit much then slip off down one of the many side streets where there are no tourists and no one selling anything. We fell in love and hope you do too!
Float a lantern on the water
Night time is when Hoi An really comes alive as the lanterns strung up across the streets, outside the restaurants and on the river make it feel magical. The focal point is the river, which is full of little rowing boats and lanterns floating in the water. You can hire a boat for 20 minutes and release a lantern of your own (after making a wish of course).
Drifting on the river in the candlelight is pretty special and is one of the few times where we’d say having lots of other people doing the same thing made it better. Along the river you’ll see hundreds of colourful lanterns bobbing along, it’s a beautiful scene.
If you want to be in the thick of things make sure you hire a boat from the side of the bridge that you see the majority of the lanterns. If you rent from the quieter side of the bridge it is cheaper but they don’t have the license to cross under the bridge to where all the lanterns are.
We were a bit worried about what happens to all the lanterns in the river but we were told that the lanterns are collected and re-used, not left to collect in the water.
Browse the night market
After going up and down the river, you should head to the Night Market. This small area has a real buzz and it’s hard not to be blown away by the lantern shops at the entrance.
There’s plenty more to see including street food, shops and even massages (we saw some places offering them half price which though still pricier than the rest of Vietnam, was better value than anything in the old town).
It can get pretty busy though, so you’ll need to go with a bit of patience, but it’s a good chance to get your own beautiful lantern to take home.
Get tailor made clothes
After the Old Town and the lanterns, Hoi An is most famous for it’s tailored clothing. It’s known as one of the best places in the world to get tailor made clothes, and generally for a good price. Pretty much anything you want is available including; suits, shirts, dresses, skirts, jump suits and even shoes to your measurements and in any style.
Some tailors can turn it around in 24 hours, but only if you don’t require any adjustments or changes to the style. We’d recommend having at least two days to get something made as we needed three adjustments made to ours.
At times it can feel like every other shop is a tailor and we’ve known people go all the way to Hoi An just to stock on tailored clothing! We’d recommend doing your research and knowing exactly what you want before going in. Otherwise you run the risk of being disappointed.
The most famous tailors are Be Be and Kimmy. They also come with the highest prices. We used Be Be and they were very professional and had a huge amount of fabric to choose from. Another tailor recommended by a friend and for half the price of Be Be is Rosa Tailor. We visited Rosa first and it was great but just didn’t have the fabric we were after.
Catch a Sunset at the Deck
The rooftop bar on the top floor of the Hotel Royal Hoi An is our favourite sunset spot in the whole of Hoi An.
The river view is amazing, the seats are comfy and you can get a great happy hour two for one deal between 5.30 and 6.30pm.
We watched the sunset from a few different spots but none beat this one.
While away the afternoon cafe hopping
Hoi An is the perfect place to sit back and relax, something we were more than ready for after a hectic three weeks in Vietnam. Pretty much every other shop is a coffee shop and we didn’t have a single bad experience. We’d recommend trying the iced coffee (our fave), coconut coffee (if you don’t have a sweet tooth this won’t be for you) and egg coffee (it’s not eggy, trust us!).
We found ourselves more often than not in one of the many Hoi An Roasteries. The coffee was great and the seats were comfy. Grab the ones in the window to people watch - although this will leave you in the path of some over enthusiastic street sellers.
Read next: How to avoid the scams in Hanoi
Get a taste for the best Bahn Mi at Miss Khanh’s (the Banh Mi Queen)
We don’t usually write about food but this place did the best Banh Mi we tried in Vietnam (and we tried a lot!) In fact the one time we deviated from the self professed Bahn Mi Queen and went to Phuong (Anthony Bourdain’s favourite no less) we were severely disappointed.
If you haven’t tried it, Banh Mi is a french baguette with a Vietnamese twist: meat or egg, salad and a spicy sauce to die for. Whilst a lot of places do it well, Miss Khanh’s can’t be beaten.
At 20,000 dong per baguette (about 80c) it’s money very well spent!
Get some sea air at An Bang Beach
If you need a bit of sea air, then you can head out to An Bang Beach which is just 10 minutes from Hoi An. It is not as pretty or manicured as Da Nang Beach, but it is wild and rugged and large enough to find a spot of your own.
There’s a lot of touristy loungers and bars along the first part of the beach that you come to, but if you walk long enough you’ll find an empty stretch of sand. We’ve never seen it calm enough for a swim, so take care if you do venture in.
Otherwise you can just admire the sky changing colour at sunrise or sunset (it’s a reverse sunset) from this picturesque spot. We liked seeing the traditional fishing boats dotted along the sand.
Discover the cave temples at Marble Mountains
A little further a field (about 25-30 minutes north of the old town) are the marble mountains. Tucked away in these limestone mountains are several cave temples, each one unique.
Our favourite was Huyen Khong Cave (the one at the furthest end from the entrance) as this huge cave has a small hole which bathes the temple in a glorious ray of light. It’s worth going to Marble Mountains for this spot alone.
To access the temples you can climb around 150 steps or take the elevator (15,000 dong).
There are loads of marble shops on the streets leading up to the mountain, each with hundreds of huge marble statues as well as trinket sized pieces if you are looking for souvenirs.
Visit the viral sensation - Golden Bridge, Ba Na Hills
You have likely seen a picture of this bridge pop up in your Instagram or Facebook feed. It’s actually located around one hour from Hoi An in the picturesque Ba Na Hills.
You’ll first take the longest cable car ride in the world, which is a pretty journey in itself, over the forest and a large waterfall before disembarking at the bridge.
The bridge is pretty amazing and especially atmospheric in the early morning fog. And when we say early morning we mean it, we would advise getting on the first cable car of the day at 7am in order to experience this amazing site without the crowds.
By 8am this place is seriously crowded, don’t even think about visiting on a weekend!
The bridge is undoubtedly the star of the show but if you have some time to spare have a wander over to the big Buddha statue and Linh Ung Ba Na pagoda just a few minutes walk from the bridge. There are also several other cable car rides and a funicular train too.
Whilst the rest of the site was way too touristy and OTT for our taste we absolutely loved the bridge and enjoyed the cable car ride.
If you want to know more, check out our guide to visiting the Golden Bridge.
Where we stayed in Hoi An
The Royal Hoi An by M Gallery
When it comes to the WOW factor, there’s nowhere like the Royal Hoi An in Hoi An. The rooms here were so good that we found it hard to leave!
Each wing has been decorated in a different style: the newer wing, Wakakau, has soft colours and a more feminine feel. The rooms here are the newest, very light and airy with a more open plan feel. The highlight is a luxurious bathtub surrounded by mosaic tiles in the room itself (seriously, Cat could have spent days in the tub alone!).
The Sotaro wing has a more traditional Vietnamese style with a darker colour theme. These rooms are more partitioned with the bath tub separate from the room, but still retains that luxurious feel. The detail in this wing was beautiful and you definitely felt like you were in Vietnam. It’s hard to choose which is the better wing.
If you can muster the energy to leave the room, there’s a rooftop pool that offers amazing views of Hoi An and is a great spot at sunset. The hotel also serves the most delicious brekkies, quite sure we put on all that weight we lost hiking!
What are you waiting for? 😃
We were a guest of the Royal Hoi An although all thoughts are our own. We never recommend a hotel that we wouldn’t be 100% happy spending our own money on.
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Are you planning a trip to Hoi An? Have you been an think we missed something? Let us know in the comments below!