9 Cool Things To Do in Hoi An
All photos by Josh Meister Photo.
Draping itself in softly colorful lanterns and floating votives down its quaint river every night, Hoi An is one of the most picturesque little cities we've visited. The Ancient Town is full of delicious restaurants and lively bars, tailors offering up custom-made suits at a fraction of the price you'd pay at home, and little old ladies selling 20-minute boat rides to absorb it all from on the river. During our week there, we became well acquainted with our surroundings, getting to experience a lot of what's on offer.
Here's our top nine cool things to do in Hoi An, Vietnam:
1 | Visit the Ancient Town both at night and early in the morning
At night, Hoi An is in its full glory, but that's when everyone else is there too. If you go early in the morning, you can see a different side of Hoi An, the Ancient Town minus the tourists. Watch the locals getting ready for their day, going to the market, taking taxi boats across the river, and bicycling around the colorful streets.
2 | Eat the cheapest meal of your life
Challenge yourself to have a filling dinner for under $1.50 US. It's completely doable! Your best bet is the lineup of charcoal braziers and tiny plastic-chaired eateries on the north bank of the river to the west of the Japanese Covered Bridge, where you can get skewers of grilled pork, chicken, or prawns as well as spices, rice paper wrappers, and dipping sauce for dirt cheap.
3 | Let an old woman boat you around the Thu Bon River at sunset
Or, first watch sunset on the bridge that crosses the river, then buy a tray of votive candles to place in the water as you enjoy a leisurely 20-minute private boat ride paddled by a very elderly barefoot lady.
4 | Have a piece of clothing custom made
There's tailors everywhere, and you can get anything made in about 48 hours, from a suit to a dress to a bathing suit. For some reason, loud fruit-print shirts and outfits have become the custom costume de rigueur of 20-something backpackers, but we're confident you can decide on something better. Most hotels will recommend Be Be Tailor (there's three outposts), but they are one of the pricier options, and we had the best luck with Ba-Ri instead.
5 | try the food for which the city is famous
Cao Lau, the most traditional Hoi An dish, is made up of hearty rice noodles with barbecued pork, bean sprouts, greens, and herbs and is unique to the region because it must be made with the water from an ancient Cham well nearby. There's lots of stories and mystery surrounding this dish that you can dig into while digging into the hearty meal. Chow down on banh mi at Banh Mi Phuong, which Anthony Bourdain proclaimed the best in the world - and his face is plastered everywhere there so you don't forget it! Sidenote: We heard lots of chatter about the banh mi at Madame Khanh's (the “banh mi queen”) as well, but don't believe the hype – it can't hold a soggy half of a french bread roll to Banh Mi Phuong. Lastly, try chicken rice, a typical dish made of, you guessed it, slices of boiled chicken over turmeric-flavored rice. And of course, pho!
6 | Visit ancient Hindu temple ruins
My Son Sanctuary is about an hour's drive from Hoi An. You can rent a motorbike to get there like we did or join a half-day tour. The structures date from between the 4th and 14th centuries AD. The valley was a religious ceremony site for Champa kings, at one time containing over 70 temples. There's less than 20 left (after Vietnam War carpet bombings by the US), some barely there at all. The most intact ones and ones that have been successfully restored are open for exploration.
7 | Get your hands dirty in the Thanh Ha Pottery Village
Pay about $1.60 to enter the village, wander the narrow streets, lined with clay creations, and watch the artists work as they preserve a traditional profession. They'll all invite you to give the wheel a try and throw a pot or vase. Then you get to pick out an animal-shaped whistle (included in the ticket price) and head to the next shop. We spent about an hour there observing the work and checking out all the wares.
8 | stuff yourself full of international food
Vietnamese cuisine is wonderful, but sometimes a change of pace is necessary, and Hoi An has some fantastic places to sample that. Enjoy a California breakfast at Rosie's Cafe. We recommend the avocado toast and the Dear Sweetie smoothie bowl (bananas, strawberries, dragon fruit, coconut milk and peanut butter topped with chia seeds). Indulge in casual French cuisine at Cabanon. The chicken cordon bleu is fabulous, and we heard they serve a mean poutine too, but it was not available when we visited. Get a little bit of a Chinese fix with mouth-watering bao buns at Seashell (by the beach) or Nu Eatery (in town), sister restaurants that share a menu.
9 | Do a self-guided bike tour
From the Ancient Town, it's easy to hop on a bicycle in the direction of the beach, riding through the rice paddies while checking out grazing water buffalo, visiting Tra Que, the farm village, and then continuing on to the beach for an afternoon of relaxing.