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Central Vietnam,  Travel Guides,  Vietnam

Hoi An – Vietnams most charming city? 

Hoi An is one of the first cities you will see when you are looking for a destination in Vietnam. The yellow houses, the colourful lanterns and it’s location near the ocean make it a very popular travel destination. Due to gaining international attention in recent years Hoi An has already changed a lot and is continuing to change with the increasing influx of tourists. Some of these changes are positive, some negative, but it remains to be seen if tourism will be more of a blessing or a curse for this historic town.

Hoi An also has some restaurants Anthony Bourdain covered in his TV show, although in my opinion those are not the main reason why you should visit this city. I fell in love with Hoi An during my first stay there, right after Vietnam opened its borders again after the COVID-19 pandemic. When I returned a year later even the sheer amount of people, especially during the day, on the weekend, couldn’t diminish that love.

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Overview of Hoi An – Vietnams most charming city

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Where to stay in Hoi An

There are many choices when you are looking for a place to stay in Hoi An.

The ancient town is just 15 minutes walk from where I stayed, but if you want to see more of the countryside or go to the beach (I recommend both), taking a bicycle is the transport of choice. Most stays and hotels offer them for free or to rent. Otherwise you can always get a Grab motorbike taxi.

I linked some more good places to stay down below, but one stood out to me.

Flame Flowers Homestay

If you ever read the words “my family in Vietnam” on my website or social media I am talking about this family. At their home, where they live, you will get an affordable, clean, quiet room with a comfortable bed and the most comfortable pillows, a spacious ensuite bathroom, with a hot shower and good water pressure, a powerful AC, your own balcony and the most amazing host family you will ever have.

I could praise them for every single thing they did to make my stay special, but I will keep this somewhat short. First they let me check in a day early because my motorbike trip was cut short, Hoa (the host) called me to help me organise my trip.

When I came to check in his sister welcomed me with fresh watermelon and a bottle of cold water which were both welcomed and much needed. Then she asked if I wanted some recommendations on where to eat, what to eat and what to do while in Hoi An only after I said yes she printed a map, showed me where to find everything and gave me flyers for tours they recommend. Not because they get commission for it, but because they know the guides and have had lots of feedback from guests on the quality of the tours.

The breakfast they offer tastes great and you get a sizable portion. If you need to do laundry they help you with that, too. They helped me to figure out appropriate prices (I am not good at haggling) and on the day I left arranged transport to Da Nang for me that was trustworthy and cheaper than anywhere else. Speaking of transport, I used one of their bikes to get around the city.

The homestay is 15 minutes by foot from the old town, which mean way fewer tourists, but there are still plenty of cafes, restaurants, street vendors and everything you might need close by.

I talked to Hoa, his wife and his sister a lot and got to know the family, how they handled the pandemic years, with Vietnams borders being closed for foreign tourists and how they are looking forward to hosting more people again. Come here to see the real Vietnam and experience incredible hospitality. Treat their home like your home, be respectful and tidy, they deserve good guests.

Other places to stay in Hoi An

Near the Flame Flower Homestay, literally just down the road, you can find H Boutique Hoi An*, an affordable boutique hotel with a chic interior, away from the old town. Below the hotel is a cafe and they have a pool in the backyard as well.

A reasonably priced choice is the chain hotel EMM Hotel*. It’s a mid price hotel right next to the ancient town of Hoi An.

For a five star experience, still affordable compared to European resorts of the same standard you can go to TUI BLUE Nam Hoi An*. This resort is some way away from Hoi An, closer to Tam Kỳ, but they offer trips to Hoi An in their package and the luxuries of a five star resort that belongs to a German company.

What to see in Hoi An

With its rich history Hoi An offers a lot to see. From its past glory days as a port and merchant town, the surrounding crafting villages and the ethnic groups living to this day in the Quang Nam province, there is much to learn.

Hoi An Ancient Town

As of now there is no charge to enter the ancient town, however if you want to visit the sights you have to buy a ticket for 120k VND / 4,7€ . With this ticket to the ancient town you can visit five places of your choice, these are the ones I recommend after having been to ten over two years.

On top of my list is Fujian Assembly Hall / Hoi Quan Phuoc Kien. With its pink gate, intricate roof carvings and historic interior this UNESCO World Heritage Site invites you to spend a few hours. It served as a community center for the Chinese community who had immigrated to Hoi An from the Fujian province in China, as well as a place of worship for a sea goddess. This 2000 square meter wide complex was used for congregating, praying and trading from the 1690s onward.

Within the ancient town there are several ancient houses which have been inhabited by the same family for many generations. Tan Ky Ancient House is one of them and felt the least… odd when I went there. Some houses look more like a museum gift-shop today, even though the families supposedly still live in them.

The Japanese Bridge / Chùa Cầu or Cau temple bridge is a small pagoda on a wooden foot bridge in Hoi An. It was built by Japanese merchants who who were trading in the once bustling port city Hoi An. Today it is a well liked (and often terribly crowded) photo spot. Go here early in the morning to get a less crowded experience or come here after the tourbusses have left.

Close to the Japanese Bridge you can find the Cantonese Assembly Hall / Quang Trieu Pagoda. The three-gate entree with pink pillars and intricate wooden carvings are often crowded. The inside is a lot calmer, both the garden and the main assembly hall. After it had been built in the 18th century, it served as a congregation place, a place of trade and a place of worship for the Chinese from the Quang Chau Province.

In the Museum of Folk Culture, located in an old Chinese merchants house, you can learn about local life in Hoi An and the surrounding Quang Nam Province. I recommend this places especially if you don’t have time to visit any of the surrounding craft villages, as they have exhibits from all traditional local crafts: Lantern making, silk, pottery, carpentry, embroidery and much more.

Precious Heritage Museum

In the Precious Heritage Museum you can find beautiful photography: portraits and landscape, as well as costumes and traditional garb of the 54 ethnic groups of Vietnam and their subgroups. The Photographer Réhahn describes his journeys to even the most remote parts of the country and explains how the lives of the ethnic groups have changed in the modern times.

On my first trip to Vietnam I bought a skirt in Hanoi and on this trip I found out that it has a traditional Dao pattern on it! Which makes sense, since the indigo colour used for the skirt was also foraged by them.

My Son Sanctuary

Mỹ Sơn Sanctuary is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, about 40km from Hoi An in the province Quang Nam. These ancient ruins were once a temple city of the Cham people and both Indian and Hindu aspects are found in their architecture, religious statues and frescoes.

The entree ticket to the site is one of the more expensive ones in Vietnam, with 150 000 VND per person. Included in the ticket is a shuttle from the parking space to the ruins, entree to the site itself and to the museum.

I actually recommend taking a tour at sunrise, like the aptly named My Son Sunrise Tour*. Sunset is packed and mid day is almost unbearable in the sun, but at sunrise you get the most beautiful view (almost to yourself).

A knowledgable tour guide can tell you more about the history and the cultural significance of these ruins and you get a delicious local breakfast to start your day after the tour!

Hidden Hoi An

To see what people usually don’t see you have to get up at a time most people aren’t awake yet. To learn about the hidden Hoi An, about the people who keep the city running and the places tourists, travellers and even most locals don’t ever get see you have to find a local who knows these places and people and is passionate to share the “behind the scenes” of his culture and community with you.

Ha makes sure to support local crafts people and artisans with his tours and shows his passion for his country and its culture. On the tour we stopped by a Cao Lầu noodle factory, Duy Hải fish market, a fish sauce factory, Cavalry Coffee Roasters, two sisters weaving traditional straw mats, fish farms on the Thu Bồn River and finally a rice wine distillery.

Lantern Boat Ride

A ride on a small wooden boat with a lantern on it, through the old town, on the Thu Bon River, is one of the things everyone should have on their to-do list for Hoi An. Even when it’s crowded it’s a nice experience, just get on a boat further away from the ancient town center!

A price that’s often quoted by different people offering boat rides is about 150k per boat. That means you pay 150k VND for one person, but also up to three people. Just ask people who are solo-travelling as well if they want to share a ride, it’s a great way to make new friends.

An Bang Beach

An Bang Beach with it’s 4km of fine sand, many beach beds and bars and restaurants close by is probably the most well known beach of Hoi An. Being roughly 6km away from the ancient town you will need a bike, scooter or mobile data connection to catch a Grab motorbike taxi to get to the beach and back. Especially sunrise is beautiful on the beach!

Hoi A nmight be best known for Cao Lau, Banh Mi, Banh Xeo and Mot tea, but don’t sleep on seafood while you’re there. With several fish markets and its location between the sea, Cửa Đại Bay and Thu Bồn River the seafood in the region is diverse and delicious.

You can get superb clams, mussels, fish and other seafood dishes, freshly caught, right on the beach or just a few meters away, like at Phương Beach Restaurant only 150 meters from An Bang Beach.

What to do in Hoi An

Hoi An is historically a port and merchant town, surrounded by crafting villages. With the influx of tourists in the past decade it’s not surprising that there’s a lot do to do in Hoi An. These experiences and workshops are just a small portion of what you can do during your time in the city.

Basketboat Tour & Cooking Class

Cooking classes are a great way to connect with local culture and people. They can be an interesting way to learn about the food and cooking customs of a different place. They also give you a chance to spend time with like-minded travellers and a local family, then enjoy a meal with new friends.

One thing I had on my list for Hoi An was exploring the Nipa palm forests in a round basketboat. You see it everywhere when looking up Hoi An. However, when I read reviews almost everyone said the nipa palm forest has been ruined by trash and loud music, so I was very sceptical.

The tour I joined and recommend combines both these things. It is as local of an experience as you can get. The guide, Mr. Cu, knows all the other small family-operated companies and you will be away from the touristic hotspots.

basket-boat-dance

Bamboo Workshop

Half a day of woodworking in 30° Celsius heat might not be something you think of when thinking about things to do on vacation. I almost didn’t do it either, but the bamboo workshop turned out to be a wonderful experience that shaped my understanding of the people and culture of central Vietnam.

At the Taboo Bamboo Studio you can make your own bamboo craft, under the guidance of bamboo crafting masters. I chose to make a lamp and got lucky that nobody else had booked for the same day as me. It stands on my office desk at home now.

Coffee Workshop

In Vietnam, one drink stands out among all others: Coffee. At the Sua Cafe you can could learn how to make three of the most famous Vietnamese coffees.

The coffee workshop starts with a welcome tea and some background info about the café and coffee plantations in Vietnam. Then you start by making the most famous Vietnamese coffee Ca Phe Phin, followed by coconut coffee, which was my favourite dessert-drink during last trip, and finally egg coffee.

Afterwards you learn more about the sorting and roasting process and how different types of coffee, as well as roasting temperature and roasting time affect the taste.

Lantern Workshop

At several lantern workshops in Hoi An you can make one of their iconic lanterns and bring it home with you. You can pick your fabric, the shape and size of your lantern and even the colour of your tassel. And don’t worry about fitting it inside your suitcase, they can be folded!

Leather Workshop

At Blue Lotus Leather you can make your own leather item. Depending on how much time you have and what you want to make they offer different workshops. I choose the two hour “express” one, because I didn’t have time for a longer one. During the workshop I did there, where I was all by myself (!), I made a leather wallet for cards and paper money.

Getting clothes tailored

Hoi An is the city of lanterns and tailors. If you are looking for something unique that you can’t find off the rack at home and you can’t see yourself, this is the perfect place to get it made.

From a fully custom wedding dress, over a three-piece suit, down to that pair of pants you have owned for years and would like a second pair of, in Hoi An you can get it all.

The process can be daunting, but it’s quite easy: figure out what you want, find one of the many tailor shops in town town, tell them what you want in detail and ask for a quote. repeat that at two more stores and then pick the one you felt most comfortable in.

For simple copies visit Hoi An market were tailors have set up small boots, like Sewing Bee. For drawing-to-clothing items go to one of the smaller tailor shops like Two Ladies Tailors. For high-end designs with high-end fabrics, go to one of the big tailor shops like Yaly Couture.

I had two reversible skirts and one pair of linen shorts copied at the market, as well as three dresses, one jersey and two linen and a three piece suit made by the Two Ladies Tailors which I really loved. I tried several other tailor shops and also tailors from the market as well, but based on the items having mistakes or shrinking immensely during a 20° C wash I won’t name them.

leather-warehouse-hoian

Getting a custom leather handbag

Hoi An is well known for its many tailors, but did you know that you can also get custom leather goods? I didn’t know that until the bag I brought from Germany broke and I had to get a new one.

For the new handbag I got to choose the leather I wanted (smooth and black) as well as the specifications for it: fits a small water bottle, has an extra pocket inside for my phone, a zipped pocket for keys and money and an adjustable shoulder strap.

It was still less expensive than an off the rack one at home made from fake leather.

Must try food in Hoi An

I linked all of the mentioned foods in the map at the end of the blogpost.

Undoubtedly the most famous dish in Hoi An is Cao lầu. Cao Lầu noodles, chewy and eggy (without egg) can only be made with water from a specific well in the city, as well as ash from certain trees from nearby Cam Nam Island. They are topped with the crunchy version of the same noodles, barbecue pork and greens. Everyone I talked to loved Cao lầu, but to be honest it’s not really for me. The homemade version I tried with my host family was good, but it’s not my favorite.

A small sweet treat, sold by street vendors all over the ancient town is mango cake. A chewy sticky rice patter, filled with candied peanuts and covered in powdered sugar.

Something you have to eat in Hoi An as well is Bánh xèo, a crispy rice flour pancake with shrimp and pork. And sure, you can eat Bánh xèo at the most famous restaurant for it in Hoi An “Ba Le Well”, the one Anthony Bourdain visited and which has since expanded to have a huge outside seating area, but for a more local choice I recommend Quán Ăn Hải Đảo.

When you ask where to eat the best Bánh mì in Hoi An, everyone has a different opinion. A lot of people have heard of Madam Khanh, who was crowned “the Banh Mi Queen” by internationally renowned chef Anthony Bourdain during his visit. Local tourists flock to Bánh Mì Phượng to eat well known Bánh mì choices, but also more exotic ones with ostrich or other less common meats.

I tried both and they were good! But but my personal favourite Bánh mì in Hoi An was the very unassuming one on the last two slides from Bánh mì Bích. She only serves one Type of Bánh mì, but she has perfected that one over the years.

Mì Quảng are rice noodles in a very strong broth, with chicken and peanuts, served with a giant fried rice cracker and a plate of herbs and greens.

Cơm Gà or chicken rice is also a must try. The rice is cooked in chicken stock, with turmeric and topped with grilled chicken, sometimes shredded, sometimes in one piece, onions and coriander. You can find it all over the city, but my favorite was at Cơm Gà Phương Oanh.

If you are craving European food I can recommend Rosie’s Cafe. They do some very European dishes, but some with a Vietnamese twist. I went there several times for breakfast. Their full Irish Breakfast is a big portion, the poached eggs on toasted sourdough bread with avocado and red beet puree are refreshing, but my favorite was their french toast with fresh local fruits.

Must try drinks in Hoi An

The one drink, that isn’t coffee, you have to try in Hoi An that everyone agrees on is Mót. A herbal tea with lime, lemongrass, jasmine, lotus leaf, ginger and more. This specific tea was actually named after the guy who invented it. There is a really popular store (also called Mót) in the ancient town with beautiful flowers in front of the yellow house, but when the queue is too long there are several other places that serve this refreshing, slightly bitter, slightly sour and slightly sweet drink.

Salted roasted Oolong on ice at 92 Station Café. Sure, the drink is great, but mainly go here for the amazing view above the rooftops of Hoi An without the crowds that the more famous Faifoo Coffee has. You have to order a drink before they let you go up onto the roof, but their drinks are fancy, delicious and around 2€, so it’s a good deal in my opinion.

One of my favorite coffee focused cafes in Hoi An is The Espresso Station. Right on the edge of the ancient town you can get coffee specialties like Espresso Macchiato and Coconut Coffee, as well as colour changing butterfly-pea-tea and many more delicious drinks.

Enjoy a teapot of tea and self made cookies at Reaching out Teahouse. Come here to get a break from the noise and crowds of the city and enjoy some calming tea in this old house in the heart of the ancient town. Just don’t make the same mistake I did: When you order one cookie you get one serving of cookies. Here you also support the deaf community in Hoi An, as most employees here are hearing impaired.

Journal or sort your photos with a delicious and affordable Brown Sugar Boba Milk, Iced Matcha Latte or Vietnamese Coffees at 1989 Cafe. The vibes of the place have sadly gone down a bit since the pandemic, but the drinks are still good.

Map of Hoi An – Vietnams most charming city

How to read the map: Purple is where I stayed, warm toned markers are what to do and where to go, green is where to eat and drink and blue are places to see and visit.

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