After spending a few days in Northern Vietnam in its capital city, cruising along Halong Bay and spending time in the countryside, it was time to visit the colorful city of Hoi An.
Hoi An is one of the most popular towns in Vietnam due to its well-preserved historical center and the colorful lanterns and buildings. It used to be a major trading port from the 15th to 19th century and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. Today, it has become a top tourist destination in SE Asia and attracts a huge number of visitors.
Having spent a few days in this city, I can vouch that it is the most charming and unique town in Vietnam. Read on to plan the perfect itinerary for Vietnam’s most colorful city, Hoi An.
I visited Hoi An on my 10 day trip to Vietnam in autumn of 2023. Click here for a detailed guide on Vietnam.
How Many Days to Spend
You can explore the city in a day since it is easily walkable and compact. But with so many unique experiences to offer, I would recommend staying here at least 2 full days. If you plan to make day trips to Ba Na Hills, Marble Mountains, etc. then you need 3-4 days in this city.
Best Way to Reach
Hoi An does not have an airport of its own, so you need to fly to Da Nang. Both Vietjet and Vietnam Airlines have multiple flights from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang everyday. From Da Nang airport, it is a 45-minute drive to Hoi An.
Once you land in Da Nang, look for the bus station to Hoi An. Alternatively. you can take a taxi or arrange for pick up from your hotel. Grabs, Vietnam’s local taxis, are also easily available and a convenient way to get to Hoi An.
Where to Stay
Since Da Nang is close to Hoi An (one hour by road), many people set up base there and visit Hoi An on a day trip. Da Nang, being a beach destination, has several hotels including high end resorts.
Since the initial part of our trip was hectic, we decided to split our stay. Two nights each in Da Nang and Hoi An. In Da Nang, our initial plan was to simply relax at the beach and visit Ba Na Hills (more on that later). But of course, the weather gods had other plans ☹
It was cloudy, gloomy and raining heavily when we reached Da Nang. So, we couldn’t really enjoy the beach. But the hotel we stayed at, Paris Deli Danang Beach Hotel, was fabulous in every way. It was literally steps away from the most beautiful beach in Da Nang, My Khe Beach. During evenings, we grabbed umbrellas and spent some time at the beach despite the crappy weather. So even though we didn’t do much here, it ended up being a good relaxing break.
We then moved to Allegro Hoi An, a boutique hotel, at 10 minutes walking distance of Hoi An’s old town. It was one of the best hotels we stayed at on this trip. The rooms were huge, the staff was courteous, a lavish breakfast spread and a lovely pool !
If you had to pick one, I would recommend staying in Hoi An vs Da Nang. Hoi An can get crowded during the day. , So if you are staying overnight, then you get to experience the city once daytrippers have left. Also, if you are doing just a day trip, then you may miss seeing the city lit up with lanterns at night.
Pick an accommodation within walking distance of old town, since that is where you will be spending most of your time.
Places to Visit and Things to Do
Stroll Through the Old Town
Hoi An’s old town is colorful and charming. You can spend hours wandering through the streets, admiring the architecture and beautiful corners.
The old town is pedestrian friendly as most of the roads are closed to cars and bikes in the mornings and evenings. You can easily go from side of old town to the other in about 40 minutes. But if you are like me, you will be tempted to stop every few minutes at the stores and cafes and not to forget the street vendors. We tried the rice paper pizza and Nutella pancakes from the street vendors, and they were delicious.
You will also find lot of stalls selling handmade crafts, including beautifully hand painted lanterns, which this city is famous for. If you want that perfect instagrammble shot with lanterns, look for the store, Lantern 13. If you want to click a picture, you will have to shell out VND 10,000, which is waived if you buy lanterns from the store.
Did you know there are a number of lantern making tours in Hoi An? They teach you to make lanterns, which you can bring home keep as souvenirs.
As the sun sets, lanterns are lit up, which gives the streets a charming and romantic feel. Simply walk around and soak in the beauty.
Around the old town area, there are tons of bars, cafes and restaurants to choose from. Many restaurants offer alfresco dining, so you can enjoy the festive street atmosphere and views over the river. Some even have terraces which provide lovely views of the town.
The old town is a haven for shoppers with endless stalls. Alternatively, you can check out the night market on the An Hoi Islet (right across from the Old Town), where you will find vendors every night, selling souvenirs, home goods, food, etc.
Take a Boat Ride
A must do activity in Hoi An is hopping on a boat and gliding along the river. Go during sunset to watch the colorful lanterns bring this city to life.
One of the reasons this city’s tourism exploded was its monthly Lantern Festival, where rowers placed floating lanterns in the water as an offering to the ancestors at each full moon. Given the popularity, this is now a nightly event.
As you get closer to the river, you will be bombarded with locals aggressively selling these boat rides as well as lanterns. They may advertise that their boat rides are longer and will take you to better spots. But do not fall for it. At the riverbank, you will find official vendors selling tickets for this boat ride. If you are a party of three or less, the boat ride will cost you VND 150,000. For a group of four or more, it costs VND 200,000. If you plan to release lanterns in the water, then be ready to shell out VND 15,000-20,000 (depends on your bargaining power 😊). If you buy more than one, then you can bring down the price.
This boat ride lasts for around 20 minutes. Even though there are several boats in the river, it still is a peaceful and wonderful experience. Releasing the lantern in the river was a magical moment. Also, seeing hundreds of lanterns lit up in the water truly made for a sight to behold.
Pro tip – book your boat ride right after sunset so that way you get to experience the beauty during twilight hour as well as night time.
Quan Cong Temple
While most of the architecture in Hoi An is yellow in color, the one place that truly stands out is the Quan Cong Pagoda Temple. This temple, also known as Ong Pagoda (Quan Công Miếu or Chùa Ông in Vietnamese), was established in 1653 by Chinese immigrants in Hoi An.
In the 17th century, Hoi An was a bustling international trading port. Chinese traders who came here to do business, built several temples, pagodas, shrines, etc., during their time in Vietnam. So that is why this temple is bright red / pink and gold in color, which is typical for Chinese temples. It stands out against the yellow buildings and is the perfect example of cultural influences.
To enter the temple, you need to purchase the ticket (around VND 120,000-VND 150,000).
Japanese Covered Bridge
Japanese Covered Bridge is located at the heart of the old town. This bridge connects two of the old town’s main streets, Tran Phu and Nguyen Thi Minh Khai and was built in the 16th century. The Japanese people living in Hoi An built this bridge to enable them to reach the Chinese quarter across the water.
As you get closer to the bridge, look out for monkey and dogs statues at either end of the bridge. They are said to represent the zodiac signs of the years that construction of the bridge began and when it was completed. Inside the covered bridge is a tiny temple, where a small shrine is dedicated to the God of weather.
A little fun fact for you – this Japanese Bridge is represented on the VND 20,000 note.
Hop on a Bike
While old town is best explored on foot, another fun way to explore the city is on a bike. Most hotels provide complimentary bikes. Even if your hotel does not provide one, there are plenty of shops in old town where you can rent them for a measly fee.
With a bike, you can explore much beyond the old town. Did you know there are scenic rice paddies located just 10-15 minute ride from old town?
Indulge in retail therapy
With innumerable stalls and shops in the old town, it is hard to walk around the city and not be tempted to shop.
From home décor items to clothes to handbags, paintings, etc. you will find almost everything you want ! But be sure to bargain. Start with at least half the quoted price and if that doesn’t work, try walking away. If you are lucky, they may come after you and agree with the price you quoted ! And if not, don’t worry, with so many shops, you are bound to find another vendor who agrees to your quoted price.
Definitely stop by the store, Sunday in Hoi, which sells beautiful handmade products from natural materials such as bamboo, silk, linen, wood, etc. And it has the most instagrammble wall – don’t you agree?
Get Tailor-made Clothes and Shoes
One of the most popular things to do in Hoi An is to have clothes and shoes tailor-made to your size, at a very affordable price.
As you are walking around the old town, you will find many shops where you can get custom suits, shirts, dresses, gowns, etc. made to order. In fact, many travelers and expats make the trip to Hoi An specifically to have garments made. Some tailors make the garment in just 24 hours while some may take 2 days.
If you are looking to have an item of clothing tailor-made, then ensure you give an order on the day you reach. This way you have sufficient time to check the fitting once it is made and make alterations, if necessary.
My brother got a tailor-made shirt stitched at Long Nhat Lan Tailor Shop near our hotel. Their fabrics had unique prints and the lady did a fabulous job with the stitching. Highly recommend this shop if you want to get clothes stitched in Hoi An.
Go Café Hopping
It is a crime to go to Vietnam and not go café hopping, right 😉
Many of the historic shophouses in the old town are now home to cafes and souvenir shops, catering to the vast number of tourists who visit Hoi An.
One of my favorites on this trip was Phin’s Café. Located in an unassuming alley right in the old town, is the perfect oasis from the busy streets. And the fact that they serve delicious coffee is the icing on cake! We tried coconut egg coffee at Phin’s Café which was amazing! For those looking for a unique activity, Phin’s Café conducts coffee classes, including coconut coffee, on site. Sounds interesting, right?The second coffee shop we tried was Espresso Station. I had my fair share of coconut and egg coffees on this trip, so wanted to try out something different. It was insanely hot during the time we visited Hoi An, so the frozen coffee cube came to my rescue. It has a quiet and cozy vibe and perfect place to sip on that morning or afternoon cuppa coffee.
We stumbled upon Hoi An Roastery while browsing through the shops in the market area. Like us, if you are tired of all the walking and haggling at markets, rest your feet at this coffee shop while sipping on coffee. Oh, and they even sell roasted coffee beans – the perfect gift for friends and family back home 🙂
Faifo is yet another café you must visit here. Go to the top floor, from where you get a lovely view of the old town.
And apart from coffees, you have to try this refreshing drink at Mot located in the old town. The main ingredients of the drink are lime and lemongrass, along with herbs such as licorice, jasmine, chrysanthemum, lotus leaf, ginger, cinnamon, and other ingredients. The perfect drink to beat the heat. Trust me, you will want to stop by and grab this drink every time you pass by this place. The good thing is that the drink is very reasonably priced – JUST VND 16k per glass.Ba Mu Temple Gates (Tam Quan)
This stunning three-gated Pagoda has recently opened its doors to the public. The old temple and beautifully colored complex, built in 1626, features a round open circle flanked by two large doors. Don’t these lily ponds right at the entrance make it look even more inviting?
Banh Mi – Taste the best ones in Hoi An!
The French have left their mark in Vietnam through the introduction of baguette and it has now become an integral part of Vietnamese diet. A banh mi typically comprises handful of ingredients – bread, meat, vegetables and condiments. The bread is a Vietnamese baguette, which is characterized by a thin, crispy crust and airy crumb inside.
The Banh Mi sandwich is filled with meats, coriander, cucumber, pate or cheese, chili, and mayonnaise and you see locals as well as tourists gorging on it everywhere. While you will find plenty of Banh Mi shops all over the city, try the ones at Madam Khanh and/ or Banh Mi Phoung.
Hoi An Cooking Classes
Interested in learning recipes of Vietnamese food that you have devouring on this trip?
You will find plenty of cooking classes in Hoi An. They usually take 3 to 5 hours. Cooking classes are extremely popular here so make reservations in advance.
During our trip, we dined at Chickpea Eatery which offered Vietnamese vegan food and saw that they offered cooking classes as well. The food we had here was delicious, so do check them out if interested.
Coconut Boat Ride
An activity which has picked up popularity over the last few years is the famous Coconut Boat Ride. For this boat ride, you need to go to Cam Thanh, located approximately 5 kilometers from Hoi An’s Old Town. You can book a Grab or negotiate a taxi guy for pick-up and drop.
Once you get here, hop on boat which typically accommodates 2 adults and costs VND 400,000 per boat. The boat ride starts along serene waterways, surrounded by picturesque coconut groves and makes for a beautiful experience.
Feeling adventurous? Then you can hop on to a smaller boat where boatmen spin the round basket boats in dizzying circles. Hold on to the boat tightly as the boat can spin very fast. It is a fun experience and the adrenaline rush you feel is amazing !
An Bang Beach
Although the old town is the main thing to do in Hoi An, another great attraction is its coastline. An Bang Beach is a 4km stretch of sand lined with deckchairs and relaxed beach bars. Kick back here with a drink and enjoy the beautiful beach. It is located only 5 kilometres from the town and you can easily reach via Grab taxi.
Day trip to Da Nang
Da Nang is a large and developed city located 30 minutes from Hoi An. It has great cafes and restaurants, interesting architecture like the Dragon Bridge, and some of the best beaches (My Khe beach) in Vietnam. Additionally, you can stop by Lady Buddha enroute.
An interesting fact – the Dragon Bridge is constructed in the shape of a dragon and considered a symbol of power and nobility in Vietnam. It stretches 1,864-foot-long and was built in July 2009. This bridge is lit up on weekends, and you will see fire and water emitting from the Dragon’s mouth. If you are in Hoi an during these days, you can plan your day trip to Da Nang accordingly.
Sun World Ba Na Hills
Even if you have not heard of Bana Hills, I am sure you have seen photos of this in incredibly cool looking bridge called the Golden Bridge in the shape of a huge hand. Social media has made this place very popular over the last few years and many visitors are going to Vietnam just for the Golden Bridge.
Now where is this bridge located? It is in this place called Sun World Ba Na Hills, which is essentially a theme park catering to tourists of all ages.
To be honest, I was in two minds about visiting this place. But since the weather was awful even otherwise, we figured we may as well step out and do something vs sitting in our hotel room. We visited Bana Hills when we were staying in Da Nang. We had shitty weather, read non-stop rains and cloudy weather. Since we did not have flexibility in our schedule, we had no option but to visit despite the bad weather. While the bad weather meant fewer crowds, most of the places were covered in thick fog and the visibility was poor.
You can reach Ba Na Hills from both Da Nang and Hoi An in less than 90 minutes. Advisable to pre-book transportation since Grabs may not be available from there. While most people visit on a day trip, did you know there is a hotel located at the top? If you plan on staying overnight, then check out Mercure Danang French Village Bana Hills.
Once you buy the entrance ticket (around VND 750k for adults and VND 600k for children), make your way to the first cable car. The park is divided into three sections so figure out what all you want to do and maximize your time accordingly.
The first cable car ride takes around 18 minutes to get to the top. As you start going upwards, the views get better, and you get to appreciate this engineering marvel.
Make your first stop as the Golden Bridge as it can get extremely crowded as the day progresses. The bridge is 1500 m above sea level and around 500 ft long. It is quite a cool structure.
Then, take a stroll at Le Jardin d’amour. It comprises nine different gardens designed in different styles. There is a garden maze, a giant chessboard, and loads of hedges, balustrades and blooms for capturing beautiful pictures.
For those traveling with kids or adults looking for some adrenaline filled activities, stop by the entertainment area where you can find tons of rides, video games including VR games, etc. Another fun one is the outdoor Alpine Coaster, a roller-coaster with brakes that you can ride slowly or leave to race up to 40km/h. Sadly, it wasn’t operational due to bad weather on the day we visited.
The one spot that I really liked was the French village. It is actually made to resemble a small French town complete with a town square, cute cafes, a cathedral and fountain. As you are walking through the cobblestone streets, you will indeed be transported to Europe!
Did you know you could even go wine tasting here for an additional fee? Check out Debay Wine Cellar.
All in all, there is a lot to do, and one can easily spend 4-5 hours, making it the perfect day trip from Da Nang/ Hoi An.
Sharing a few snippets from our day trip to Ba Na Hills. As you can see it rained continuously 🙁
Marble Mountains is a cluster of five marble and limestone hills. These five mountains are named after the five elements: Kim (metal), Thủy (water), Mộc (wood), Hỏa (fire) and Thổ (earth). All of the mountains have cave entrances and numerous tunnels. You will also find several Buddhist sanctuaries within theses mountains. Entry fee is VND 40,000 per person.
We had planned to visit this place from Da Nang but since it was raining continuously, we skipped this one. If you do plan on visiting, wear comfortable shoes and clothes, as this place involves a lot of climbing stairs and walking. If you visit on a clear day, you will be rewarded with a stunning panorama of Da Nang,its beaches and surrounding mountains.
This place is located right between Da Nang and Hoi An so if you are visiting Da Nang on a day trip, you can make a pitstop here for a few hours.
My Son Ruins
My Son is a cluster of abandoned and partially ruined Shaiva Hindu temples in central Vietnam, constructed between the 4th and the 14th century by the Kings of Champa, an Indianized kingdom of the Cham people. It is today a UNESCO heritage site.
Entrance fee is VND 150,000 per person and this place is located one hour drive from both Hoi An and Da Nang.
*All prices as of November 2023