We spent in Hoi An with kids two weeks and we loved it. We did all possible family activities in Hoi An. Read our post to learn about things to do in Hoi An with kids or without.
Hoi An Introduction
Founded in the 15th century and once a busy seaport on the mid-east coast of Vietnam, Hoi An today has no railway or airport. Relatively cut off, it has become a delightful living museum of Vietnam’s cultural history and the old town is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. We liked the rich nostalgic image that Hoi An portrays of this beautiful country but much more than that, we just loved the character of the place. Read on to see what we found to see and do there, and to decide whether to include Hoi An in your Itinerary of the Far East.
About this Article We have described things to do and see in Hoi An and we tell you what we particularly liked about them. We give advice on how to get there and how to get about in the old town. After describing attractions, we give indicative prices, and if there is an official website for the attraction, then we give a link. Please read general disclaimers at the foot of the article.
Overview of Hoi An in History
The town dates from the 15th Century and over the following four hundred years, Hoi An became a significant seaport for small boats. The form of the town grew from the river frontage, with rows of trading establishments facing the road on one side and river moorings on the other.
Decline of this trade in the 20th Century meant neither rail nor air links were created. This avoidance of modern commercialism has allowed Hoi An to remain as a testament to the local and international cultures which created it.
The UNESCO World Heritage inscription notes it as a significant ancient port, featuring both Japanese and Chinese influences from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the following two hundred years Hoi An played a major role in the blossoming of the Southeast Asian trade and became a major port of call as an integral part of the trade conduit from the Far East to India and Europe.
We immediately found ourselves enchanted by the blend of indigenous and foreign cultures portrayed by the town, its buildings and other heritage sites.
Hoi An Weather – when to visit Hoi An ?
As far as the weather is concerned, Hoi An experiences two main seasons; dry and rainy, The rainy season is from mid August to mid January. Expect floods in the end of October beginning of November. Humidity is about 80% all year. Temperatures are hottest from June to August (35 degrees plus) but it’s always pretty hot with the lowest daily max at 25 degrees in December- January.
The best time to visit Hoi An is from February to May, with the lowest rainfall and not too high temperatures. If you prefer to see climate as graphs then check this site
Keep in mind that some fun tourist activities such as visiting the coast of Cu Lao Cham islands is only allowed during dry seasons Check the availability of your target places before you plan the trip. Unfortunately this restriction tends to make them more crowded during the dry season.
Things to do in Hoi An
Explore the Ancient Town
With its storied past, the Ancient Town of Hoi An is pretty much a living museum and home to centuries-old architecture including Pagodas, Chinese temples, French-colonial houses, and even some Dutch influence. Many of the structures are wooden frames with stone walls and everywhere there is a picturesque clutter of ancient Chinese painted signboards. The town is also characterised by its network of old canals and harbours.
The ancient town is compact enough to get around on foot. Some of the old streets are fully pedestrianised while others allow motorbikes and bikes. This makes visiting the city more stress-free than the bustling life of Hanoi and Saigon.
For a fun way to explore the old town, there are bicycles to rent. But be careful – the narrow streets can be hazardous especially during the evenings when it is packed with stalls and your fellow tourists.
Evening time is especially beautiful as lanterns are lit at sunset and darkness sets in. Take your place on the terrace of a canalside restaurant to get the best views of the beautiful twilight lanterns reflected in the water.
We loved browsing the shops and stalls lining the streets with the works of art and craftsmanship adorning their shopfronts.
One of the Old Town’s most striking landmarks is the Japanese Bridge, which has served as the symbol of the Hoi An for centuries. The bridge was built in 1590 and most recently restored in 1986.
The old town is of course the perfect place to experience Vietnamese dishes, which are quite affordable. Wash the yummy food down with a cold beer for just 50 cents a glass!
- Check the Google map of Hoi An here.
We love Vietnam especially Hanoi which is our kids favourite read – Hanoi with Kids
Hoi An Night Market and Street Food
We always try local foods and it comes as no surprise to us when Vietnam delivers something delicious. In Hoi An, the narrow streets are lined with food stalls and markets, providing a great chance to try the Vietnamese cuisines. Here you can not only find everything to eat in your hand but you can also buy the ingredients to try making your own. Numerous night markets in Hoi An sell fruits, cooking oil, vegetables, rice, as well as anything you might want to experiment with.
Extra Tip: Do remember to haggle especially on the fresh foods and ingredients. Prices offered to tourists will include a comfortable margin for you to practice your skills.
Do remember to haggle especially on the fresh foods and ingredients. Prices offered to tourists will include a comfortable margin for you to practice your skills.
To learn what to buy, take a cooking class – choose one with a market trip.
The Central Market – best food stalls in Hoi An
Located in the old town, Central Market spreads across Bach Dang and Tran Quy Ca streets and features numerous night stalls. This market opens officially until 7 pm but you can still find vendors past this time selling goods to the never-ending crowds. This is the best night market in the town and as it’s in the prime tourist location, prices here are comparatively high.
One of the most common products sold here are the silk lanterns. These come in different styles and materials including silk, chiffon, lace, and hand-painted cotton. If you want to buy a lantern, just describe to the stall owner what style you want and they will whip up for you in no time.
Most street foods sold in the Central Market are nearly free, with prices ranging from 20-25,000 VND, which is way less than a dollar.
- Google map of the Central Market here
Street Food in Hoi An
Street food is deeply embedded into Vietnamese culture. Here breakfast and lunch are eaten on the go, and so the streets are filled with food stalls. Vietnamese food is some of the best and healthiest we have eaten anywhere, and Hoi An is renowned for having the best street food in the entire country.
Here are other places in Hoi An where you can find great street food besides the Central Market.
- Bale Well
Bale Well is situated on the Ba Le Well near the Old Town and is usually crowded with locals as well as tourists. Bale Well serves a wide range of local dishes such as the banh xeo – Vietnamese pancakes.
- Thanh Cao Lau
Thanh Cao Lau is a perfect place to try Hoi An’s famous dish of pork with noodles, cao lau. Each vendor will use slightly different spices, and the dish should combine fried crispy, steamed and fresh flavours and textures. The stall is open every day from noon, or you can visit a nearby restaurant to enjoy this specialty while seated.
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- Com Ga Huong
Visit Com Ga Huong for some tasty com ga, which is simply rice cooked in chicken stock and turmeric combined with crushed onion, shredded chicken, and local spices. Com Ga Huong is one of the best spots to enjoy Vietnamese street foods in Hoi An and is always frequented by locals as well as tourists.
- Banh Mi Phuong
Banh Mi Phuong serves the popular Vietnamese sandwich packed with vegetables, salad, pate, and a filling of your liking. The stall serves the most delicious banh mi in Hoi An.
Cooking classes in Hoi An
Since Hoi An has both the ingredients and the skillset, of course a great way of exploring it with insights into local food culture is by taking a cooking class. As we had recently done this both in Hanoi and on a boat in Ha Long we gave it a miss in Hoi An and I regret that was my mistake – because the food we tasted here in restaurants and stalls was some of the most distinctive in a country where the bar is already set high. Apart from the fun of doing it, Taking cooking classes in a foreign country has the added benefit of teaching you what to buy in the markets.
Here is a flavour of what we missed from our research of a few of the most outstanding cooking classes in Hoi An..
- Tra Que Waterwheel Organic Farm Cooking Class
For lovers of natural food, this class starts in the vegetable markets and then continues with a tour of the 300 year old herb and vegetable farm which supplies fresh produce for some of the best restaurants in the town. You can pull on some farmers overalls and try various activities to grow the perfect herbs including taking a ride on a water buffalo. After that, you pick your own recipes and then learn how to prepare paper rice or some other healthy dish.
- Red Bridge Cooking School
This one is the most popular cooking class in Hoi An, having been around for almost 10 years. The school offers both half-day and full day tours of the vibrant Central Market and other points of interest including the Tra Que farm. The class includes a river trip and culminates in their associate restaurant – Hai Café, located in the outskirts of Hoi An along the river, so you can enjoy the dishes you have just learned how to prepare surrounded by beautiful natural scenery.
Since the class is only $20, this sounds like a great alternative to booking dinner at a restaurant.
- Green Bamboo Cooking School
Green Bamboo Cooking School was opened back in 2010 and offers tailored classes. The school is run by the owner, Ms. Van and she offers a more hands-on approach in teaching visitors how to prepare various Vietnamese dishes. Ms. Van will take you to the market, help you buy the necessary ingredients and invite you to her own kitchen to prepare the meal together. You get to enjoy dinner family-style, while you learn more about the culture of the Hoi An’s inhabitants. You can find her kitchen close to Cua Dai Beach.
- Taste Vietnam – Ms. Vy’s Cooking Classes
Ms. Vy owns multiple restaurants in Hoi An including Morning Glory, Cargo, and Vy’s Market. Her restaurants always receive rave reviews from customers, so it seems a good bet that you will be receiving knowledge from a respected teacher. Classes are held upstairs at Vy’s Market restaurant.
- My Grandma’s Home Cooking
My Grandma’s Home Cooking deal with real stuff, the most traditional recipes you will ever find in Hoi An. The classes take place in the home of Thom and Phuong on an island just outside the city of Hoi An. As the name suggests, you will learn to cook some of the best Vietnamese recipes from a grandmother. The tour will begin with a boat ride to the village where you can mingle with the locals and visit their traditional gardens while you learn about herbs, spices, as well as a variety of vegetables. After learning about the recipes, you get to pick the ones you will cook.
Join a lantern-making workshop in Hoi An
The whole of Hoi An seems to be adorned with colourful hanging lanterns. As a former trading port, the city has reserved some of its traditional crafts and lantern-making is one of these. The fun of joining one of these workshops for us was also partly the interaction with locals gave us a richer feeling of Vietnamese culture and of course we came home not only with two lanterns but also a new skill.
I have included a couple alternatives below after reading reviews.
- Xu Dang Trong Lantern Workshop
Xu Dang Trong Lantern Workshop is situated at the centre of the Old Town and deals in souvenirs and designer wares. The staff at the workshop are very friendly which makes all the difference. Workshops run twice a day. They also show some traditional performances and various exhibitions. Unless you are in a larger group, you can just turn up at the workshop 15 minutes before a class without booking. If you are a large group, then of course you must book in advance
- Thao Quynh Lantern Making Class
This workshop sells retail and wholesale alongside teaching how to make lanterns. The owners speak English so you can understand each step and the processes. The workshop takes place in front of a shop on Cua Dai Street.
- Reaching Out Lantern Workshop
Located on 103 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Reaching Out Workshop offer lantern making lessons to people with disabilities and help them gain craft and skills that can land them employment. The lanterns made from this workshop are slightly different from other lanterns in the city, as they are made from handmade papers that can fold flat for easy carrying. The workshop also offers tours of the shop, which takes you through some of their creations where you can purchase a couple of items to support the work they do.
- The Lantern Lady Workshop
The Lantern Lady Workshop is located at Pham Hong, close to the Old Town. It is easy to spot this shop as it is decorated with colorful lanterns. You can book by sending them a message through Facebook here or by just walk-in.
Mask Making Workshop in Hoi An
Another child-friendly traditional craft is Mask making. In Hoi An, mask making workshops tend to be family businesses running on skills that have been passed down from generation to generation. When you join one of these workshops, you get a chance to make your own mask from scratch, starting with the papier-mâché base. Then you can learn about traditional paint schemes or invent your own.
We went to the Timing Mask Workshop, located on 66 Bach Dang Street. The workshop name has a sentimental value to the family, as it refers to the years it took the father to master the skills of mask making.
Rehahn Gallery – Photography Gallery
Rehahn is a photographer from Normandy now based in Hoi An. His work is stunning, including both charismatic portraits and more journalistic shots of townscapes and human interaction. After travelling the world, he set up two photography galleries in Hoi An, one in Nguyen Hue and another in Phan Boi Chau. As a professional photographer myself, I was familiar with his work before visiting Hoi An and was glad to have the opportunity to see his home turf gallery.
- View the Google Map of Rehahn Gallery here
Hoi An Cyclo Tour
The Cyclo is one of those tricycle arrangements where you sit in front and someone else does all the work pedaling behind. In Hoi An this is comparatively guilt-free as the town is fairly level. The half-day tour includes all the major points of interests including the UNESCO Heritage sites in the Old Town, and you can wear traditional Ao Dai clothing for the experience. The tour includes specific major attractions like Hoi An Museum, the Art Craft Manufacturing Workshop, and the Japanese Covered Bridge
- Book the Hoi An Cyclo Tour here
Boat Ride on the Thu Bon River
Thu Bon River estuary is the core of Hoi An and riding a boat on the river is one of the major tourist activities in the city. The river is usually alive with busy fishermen, while the bank is always dotted with locals.
The best way to enjoy the cruise is by booking a tour. Most of the packages include hotel pickups and will take you through the craft villages where you can buy souvenirs.
- Book a tour for Thu Bon River ride here
Best Beaches around Hoi An
Hoi An is located on the central east coast of Vietnam, and for that, it has some of the best beaches in Vietnam. Here are some of the best beaches in Hoi An!
- An Bang Beach
An Bang Beach is the busiest of all. The beach is lined with numerous fine restaurants and bars where you can chill and enjoy the waves and the sunset. The beach is popular among the locals, explaining why it is always crowded, especially in the afternoons. An Bang also offers water sports including surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, and parasailing.
- Soul Beach
Soul Beach is an extension of Soul Kitchen and is located just south of An Bang Beach. Althugh close to An Bang it seems to escape the attention of visitors. Try Soul Beach for a less crowded experience.
- Hidden Beach
Once Hoi An’s best kept secret, Hidden Beach is becoming such an escape that its status is fading, however come in the morning for a more quiet time.
- Cua Dai Beach
Cua Dai Beach is one of the most popular beaches in the city. However, it faces natural problems and the city is trying to curb erosion by using sandbag breakwaters in the surf. The sandbags look like the beach sand so they don’t really spoil the view.
Hoi An Water Puppet Show
Water Puppet or Mua roi nuoc involves puppets dancing on water – a tradition which started in flooded paddy fields of the Red River delta in the North. These shows have been part of Vietnamese tradition for centuries. The puppets are usually made from lacquered wood and operated with bamboo poles under the water by puppeteers working behind backdrop screen.
In Hoi An, the water puppet show is held at 548 Hai Trung, Cam Pho, Tp. Hoi An.
For more information, check out the show website.
Visit Thanh Ha Pottery Village and Thanh Ha Terracotta Park
The Pottery Village is located 3km outside Hoi An and can be easily accessed by taxi, pedal bike, or scooter. The inhabitants, had been making pottery for centuries before the tradition was turned into a tourist attraction. There is a small admission fee to the village in which are souvenir shops and you have the opportunity to try your hand on the potter’s wheel (but you can’t keep your work because it won’t have dried or been fired) The reason for coming to this village under your own steam and not as part of a tour is that you can now also visit the Terracotta Park – a largely open-air gallery and museum of terra cotta – in our view much more interesting and memorable than the pottery village itself.
Extra tip: Go in the morning when it’s less crowded, and buy your ticket for the Terracotta Gallery at the Park entrance booth not from a streetside hustler. Their tickets are probably for the village not the park.
Try out the Best Coffee – 11 Coffee
11 Coffee is located just a few minutes from the Lantern Bridge leading to the Old Town. It is a great spot to chill and watch the world go by. This Italian-styled coffee shop serves some of the best coffee in Vietnam.
- Check Google Map for 11 Coffee here
Where to Stay in Hoi An
Hoi An has a range of options when it comes to accommodation, from mid-range and luxurious to beachfront and bed and breakfast. Here are a few possibilities of where to stay in Hoi An:
Green Apple Hotel
Located on 36 Phan Dinh Phung in Son Phong, Green Apple Hotel has a pool and serves unlimited breakfast.
- Check Google Map here
Anantara Hoi An Resort
If someone else is paying, try the Anantara Hoi An Resort. It is just a kilometer from the Old Town and a few blocks from the Central Market. It features a lush garden and balcony for great views of the world beyond.
- Check Google Map here
Day Trip Out of Hoi An
While the city has numerous attractions, a trip to Hoi An is not complete without visiting the Marble Mountains. The mountains comprise of five limestone peaks each named after the natural elements; water (Thuy), fire (Hoa), wood (Moc), earth (Tho), and metal (Kim).
There are lots of things to do and explore in and around the Marble Mountains from hidden tunnels to ancient temples and Hindu caves. You can also explore the Tang Chon and Huyen Khong or Tam Thai pagoda – a 17th-century structure.
Visitors can either climb up steps to the top of the hills or use an elevator.
To take a day trip out of Hoi An, you can use either a public bus or book a tour. The tours of course also take you to other attractions on the way to the Marble Mountains.
- Book here a day trip out of Hoi An to Marble Mountains.
Things to do in Hai An – Pin it for later
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