In Hoi An you really can do everything and nothing. It is a perfect place to slow down after the frantic pace of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh. Or you can fill every day with different activities from photographing the ancient crumbling buildings to shopping for tailor made clothes. You can support awesome charities and social enterprises while shopping for unique handcrafts and you can eat your way through the old town.
Visiting Hoi An with Kids? – There are a number of craft classes and workshops, bike tours, boat rides and of course a day at the beach to keep the whole family entertained.
We had a great 5 days here and I would love to go back one day. To help you experience Hoi An, here is our round up of Things to do in Hoi An
Stroll around Hoi An Ancient Town and visit the Japanese Bridge
Do I need a ticket to visit Hoi An Ancient Town?
Hoi An Ancient Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Entrance to the town is by ticket but the system is complicated. Ticket booths are only at certain parts of the old town so depending on where your hotel is or where you arrive from, you may not get stopped by a ticket controller. Many tourists refuse to buy tickets and become quite abusive to the persistent controllers. It is rumoured a tourist actually pushed a ticket controller into the river over an argument about tickets! I admit we’d never heard of this ticket and the first time we were approached we thought we were being scammed and refused to pay! Later we looked it up and realised our mistake, we went to a booth and purchased our tickets. A large portion of the nominal ticket price funds much needed restoration work so we were happy to make this contribution.
Some tourists feel that if they are staying in the town over several days spending money they shouldn’t need to pay to walk the streets. Although I do understand this perspective, the town itself is now a tourist attraction, like many around the world it comes with a price. When we were there the ticket price was 120000 VND, about $7.50NZD or 4 GBP. Children under 16 years are free. Best of all, the entry allows you to choose 5 of 21 sightseeing places to visit. More information about the ticket is included here.
One of the included sites is the Japanese Bridge. Because of its close proximity to the South China Sea, Hoi An was an important trading port for Chinese, Dutch, Indian and Japanese merchants up until the 17th Century. Built in the early 1600s, the Japanese bridge is a distinctive symbol of the town. Anyone can see or photograph the bridge but to cross it you need use one of your coupons included in the old town ticket.
River Boat Trip
Take a boat ride by day or by night. I’m always looking for a different perspective of a town and a boat ride on the river offers that. It is a chance to sit still and take in your surroundings, something that is almost impossible to do when walking; constantly dodging pedestrians, motorbikes, touts and street stalls.
You only need to stroll along the river bank and you’ll be approached with offers of a boat ride. You need to negotiate length of trip and price. At night the fare usually includes a paper lantern and candle to release onto the water.
Thanh Ha Pottery Village
3km outside the old town, the pottery village is a nice way to spend a couple of hours, you can organise a tour, but it isn’t necessary, it is easy enough to get taxi to take you out there. When you have finished the staff at the ticket booth will be happy to call you a taxi to take you back.
The tickets are a nominal price and include a souvenir whistle. Potters will invite you to try your hand at their wheel or working with the clay. I wrote about S & L enjoying their pottery experience in this Worldschool post. While they were busy painting their terracotta masks I took a walk around the village snapping a few pictures of the pottery drying in the sun.
And this lovely lady selling toy whistles.
Visit the Hoi An Market
If you want to see a different side to Hoi An away from the tourist restaurants and tailor shops, take a walk through the Hoi An Market.
Enjoy Banh Mi at Banh Mi Phuong
Head to Banh Mi Phuong for the most famous Banh Mi in town. There is frequently a line out into the street. If you want to eat in you can go straight in to find a table, otherwise the queue moves quickly, grab a takeaway and eat it street food style. The queue will seem chaotic, stand back and watch for a minute until you get the system. Then just choose what filling you want from the board. Place your order with one of the ladies and she’ll make your sandwich in front of you.
Banh Mi are a Vietnamese sandwich, in a baguette. A Vietnamese baguette is lighter than a Western style baguette with a thinner crust. It is made with rice flour as well as wheat flour.
There are a large variety of fillings. Popular fillings include: pork, bbq meats, chicken, pork pate, meatballs, with pickled vegetables, coriander and chilli sauces. There are also vegetarian options.
Banh Mi is on most menus throughout Hoi An. Banh Mi Phuong at 2B Phan Châu Trinh, was recommended to us by the local owner of our accommodation. We thought it was delicious and nicer than any we’d had in local restaurants. Some claim it has become a victim of it’s success and is too busy at peak times, so try to come for a snack outside of lunch or dinner time if you can.
Visit Hoi An Handicraft Workshop
At 9 Nguyễn Thái Học, Phường Minh An, Hội An, this 200 year old building has a number of different activities happening inside. Check the signs outside or ask the staff, as it isn’t always obvious what’s available.
We made our silk lanterns here, they also have painting classes and tea ceremonies. They are well-known for their twice a day folk show with music and dancing. The folk show is one of the activities included on the Old Town ticket.
The lantern making class was very cheap compared to other options in town and it was just us working with one teacher rather than a large tour group. The shop also has interesting items for sale.
For more interesting shopping options we loved Reaching Out, read more about them in our post on Social Enterprise in South East Asia.
Visit a Tailor
No blog post about Hoi An would be complete without talking about tailoring options. If, like me, this would be your first time having something tailored in Vietnam, I would suggest doing a bit of research and reading online first to get an idea of the common things to consider, questions to ask and what to watch out for. I’m not going to write a how-to-visit-a-tailor-in-Hoi An post because I don’t consider myself an expert. But I will share my experience and thoughts.
After a day in Hoi An I started to become overwhelmed at the number of tailors and options. I had an idea to get a winter coat made for our upcoming visit to England but I didn’t know where to start. We visited a larger, well-known company, that has several branches, Bebe Tailor. Here you are given an IPad to look at catalogues showing hundreds of images, in my case of coats. You can say ‘ I want this coat, with that collar, those sleeves and that belt’ and they will measure and quote with your selection of material, lining etc. I found it quite difficult to visualise the finished the result and the final quoted price didn’t seem very good. I decided to think about it.
Heading back to the hotel I walked past a tiny tailor on Hoang Dieu. She was displaying a coat that was just what I wanted, in the wool fabric and colour I wanted. This was much easier, I went in, said ‘I want that coat, in that colour please’ and chose a beautiful silk lining in a stunning peacock colour, I was quoted a more realistic price. Within a day the coat was ready for the first fitting and finished the following day; after a slight adjustment to the sleeves.
I also wanted some summer dresses. I brought in a dress I liked and asked for a copy in a new silk fabric, then I spotted a lovely halter neck style on her mannequin and had both a short and a maxi dress style made in cotton. They fitted beautifully after just one fitting. 3 dresses and a coat later Phuong and I were having lots of fun.
For me the easiest way to approach tailoring was to ask for a copy of something existing, so I knew what I was getting. Order one thing first and if things are going well you can add more. Which brings me to the most important point, order early. If you are only staying a few days, order on your first or second day to ensure your items will be ready in time. You don’t want to be in a situation where you aren’t happy, but you’re leaving in a few hours so you have no choice but to accept the item.
Finally be sensible about the basics, you will be asked to pay a deposit so insist on an itemised receipt. Always check the business reviews on trip advisor before ordering.
An Bang Beach
An Bang Beach has a long stretch of white sand just a few km from Hoi An town. You can visit by taxi, motorbike or cycle from the old town. You will be charged for parking your bike and for any loungers or chairs on the beach. A good strategy is to choose a restaurant that you want to order some drinks and snacks or a meal from, and you’ll get use of a lounger, toilets etc. Just ask what minimum spend they require and then you’ll be free to relax and enjoy your day. As well as having some much needed shade.
More to do in Hoi An
If you are particularly interested in silk then you might like to visit the Hoi An Silk Village – read more about it in this post. It’s quite touristy but interesting for children or silk fans, if you do the tour you can see the various steps.
There are a number of tour companies offering bike rides into the countryside surrounding Hoi An and through the scenic rice paddies. Or you can rent a bike a do your own ride.
If you haven’t seen a water puppet show in Vietnam there is one in Hoi An several nights a week.
Hoi An Accomodation
In Hoi An we stayed at Hoi An Sunny Pool Villa. The owner had spent several years living in New Zealand and was excited to have some Kiwis arrive at his villa. He was a great host and regularly checked whether we needed any help or questions answered. The villa has a nice pool great to cool off in an afternoon and comfortable modern rooms. It is an easy walk into the old town. We highly recommend it.
Can you tell I loved Hoi An? I need to stop writing about it and move onto our next destination Ho Chi Minh or I will never get to the end of our South East Asia adventure!