Situated in the centre of Vietnam, Hoi An had been on my bucket list since the first time I saw a photo of the city all lit up with lanterns. It was difficult for me to believe such a quaintly beautiful hamlet of a city, is indeed real and not some photography gimmick. Even if I had been to Vietnam before in 2017, I could not make it to Hoi An. So, this time, when I went back in May 2022, there was no way I was going to miss it. And boy, was it worth it.
The tiny streets lined with postcard worthy houses and lanterns will make you feel as if you are walking around on a movie set. And the iconic yellow walls of this town provides the dramatic backdrop against which to watch life unfold here.
Things To do in Hoi An, Vietnam
Here are the top things to do in Hoi An and some travel tips for you to optimize your visit to this magical place. This is Part 1 of a 2-part series on Hoi An. In the next one, I will cover my café and restaurant recommendations in Hoi An.
Explore the Ancient Town and get lost in its narrow lanes
I am not exaggerating when I say that walking around in the Ancient Town feels almost akin to time-travel. The town is strikingly well-preserved, with buildings bearing the clear vestiges of its Chinese, Japanese and French influenced architecture. The city was established in the 15th century and it became a trading centre and a major hub of commerce and cultural exchange. This ancient part of Hoi An is comprised of over a 1000 historic buildings, as well as a river bank, and old monuments which can be traced back to right when the city was a thriving port.
The varied influences of different cultures in the architecture of the city, is a clear indication of how rich this city’s history is. Every twist and turn on the road will lead you on to startlingly pretty corners, hidden museums or artistic boutiques and of course, extremely Instagram-worthy cafes and restaurants. There are also a lot of vendors in the street selling a variety of foods, drinks and souvenirs.
Enjoy the Lantern Festival and Night Market in Hoi An
The night-market in Hoi An is very famous because apart from shopping and tasting a variety of food there, you can also go on along the river bank and revel at the sight of Hoi An glittering with a cornucopia of lanterns hanging in almost every nook and cranny of the city. A boat ride at night surrounded by a sea of lanterns, is for me, one of the more surreal memories from the trip to Hoi An.
The tradition of releasing lanterns onto the river, as a form of prayer for happiness, peace and prosperity, comes from its Chinese heritage, and it said to have been started by the Han dynasty in China. Visitors are also welcome to participate.
Japanese Covered Bridge – Cau Pagoda or Chùa Cầu
As I mentioned above, The whole of the Hoi An Ancient Town is like walking into a historical exhibit. But there are two monuments which deserve special mention. The first, is the Cau Pagoda, which is a footbridge.
This bridge was constructed in the 17th century and it is referred to as the “Japanese bridge’ since it was made by Japanese merchants. The architecture of the bridge is very interesting because it is made of wood and is held up with bricks and stones. This bridge is a monument of national importance in Vietnam and can also be seen on the 20.000 Dong Vietnamese currency note.
Quan Cong Temple
With a vibrant pink coloured facade and green tiled roof, this temple is simply stunning to look at. When we visited the Quan Cong Temple, there was not a soul in sight in the whole temple complex. The combination of solitude and the dramatic beauty made me feel like I was walking in a parallel universe or a set from the Pixer movie Red Panda.
The courtyard had an interesting collection of bonsais and once, you walk across it, you reach the main temple-complex. The temple walls have gorgeous depictions of mythical creatures such as dragons and unicorns as well as many Chinese inscriptions. The main alter has a statue of Quan Cong, a military general, in whose honour this temple was constructed.
Precious Heritage Art Gallery Museum
This place definitely does not get the amount of attention it deserves. This is an initiative by French photographer Réhahn, who is acclaimed worldwide for photographing and show-cashing Vietnam and it’s people.
The museum is a 5000 sq. metres museum wherein are displayed the traditional dresses as well as other cultural artefacts which had been painstakingly collected by Réhahn. It is a great opportunity to learn more about the diversity of culture among the different tribes and ethnic groups in Vietnam, while enjoying the photographer’s stunning visuals of this gorgeous country.
Explore nearby beach and villages with a bicycle or scooter
There are a number of day-trips that could be taken from Hoi-An, such as to neighbouring Danang City, My Son or Hue.
You can also rent a bike or a bicycle and head to the beach which is barely 20 minutes away from Hoi An city. Going towards the outskirts of Hoi An will also give you a chance to enjoy the picturesque rice paddy fields in the villages nearby or maybe even discover hidden herb gardens or ponds filled to the brim with lotuses.
Hoi An Travel Tips
Here are some Hoi An Travel Tips to help you along in your planning. After reflecting on the trip, I have come up these tips so you can have as stress-free a time as possible while travelling in Hoi An.
- Begin your day as early as possible.
In Vietnam (and Asia in general), the day starts very early. And by ‘early’, I mean 6 or 7 A.M. Considering how the mid-day temperatures can rise as high as 35 °C even at 11 A.M., it is quite prudent to do as the locals do, and start your exploration as early as possible.
You will find that even your hotels and Airbnb’s start serving breaking from 6:30 AM, a lot of tours and trips also begin around the same time and the streets of Vietnam are already buzzing and almost alive that early. So just embrace the local rhythm.
- Hoi An during the day and Hoi An at night are two different planets.
During the day, Hoi An is quiet, save for the monuments of tourist attraction. But come nightfall, and it transforms completely. The lantern festival, the night market, the street vendors all create a raucously joyous atmosphere and well, while it is fun, it could also get a tad too crowded and cramped especially on a weekend.
While the night life in Hoi An is not to be missed, to really make the best of your trip, carve out some time during the day to walk around and really take in the history and beauty of this place.
- Pack at least one cute outfit. Trust me on this one!
By now, I think I have made it ample clear how romantic this place can be. And by romantic, I do not mean you need to be coupled to enjoy it. By romantic, I mean the ability to be immersed in a magical surreally beautiful place straight out of a storybook, even if for it’s just for a couple of days.
So, take a cute dress along, go for a special dinner here, take yourself out for a boat ride if you are travelling solo, but go that extra mile to treat yourself! Also take that cheesy selfie by the glittering lantern lights, you will want to remember your time here.
- Don’t just come for a day-trip
In my opinion, with the amount of history, culture, food and nightlife here, Hoi An deserves more than just a day-trip. I would recommend you to stay here for at least 1 night.
In fact, for me, it was an ideal base to explore the nearby places from. It was a welcome break after the hustle and bustle of Hanoi and an opportunity to rest and rejuvenate.
- Do bargain while shopping, but be respectful.
Bargaining for prices is an accepted part of the culture in Vietnam. While buying wares from hawkers on the street or the local shops without a fixed price, you are free to bargain away. But do remember to be respectful. Many westerners travel to places like Vietnam and expect to be handed things for peanuts. They talk down to the hawkers and quote unreasonably low prices, which the seller might accept just because they need something to live on for that day.
Note, bargaining does not occur in restaurants and food joints. They usually have a clearly displayed fixed prices.
Do not bargain as if it is a game, because at the end of the day you are haggling around someone’s livelihood. So please be respectful and quote prices you deem as fair and reasonable.
Hope this mini-guide to Hoi An is helpful for your trip. And for recommendation on places to eat and drink in Hoi An, stay tuned for the next post in this series.