Ho An - Top things to do

Hoi An, Vietnam – 2019 Guide of Top things to do and explore

Paula Martinelli Blog, Danang, Travel, Travel Tips, Vietnam 4 Comments

Historic, fun, beautiful, interesting and so much to offer...Find out why I could live in Hoi An

Hoi An is a must-visit destination in Vietnam, and with so much to do and see I have listed here the top 13 things to do and explore that you cannot miss.

If you are like me, you've probably already fallen in love with some of the places you’ve visited. Hoi An is just a perfect combination of a small-town feel with so much to do and explore combined with a rich culture.

Hoi An is just one of those places that offers something for everyone, with plenty of ancient tea warehouses, coffee shops, and great variety in the local cuisine. Surrounded by rice fields, this town and has plenty of historic buildings and pagodas (temples) to explore, along with a stunning countryside.

Hoi An - Top things to do and explore
The yellow building in Hoi An - a great place to explore

Hoi An is renowned for tailored clothes, making it a great destination if you like to shop for good quality, inexpensive tailor-made clothes, and shoes (this is the best place to buy a banana suit). You can get pretty much anything made in Hoi An. From custom-made suits to sundresses to leather boots to sneakers. And the tailor shops will even mail all your goods home to you.

I could even live in Hoi An because it seems to be a perfect and peaceful place to live. The natural beauty of the rice fields surrounding the town along with the river running through it creates a spectacular storybook river walk with boutique shops and restaurants. Nearby are lovely beaches to soak up the sun, and there are many amazing places to visit on a day trip from Hoi An. In one day you can visit mountains, beaches, a city and rice paddies. The mix of the Old Town charm with its great fusion cuisine and happy and very welcoming people make this must-visit destination.

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Hoi Sn - Top things to do and explore

TOP things to know about HOI AN

Transportation: Hoi An was the second stop during my trip to Vietnam. I flew from Ho Chi Minh City to Danang and took a 30 minute Uber ride to my Airbnb in Hoi An for US$10. You will pay around US$15-20 if you take a regular cab. To rent a motorbike to explore Hoi An you will pay US$5 per day plus gas. A private driver for a day tour to the My Son ruins cost me US$10 per person.

Accommodation: Hoi An has some of the most affordable accommodation options in Vietnam. It all depends on your travel style. You can pay as little as $8 for a shared room at a hostel, around $20 for an Airbnb - here is the place I stayed and highly recommend if you are interested.  Also, there are plenty of options for hotels, and the average prices are around $35.

How long should you stay: I spent a total of 6 days in Hoi An, including spending Christmas, and had the opportunity to take side trips to Danang and My Son. If you are visiting Vietnam, I recommend including Hoi An on your must-visit list and plan to stay in this beautiful town for at least 3 full days.

When to go: The dry season is from February until July, as these months provide plenty of sunshine, with warm temperatures. I visited Hoi An in December and the weather was just perfect. The mornings started cloudy and overcast with mild temperatures, and by midday, it would warm up with temperatures in the low 70’s. It rained briefly pretty much every day while I was in Hoi An, but it didn’t slow me down as I would take the opportunity to sit in one of the many cafés and enjoy watching the rain by the river. The downside is that I was not able to go to the beach because the weather didn't permit it.

Hoi An - Top things to do and explore
Hoi Sn - Top things to do and explore

Where is HOI AN

Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located on the central coast Vietnam and is known for its well-preserved picturesque Old Quarter, cut through with canals. The city’s past as a trading center is reflected in its architecture; a mix of eras and styles from wooden Chinese shop houses and temples to colorful French colonial buildings, ornate Vietnamese tube houses and the iconic Japanese Covered Bridge with its pagoda.

Hoi An was the most important trading port in Asia linking China and Japan with the rest of Asia. The ancient yellow buildings from the 16th to 18th centuries, with stone roads and colorful lanterns hanging outside buildings makes it so beautiful during the day. At night the lanterns light the yellow buildings of Old Quarter with a warm, welcoming glow.

Here are my TOP 13 BEST things to do in HOI AN

1- Enjoy the Great local and fusion cuisine – Oh yeah! There is good food in Hoi An and great options for restaurants offering local dishes and the prices are very good too. I tried many different restaurants and I didn’t have one bad meal, they were all great.

The food was very fresh, tasty and with a large variety and options. There are quite a few restaurants that have modern twists on classic Vietnamese dishes as well as new creations and fusion dishes from talented chefs.

Here is a list of 10 restaurants in Hoi An, I have tried almost all of them, and they are all fantastic!

Hoi An - Top things to do and explore
Hi An - Top things to do and explore
Hi An - Top things to do and explore

2- Visit the rice paddies – I stayed in a " wooden house" on Airbnb and it was perfect. The house was between large rice paddies and the main town. I rented a motorbike and enjoyed the scenery and observed the people working in the paddies. You can also rent a bike and ride on the dirt roads and concrete paths among the rice fields, while enjoying the beautiful scenery and observing the life of the locals who work on the field.

Hoi An - Top things to do and explore

3- Ride a bicycle around the town – The house I rented had bicycles available and it was possible to go grab breakfast or dinner, or even ride to the Old Quarter. Bikes are very popular here, since the traffic is lighter than the big cities. The main sections of Hoi An are closed to cars and motorbikes, making it easier and safer to ride a bicycle around.

4- Explore the surroundings of Hoi An – There are so many places to visit around Hoi An. You can explore freely, for example follow the river and observe all the fishing boats - there are many restaurants around the river, while you have a phenomenal view, enjoy a local beer and food. Visit Bang Beach or take a 1-hour motorbike ride to the city of Danang and visit the magnificent Marble Mountains or a 1-hour car drive to visit the historic Hindu Sanctuary of My Son.

Hoi Sn - Top things to do and explore

6- Visit the Tailor Shops – Hoi An is famous for its Tailors. The streets and galleries are packed with tourists carrying designer’s magazines, and the local tailors can reproduce pretty much anything. All you have to do is to pick your style, your favorite fabric and next day you can go back to try it and make any final adjustments needed before you pick it up. I was so tempted to buy more, but thanks to the limited space in my backpack I controlled myself and ended up with only a couple of dresses and a pair of shoes that I absolutely love!

Do you want a replica Indiana Jones leather jacket? You can get one made to your size here. If you can think of it, they can make it.

7- Stroll by the River – The Old Quarter of Hoi An is closed to cars and motorbikes. It is only open to pedestrians, bicycles and rickshaws. It makes it pleasant to just walk around the ancient part of the town without worrying about the traffic.

Hoi Sn - Top things to do and explore
Hoi Sn - Top things to do and explore
Hoi An - Top things to do and explore

8- Boat trip down the Thu Bon River – Many locals, usually women, offer boat rides down the river in their wooden canoes. It is a great opportunity to see more of the Hoi An Old Quarter from a different angle. There are also larger boats that offer dinner cruises on the river.

9- Visit the historic buildings – Hoi An has many historic buildings from the 16th to 18th centuries, including the famous Japanese Covered Bridge. Explore some houses, as some of them have had their interiors turned into museums, giving visitors a glimpse at what life was like for wealthy merchants in the colonial and pre-colonial period. The Tan Ky and the Duc An homes are two of the more popular ones to visit.

Hoi Sn - Top things to do and explore
Hoi An - Top things to do and explore
Japanese Covered Bridge at night

10 - Visit the Precious Heritage Project  – This amazing art gallery displays photography from one of the best photographers in the world today, Rehahn. You cannot only find Rehahn’s photography on display, but you can also see his museum dedicated to the 54 native tribes of Vietnam. This museum of ethnology was one of the most impactful and special experiences in Hoi An. I had the incredible pleasure to meet Rehahn while visiting his gallery. He is a very genuine person and his passion for photography and for Vietnam were very palpable. He was incredibly gracious and spent time sharing some precious stories of his projects with me.

Hoi An - Top things to do and explore
The outside of the gallery with some of Rehahn photographs
Hoi An - Top things to do and explore
I was so happy to meet Rehahn
Hoi Sn - Top things to do and explore

11- Enjoy the nightlife  - When night time comes, the Old Quarter transforms and the yellow lights from the lanterns hanging outside the buildings and in the streets add even more charm to this quaint place. The nightlife in Hoi An is very alive with all the restaurants, bars, night market and boutique shops, attracting and inviting people to enjoy the outdoors.

12- Explore the Cafes -  Hoi An also offers so many options of coffee shops and it is hard to make a bad choice. I had one of the best breakfast at Rosie’s café. It was so fresh and healthy, and I highly recommend you to try it. Rosie’s offers some very creative options on classic dishes. The café is tucked away and can be a challenge to find, but it was so worth the effort!

Hoi Sn - Top things to do and explore
Hoi Sn - Top things to do and explore

13 - Connect with the locals -  This is one of my favorite things to do while I am traveling and exploring our Planet! Connect with the locals. While exploring new things, getting lost in the streets, trying the local food and visiting beautiful sites are all amazing, I find that the best way to really get to know a place and the culture is through interaction with locals, and Hoi An is perfect for it. They are extremely nice people, and they are also eager to get to know you and to practice their English. I always opt to stay in a regular neighborhood as it gives me the chance to interact with the locals, outside the tourist areas. I ride my bike to the local restaurant for my meals, and one day I ordered a pho. A local gentleman at the table next to me joined me for dinner and shared his long story about when he fought at the American-Vietnam War. I thought it was simply amazing!

Are you planning a trip to Vietnam? Check out my complete Vietnam Travel Guide

My VERY SPECIAL Christmas in Hoi An

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My husband and I made the reservations for dinner at the Mango Restaurant . It was a great choice, as the food was delicious and very fresh. We sat outside and watched the busy and exciting (I noticed that the Vietnamese people get really excited about Christmas) Christmas Eve on the streets of the Old Quarter. People were selling all sorts of things such as Christmas souvenirs, Christmas cards, and toys. Tourists were walking around looking for a place to eat or just enjoying the beautiful evening out.

Suddenly, this little girl selling Christmas cards caught my eye. She had the most beautiful smile, and she was really catching attention with her “sassy selling techniques” around our table. I couldn’t help, but invite her to have a Christmas Eve meal with us. She said she couldn’t because she was working and she had to help her mom who was also selling items on the streets, and pregnant.

I insisted that she accept our invite, and I went to ask her mom for permission. The mom said the same to me, the girl needed to work to help to provide for the family. But it was Christmas Eve and I wanted her to have the experience to just enjoy that special evening. I committed to buy her cards, if she would enjoy dinner with us.

She finally accepted, and I was so happy. She made our Christmas in Hoi An so special.

Her name was Hoa and she was 13 years old. She could speak very good English and she shared with us that her dream was to be an English teacher when she grows up. Sitting there, in beautiful Hoi An, enjoying an amazing meal with my new little friend, and listening to the story of her life was such a beautiful experience.

She told me how she gets up and goes to school every day and does her homework. At night she works with her mom selling cards in the streets of Hoi An. She had the most beautiful smile, she was happy and she taught me a lesson that it doesn’t matter what life throws your way, keep smiling and dreaming, and working towards your goals.  What a special Christmas gift I got in Hoi An.

Hoi An - Top things to do and explore
One of the many restaurants by the river in Hoi An
Hoi Sn - Top things to do and explore