The best of Hoi An, Vietnam

Paula Martinelli Blog, Travel, Vietnam 2 Comments

If you are like me, you probably already fell in love with some of the many places that you’ve visited. Hoi An is just a perfect combination of a small town feel with so much to explore and a very 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. Hoi An is surrounded by rice fields and has plenty of ancient buildings and temples to explore. It is well-known for the tailor shops making it a great destination if you like to shop for good quality, inexpensive custom made clothes and shoes (this is the best place to buy a banana suit).

I could live in Hoi An because it seems to be a perfect and peaceful place to live. It boasts the natural beauty of the rice fields, the river running through the town creating a spectacular storybook river walk with boutique shops and restaurants. Nearby are wonderful beaches to soak up the sun. The mix of the Old Town charm with its great fusion cuisine and happy and very welcoming people make this must visit destination.

One of the ancient buildings by the river

GOOD stuff to know about HOI AN

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.

I spent a total of 6 days here, including spending Christmas time, 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 days.

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.


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.

top BEST things to do in HOI AN

Great 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 the talented chefs.

Visit the rice paddies – I rented 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. As one lady mimed to me, it was back breaking work!


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.

Hoi An Airbnb

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.

Explore Hoi An and the area by motorbike – There are so many places to visit around Hoi An such as following the river and observing all the fishing boats, visiting 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.


Grab a coffee– Hoi An 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!


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 shoe that I absolutely love!

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.


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 from a different angle. There are also larger boats that offer dinner cruises on the river.


Visit the historic buildings – Hoi An has many historic buildings from the 16th to 18th centuries, including the famous Japanese Covered Bridge.

Japanese Covered bridge
Japanese Covered bridge

Visit Precious Heritage by Rehahn  – 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, you can 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 Rhahn while visiting his gallery. He is a very genuine person and his passion for his photography and for Vietnam were very palpable. He was incredibly gracious and spend some time sharing some precious stories of his projects with me.

The outside of the gallery with some of Rehahn photographs
The outside of the gallery with some of Rehahn photographs
I was so happy to meet Rehahn
I was so happy to meet Rehahn

Enjoy the night life  - 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.

One of the many restaurants by the river in Hoi An
One of the many restaurants by the river in Hoi An

A SPECIAL Christmas in Hoi An

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.


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