48 Hours in Hoi An: The Perfect Itinerary
Visiting Hoi An for at least 48 hours is a must when travelling to Vietnam. Once a trading port for Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese and Dutch merchants, this bustling city is now a popular tourist destination.
And for good reason too. Beautiful ochre houses line the Ancient City, a designated UNESCO world heritage site since 1999. The unique Japanese Bridge spans across the river towards temples, assembly houses and tailor shops. Probably Vietnam’s most famous banh mi stall – Banh Mi Phuong – serves hundreds of hungry backpackers every day. Then night falls and the now world-famous, colourful lanterns illuminate the Old Town and the Thu Bon River.
It’s easy to spend a week or more in this picturesque coastal town. But, like many tourists, your time may be limited and therefore you can allocate just two days to Hoi An. You don’t want to muck about – which is where Hidden comes in! We’ve picked the most interesting activities and compiled them into this 48 hours itinerary in Hoi An. Let us show you the essential attractions, tours and local food this little gem of a city, Hoi An, has on offer.
Hidden Quick Guide
- Where is Hoi An:
Quang Nam Province, Central Vietnam
Hoi An has a surface of 60 km2 (20 sq mi)
- Best time to visit Hoi An:
Hidden recommends the months of March and September. These months provide the lowest average rainfall of the year and manageable temperatures. It’s just between the rainy season (mid October – mid February) and dry season (March – September). Expect an average temperature of 29ºC during the whole year.
- Top attractions:
Hoi An’s Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Local festivals:
Hoi An Lantern Full Moon Festival takes place every full moon.
- How to get to Hoi An:
By plane, train or bus. You can visit Hoi An from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, and Da Nang.
Hidden Hint: Plan ahead if you are coming to Hoi An during Tet (Chinese New Year). Travel is expensive and a lot of places close during this period as it is Vietnam’s biggest holiday.
Getting Around Hoi An in 48 Hours
This is our preferred option, due to the fact that Hoi An is a small and flat city. Walking around the Old Town is a great way to observe Vietnamese daily life. Most attractions are near the Old Town centre. There are more than enough things to do in and around the Old Town to keep you busy your whole stay.
On Two Wheels
Another great way to get around is to rent a bicycle. This way you can get a little bit further than you could on two legs. With your own transport, you are able to explore remote areas around the city like the rice fields and beaches. Or alternatively, you can rent a motorbike. However, before you decide to do this be aware that Vietnam’s traffic is often congested and follows its own unwritten rules. We’d recommend the motorbike option only for experienced bikers and adventurous travellers.
To visit an attraction away from the city try hailing a taxi. We recommend Mai Linh or Vinasun taxis since they are well-recognised firms here. As in every Vietnamese city, make sure the meter is working or agree on a fixed price before you depart. As a benchmark, a taxi from Hoi An’s Old Town to An Bang Beach costs around 80,000 VND (3.5 USD)
Fast Go and Grab are the alternatives. These apps work like Uber – simply select your destination and see the price beforehand. Therefore avoiding any misunderstandings with the driver and you get to just enjoy the ride.
48 Hours in Hoi An Day 1 – See: The Old Town During the Day
Hoi An’s Old Town is the main reason to visit this city. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1999 because of its beautifully preserved streets and iconic yellow houses.
To visit the city centre you are asked to purchase a ticket. The ticket costs 120,000 VND (5 USD) and grants you access to the Old Town plus five of its numerous heritage buildings. There are many well maintained and interesting houses.
We’ve picked our top places in the Old Town so you get a glimpse of the rich history of Hoi An.
Hoi An’s Fresh Markets
We recommend beginning your day early at the fresh market by the river. Here you can see how Hoi An begins its daily routine. The sound of scooters zipping through crowds and the shouts of old ladies negotiating prices ensure you’ve woken up properly. From vegetables to frogs, the Vietnamese sell everything at this busy market. It is a great place to discover new exotic fruits that you have never seen before.
Further along, closer to the Old Town is the fish market. An open space where the fresh catch from the river and ocean splash inside their buckets. After taking some picturesque photos, continue on your way to the heart of the Old Town.
The Heart of the Old Town
The most famous spot in Hoi An’s ancient town is the Japanese bridge A 400-year-old bridge, 60 feet in length, painted a beautiful reddy pink colour with a wooden pagoda roof. The bridge is so iconic that it is printed on the 20,000 VND bills.
Cross the bridge to see the shrine inside. It is dedicated to Tran Bo Bac De, the god of weather. Sailors and merchants worship this god to prevent bad weather and natural disasters. This deity was understandably very important for the commercial port of Hoi An. Even today Vietnamese continue to use this as a place of worship.
Old Town Historic Houses and Temples
Explore Duc An House, a very beautiful old building that many tourists miss out on. Walking inside feels like travelling back in time. The house is still owned by the original family which is a plus.
Hidden Hint: Across the street from Duc An House is Mot Hoi An. Take a break and refresh yourself with a cold herbal tea in this lovely tea house.
Next, learn about Vietnamese religion at Quan Cong Temple. Built-in 1643 it is one of the most well-preserved temples in the city. Looking almost exactly as it did originally. After that, visit Phung Hung Old House, a merchant house from Hoi An’s golden era. Spend some time meandering through the old furniture and artifacts from long ago, imagining life during this era.
Finally with the remainder of your time – go get lost in the city. Reserving one of your tickets for a place that catches your eye or awakens your interest. Wandering around the Old Town is a unique experience that cannot be underestimated. The town has lots of surprises just waiting for you to discover them.
Bonus: Precious Heritage Art Gallery
French photographer Réhahn has explored Vietnam for years. This gallery showcases his life’s work. Learn about 45 of Vietnam’s ethnic groups through his collection of photographs. Objects and traditional dresses from each group decorate the gallery. Additionally, videos explain the lives and traditions of the tribes. Best of all it’s completely free!
48 Hours in Hoi An Day 1 – Eat: Hoi An Street Food
Hoi An is a street food town. Since the town’s earlier days, when merchants and workers craved a cheap and filling meal. Thus, street vendors and hawkers lined up the pavements to fulfill their needs. Fortunately today they still pack the streets with their delicious smelling stalls and inviting plastic tables and stools.
The street cooks not only serve typical dishes such as banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) and com ga (chicken rice). They refined these recipes turning them into local specialties only found in Hoi An. Do you want to learn more about Hoi An’s street food? Click here for the corresponding article. As you explore Hoi An’s Old Town, stop for breakfast or lunch at one of these famous Hoi An street food joints.
Banh Mi Phuong
Address: 2b Phan Chu Trinh – Business Hours: From 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily
A banh mi is a Vietnamese sandwich usually stuffed with pate, pork, veggies, herbs and sauces. Locals and tourists consider the banh mi bread in Hoi An as the best in the country. The bread is lighter and its crust crispier and thinner than the regular sandwich. Read our full article about the Best Banh Mi in Hoi An and find out for yourself what makes this sandwich so special.
Banh Mi Phuong is the most iconic banh mi shop in Hoi An. Chef Anthony Bourdain visited Madam Phuong for his show “No Reservations”. He claimed this banh mi to be the best sandwich he had ever eaten. Therefore your visit to Hoi An would be incomplete if you missed this famous restaurant. Prices start at 15,000 VND (.65c USD) for an egg banh mi to 30,000 VND (1.30 USD) for the classic mixed meat version.
Hidden Hint: This place attracts tourist crowds. Avoid the queues outside by walking straight inside the little restaurant and take a seat. The waiters serve you right away and you can enjoy your banh mi at your table.
Com Ga Ba Buoi
Address: 22 Phan Chu Trinh – Opening Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday – Sunday
Chicken rice has been served in Central Vietnam for over 200 years. At one point, Hoi An was considered one of the best trading ports in the world. Because of this, Chinese traders not only frequented the port but also settled here. They brought a Hainan chicken dish with them which has been adapted into the modern com ga. The dish consists of shredded chicken with rice (cooked in chicken broth), onion and green papaya.
One of the longest standing eateries in Hoi An, in operation since the 1950’s. Com Ga Ba Buoi is a perfect example of doing one thing really well and not wavering from it. The restaurant is set in a tiny local house painted bright teal. There is fairly limited space inside so expect to share your table with hungry Vietnamese diners. The standard com ga at Com Ga Ba Buoi costs 35,000 VND (1.50 USD). For our pics of where to find Hoi An’s best com ga click here.
48 Hours in Hoi An Day 1 – Do: Grasshopper’s Late Afternoon Cycling Food Tour
After walking the Old Town for the morning we suggest taking a siesta before joining Grasshopper Adventure’s cycling food tour. Going on a tour with a local guide is an excellent way to learn everything about a new destination and this bicycle tour is one of the best.
On the 15 kilometre food tour, Grasshopper Adventures first lead you through the narrow streets and alleyways of the Old Town. They’ll teach you everything about local specialty cao lau. Next, you explore the countryside observing people working on the rice paddies and tending the herb gardens.
After that, you head back to the city centre to try more delicious dishes such as banh xeo, a Vietnamese pancake made from rice flour. The guides end the food tour at a coffee shop offering you some sweet treats.
Price: 1.050.000 VND (45 USD)
Duration: From 3:45 p.m. to 8 p.m.
48 Hours in Hoi An Day 2 – Do: Trip to My Son Sanctuary OR Marble Mountains
My Son Sanctuary
This UNESCO World Heritage site of Hindu temple remains are located about one and a half hours west of Hoi An. Easily reached through a half-day tour with one of the numerous tour operators. Alternatively, rent a scooter or get a private taxi and drive to the temple complex. The My Son Sanctuary opens daily from 6.30 a.m. until 5.30 p.m. and costs 150,000 VND (6.50 USD).
The ticket price is definitely worth it. My Son is the oldest temple complex in the area – it’s even 800 years older than Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Bring comfortable shoes as you explore most of the vast area on foot. However, for the first two kilometres, there is a free electric shuttle service.
Hidden Hint: If you are not on a tour, get a guide in order to fully understand the interesting historical background of the Champa Kingdom and Hindu religion.
Arriving at the first ruin, you walk on narrow paths through the different building groups. Once the religious and political centre of the Champa people. The lush valley and surrounding jungle mountains are captivating. Every once in a while, another red brick temple emerges through the green leaves of the trees. My Son is the perfect destination for both history and nature lovers. We have dedicated a whole article to the My Son Sanctuary.
The Marble Mountains are a beautiful tourist destination easily accessed from Hoi An. Their huge, porous limestones are located just 20 kilometres north of the city in the outskirts of Da Nang.
Most travellers choose to join a tour to get to the Marble Mountains. There are several companies offering this as a half-day or full-day trip, usually including other destinations such as the Hai Van Pass. The Marble Mountains are open from 7 a.m. until 5.30 p.m. Tours depart daily.
Hidden Hint: Arrange your own transport and explore the Marble Mountains at your own pace. Take a local bus, rent a scooter or get a taxi or Fast Go to get there.
As you get closer, you’ll spot five huge limestone hills. Locals call them the metal, wood, earth, fire and water mountains. The latter is open to the public and costs 40,000 VND (1.70 USD). Pay an additional fee for the elevator 15,000 VND (.65 USD) or climb the 156 steps to the top where a maze of Buddhist temples, tunnels and caves await you.
The most important points of interest are the Ling Ung Pagoda and the Huyen Khong Cave. Here beams of sunlight stretch through a hole in the roof towards the floor. Go all the way up to the summit for a stunning, panoramic view of the coast and the other limestone mountains. For more information, check out our dedicated article about the Marble Mountains.
48 Hours in Hoi An Day 2 – See: Old Town by Night
The famous Hoi An Full Moon Lantern Festival takes place every full moon cycle. When the full moon comes, the street lights in the Old Town are switched off. The city is illuminated only by thousands of lanterns hanging from buildings, bridges and boats. People buy floating paper candles that are lit and released on the river. Each candle granting wishes and bringing good luck making it a very beautiful festival to witness.
But don’t worry, you’ll get a glimpse of this magical atmosphere even if you don’t visit Hoi An during a full moon. Every night colourful lanterns hanging from restaurants and boats illuminate the town. As night falls vendors begin selling their floating candles. Hire a boat and enjoy the views from the river – it’s a lovely thing to do on your last night. A boat ride costs around 100,000 VND (4.30 USD) per person depending on your negotiation skills.
48 Hours in Hoi An Day 2 – Eat: An Evening Meal in Hoi An
Hoi An Night Market
Vietnamese gastronomy is one of the best in Southeast Asia. A visit to a street market is a great way to explore and discover local cuisine. We recommend walking around Hoi An’s Night Market observing the cooks and tasting all the delicious local dishes.
Follow the smell of freshly grilled shrimps. They are used as the topping for bánh tráng nướng, a Vietnamese pizza made on a sheet of rice paper. Topping options include pork, quail eggs, sate chilli sauce, fermented shrimp paste, and fried shallots.
Craving something sweet? Our top recommendation is Chè, a traditional Vietnamese soup. Locals prepare this dessert with mildly sweet pudding, fruit, vegetables, beans, seeds, glutinous rice and tapioca powder. Finally, adding coconut milk for an extra fresh flavour.
Hidden Hint: If you see a lot of Vietnamese people queuing up at a stall, it’s normally a sign for good quality food. Join them and eat like a local.
Having filled your belly, take a stroll along the endless stalls for some souvenirs and handicrafts. What about a traditional Vietnamese hat, a Hoi An shirt or perhaps a fancy tea set? This is your time to improve your negotiation skills and get a bargain.
Madam Kieu Restaurant
If you prefer a sit-down dinner, Hidden highly recommends Madam Kieu Restaurant. It’s location is idyllic with balconies at both ground and first-floor level. Our best advice is that you arrive in time for sunset. Take a seat here and witness the golden, panoramic view of the Thu Bon River and neighbouring night market as it comes to life.
Miss Kieu, the owner of the restaurant, is a kind and welcoming lady. She cooks all her dishes according to traditional family recipes. Her menu consists of Hoi An barbecue pork, steamed shrimps in coconut water and white rose dumplings with pork and prawn, to name just a few.
Miss Kieu herself defines her cooking as a fusion between Southern Vietnamese cuisine and local Hoi An specialties. Her restaurant is a fine dining location for sampling a different flavour.
Hidden had the opportunity to sit down with Madam Kieu and talk with her about how she brought family dining to a fine dining environment. Read the full article here.
Bonus: Finish Your 48 Hours in Hoi An with a Cocktail
There is no better way to say goodbye to Hoi An than having a drink at one of the riverside bars. There are lanterns everywhere – hanging from the buildings, on the boats and over the bridges. At night they illuminate the river creating a magical atmosphere.
Try the Shamrock Irish Pub. They often have live music and have great views of the river. Or head to Mango Rooms and enjoy one of their signature cocktails on the balcony of this beautiful restaurant.
You will only have skimmed the surface during your 48 hours in Hoi An. There is so much more to do and discover in this bustling city. But by following our 48 hour itinerary, you will have seen the most unmissable attractions. Then as your evening comes to an end over a fancy cocktail by the river, you may notice that you have fallen in love with this little town. As they say in Vietnam ‘hẹn gặp lại:’ – see you again!