The 10 BEST Things to Do in Hoi An – 2020 (with Photos)
Hoi An is one of the most accommodating places in Vietnam for tourists, with a plethora of things to do. Culminating so many cultures and aesthetics that are both familiar and at the same time totally unique in their dreamy atmosphere. Hoi An is imprinted with Japanese architecture, like the renowned Japanese Covered Bridge, adorned with Chinese influenced lanterns and dissected by canals. Coupled with its array of bright yellow centuries-old houses, giving it a European, even Italian, feel.
Hoi An is truly a mixing pot of cultural influences. But it doesn’t lose its Vietnamese identity with its various museums, retro propaganda posters and of course, it’s totally distinct food.
Hoi An is a hugely attractive place for tourists, assured of an experience that can’t be replicated. Here’s Hidden’s top 10 list of things to do when you inevitably make the journey to Hoi An.
#10 Contemplative Cocktails
Unwinding isn’t difficult in Hoi An, in fact, you really have to go out of your way to wind yourself up in the first place. Though not known for its nightlife scene, Hoi An has done well at accommodating the swathes of tourists spilling in for a tipple or two. Happy hours here often extend for a euphoric amount of time with some lasting five or more hours. Rooftops are often the best place to stay attached to Hoi An’s vibrancy. So head to the Thu Bon River for a great selection of craft beer and bars.
#9 Boat Ride Along the Thu Bon River
Take a romantic and serene evening boat ride, shrouded in multicoloured lanterns. It’s the best way to sort through your thoughts after a stimulating day. Don’t worry about finding a willing purveyor, even the most accidental of eye contact leads to a swarm of sailors jostling for your attention. It’s mandatory to rock a bright orange life jacket otherwise boat owners face fines. For two people expect to pay around 150,000 VND (6.50 USD) for a return trip.
#8 Visit Hoi An’s Beaches
In stark contrast to the monumental glory of the Old Town’s relics, Hoi An’s beaches exchange the intimate and confined atmosphere for vast spacious views. Hoi An has four main beaches catering to your need for sociability, isolation or even water sports.
Cua Dai Beach was once Hoi An’s main sandy attraction, but due to erosion has shrunk in size. Heaps of sandbags lie all over the beach to prevent any further receding. But this has detracted a bit from its appeal. However, it is a quieter alternative to its neighbour An Bang, Hoi An’s most popular beach. Meaning you can still find relative tranquillity here depending on the time of day. Spas, jet skis and even banana boat rides are on offer, so click here for a full guide on how best to spend a day at Cua Dai.
An Bang Beach
An Bang Beach is definitely the most popular and at times crowded, depending on the time of day and time of year. Having only recently surged in popularity, An Bang retains its beach village vibe as it is not (yet) heavily built up. In 2016 CNN featured An Bang as one of the top 100 beaches in the world. So there’s plenty of things to do, live music, parasailing, meditation and even cooking classes are just some examples of its captivation. Click here for an in-depth look at An Bang Beach.
If you make the effort to continue walking south along the coastline you’ll make it to a beach we call An Bang South, a less populous beach still with plenty of bars and restaurants.
Finally, Hoi An’s “Hidden” Beach is definitely its worst kept secret but still offers a quieter alternative for soaking up the sun. It’s located between An Bang and Cua Dai, around a five-minute drive from both and easily found on Google Maps. It still offers water sports and good restaurants. So be sure to check it out here for a contemplative time.
#7 Eat at One of Hoi An’s Best Restaurants.
Food all over Vietnam is intricately weaved with local preferences and historical significance. For a trained tongue, the flavours of the northern and southern parts are vastly different. In addition, the territories have differentiating preferences in the perennial battle between sweet and sour. Hoi An is a central city so in many ways can be a good compromise between these contrasting tastes. It’s a coastal city too, so seafood has a big influence on the cuisine. However, the pious ways of Hue’s Buddhists, just north of Hoi An, mean there’s still an array of vegetarian options.
At the same time Hoi An is very much a tourist town, so expect to find all kinds of accommodating food from western food to northern Vietnamese pho. We have a whole article dedicated to the specialities of the region. So click here if you’re not feeling lucky enough to blindly order something in Vietnamese.
Hidden’s Recommendation – Hoa Hien Restaurant
This beautiful riverside restaurant is housed in one of Hoi An’s heritage houses called Hoa Hien. In a town completely enveloped in bright colours, this one still manages to stand out with its modernistic decor and complementary colour scheme. The restaurant offers a tasting menu so you can scrutinize morsels of many of Hoi An’s specialities from the comfort of one seat.
Hidden Hint: The restaurant sits across from theVietnamese culture show Hoi An Memories. So take a seat at the balcony to get the best of both worlds.
# 6 Motorbike Tour
Riding a motorbike across Vietnam’s constantly shifting landscapes isn’t a replicable experience, but it is one that must be taken with caution and vigilance. Be advised it is illegal to ride without a relevant permit such as a Vietnamese motorcycle license, the equivalent from your home country, or an International Driver’s Permit. Read our guide for all the requirements.
Motorbikes are the default form of transportation in Vietnam and the story’s no different in Hoi An. This makes it ridiculously easy to find a rental or relevant tour/easy-rider to cruise. The Hai Van Pass is the crown jewel of any motorbike tour in Central Vietnam. It’s an incredible snakey road traversing colossal mountains. Get the lowdown on the best way to tackle it here if you’re willing to be so inclined (that’s a mountain gradient joke)
Make a day of your travels if you’re interested in going to Hue and rest assured that this is still Vietnam and so your journey will be equally as enchanting, Here’s where to start planning your exploration.
# 5 Most Relaxing Thing to Do in Hoi An – Pamper Yourself at a Day Spa
Here in Hoi An, you’re absolutely spoilt for choice for a spa day. If you’ve spent a day walking around the Old Town you’ve undoubtedly heard the sharp and to the point “hello, massage” from brightly smiling Vietnamese women ready to usher you in. It’s less of an offering than it is a request. The cost of all this choice is that services widely vary in quality. But Hidden’s done their research so click here for an outline of our top picks for any budget
Experiences are as indulgent as a full-on spa day with head/foot massages and laser hair removal. Or experimental, like a less luxurious blind massage by a partially sighted or blind Vietnamese masseuse.
#4 Hire a Bicycle and See the Countryside
A worthwhile break away from the bustling tourist attractions is a peaceful cycle through Hoi An’s tranquil countryside. It’s a haven amongst white sand beaches and rice paddies. Perfect for restoring some zen after the frantic excitement of the Old Town. The first step is to hire a bike, almost as easy as finding lunch! It’s hard to walk ten minutes without seeing a sign offering a rentable steed. However, make sure it’s a trusty one too by checking the tires and riding it around a few times. Fixed gear bikes are everywhere but mountain bikes are more limited. We’ve got a few recommendations on the best range and quality if you’re in need as well as the routes we’ve tested ourselves for a self-guided ride.
There are a few more extreme routes for the kinetically inclined like the Hai Van Pass or a trip to My Son, take a look here if you’re interested. Bear in mind that the heat in summer can be downright debilitating, so pack plenty of water or head around the afternoon to catch a track-halting sunset.
#3 Take in One of the Cultural Shows
Hoi An’s Old Town is smallish, meaning many things to do are conveniently located close to where the action is happening. There are three main shows to check out here, each of a different scale and atmosphere.
Lune’s theatre here is designed specifically for Hoi An. Made up of natural materials to give a sense of deep Vietnamese roots and reverence for nature. Adorned with bamboo scaffolding and wicker worked chandeliers it feels like a dreamy birds nest when you walk in. Its brightly lit moon-shaped dome hosts fantastical performances of acrobatics, contortion, dance and acting.
The theatre specialises in five different productions which are on a rotating basis throughout the year. So be sure to check out their website to see what’s in store. What makes these performances special is its authenticity to its setting and its material. They use recognisable props like bamboo poles and hill tribe instruments but elevate this through intimate and witty performances from a realistic cast. Go into each performance with a bit of background by clicking here.
Hoi An Memories
This show takes place on a grand scale, closer in comparison to an opening ceremony before a World Cup than the Cirque du Soleil-esque display of Lune. It’s a time-lapse of Hoi An’s last 400 years of growth, from trading port to tourist hub.
With 500 actors and dancers, the magnitude of this show can’t be understated. It’s not a singular story with a narrator or main characters. But instead a series of woven events that translate into a better understanding of its only character, the city of Hoi An. Massive moveable props emerge through the ages as fluid as the river channel alongside its stage. You’ll find information about showtimes and how to reach this special place in our full article here.
Hoi An Water Puppet Show
If you’re looking for an equally authentic but more budget-friendly performance then this is the one for you. These shows contain traditional folktales and fables with morals as well as some wit. Unique for its aesthetics, a water-based setting garnished with beautifully handcrafted puppets. The performances are of course child-friendly but adults find them equally enjoyable.
The show’s introductions are in English but the puppets conversations are in Vietnamese. However, the happenings are all intelligible through the sights and sounds of the performance. Book tickets easily at any ticket booth around the Old Town.
Hidden Hint: Get there 10 minutes before as seats aren’t assigned
#2 Have a New Wardrobe Tailor Made
Tailors in Hoi An are even more ubiquitous than masseuses, making the urge to suit up almost overpowering!
Hoi An can thank its status as a major port for its tailoring heritage. Since the silk trade, families have been passing on their skills to new generations and making sure their long-standing tradition lives on. This tradition became less prominent during recent conflicts in Vietnam and foreigners were out of the loop of Hoi An’s specialisation. That is until the upsurge of the internet and tailoring places became widely reviewed and revered. Consequently leading to a higher demand for quality and widespread knowledge of their unbelievably low prices.
Tailoring quality and pricing can be split into three categories, high-end, mid-range and the fabric market. In a town with over 200 tailors, the first step to take is to thoroughly check online reviews and overall experiences with a specific tailoring store. The quality of the clothes is important but staff relations with customers are essential in case of any dissatisfaction with the final product.
Top of the line tailors can make you a suit from anywhere between 3,000,000 VND (129 USD) – 6,500,000 VND (280 USD). Whereas the low-end range at the fabric market starts at just over 2,000,000 VND (86 USD), but you’ll need to haggle. Hidden reviewed a selection of tailors from each price range, for our recommendations and an overall impression of what to expect, click here.
#1 Thing to Do in Hoi An – Buy a Ticket and Visit the Old Town
The epicentre of “Things to do in Hoi An” is, of course, the Old Town. Being a prominent trading port in the 16th and 17th centuries means French, Chinese and Japanese traders all left their mark here. This makes for some jaw-dropping visuals which in itself is enough to keep any tourist musing. Organically exploring is stimulating enough but there are particular sights and activities of note. Lantern lit boat rides, 200-year-old communal houses and traditional theatrical performances are just some of the things on offer. To fully prepare your itinerary, click here for everything to see and do in this magical place as well as the best times to visit
Explore the Old Town on foot because the roads close off to motorbikes and scooters at certain times of the day. So make sure to take advantage by breathing it all in. Technically entrance tickets are mandatory but this isn’t consistently enforced. Meaning it’s unlikely you’ll be stopped unless you’re with a tour guide or a large group of friends. On the other hand, the ticket does grant you access to five different sites of your choosing from historic buildings, museums and heritage houses. The tickets cost 120,000 VND (5 USD) and the funding goes towards the preservation and general upkeep of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. For a comprehensive breakdown of the sites on offer as well as where to purchase said tickets, click here
Hidden Hoi An’s Thoughts
This is not a definitive list but is a sturdy base for you to build your itinerary. Be sure to check out our extended links for more information on how to best relish your stay here.
Hoi An values the preservation of its history above all else. So even with the continual economic transformation brought through tourism, and maybe because of it, the city is heart set on retaining its authenticity. Be that through culture shows, historical sites or frantic roads. The town is adored by locals and tourists alike due to its foundation in strong traditional values. In turn, these values have the ability to create an ever increasingly better livelihood for the Vietnamese locals who are part of it.