Wandering the narrow, cobbled streets of Hoi An in Central Vietnam is like stepping back in time. Turn a blind eye to the numerous tailor shops and cafes that now dominate the Old Town and you can almost feel the historic buzz in the air. Hoi An served as a major trading stop in Vietnam for Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and even Dutch traders up until the 17th century.
Nowadays Hoi An caters more to a large tourist crowd who come to have cheap custom clothing made - a Hoi An specialty - or to simply enjoy 25-cent, locally-brewed beers by the river. UNESCO declared Hoi An's Old Town district a World Heritage Site in 1999. Old clan houses, great shopping, charming footbridges, and lots of local culture make Hoi An a very interesting stop on the well-beaten north-south tourist trail.
Around Hoi An - Hotels, Streets, Landmarks
Hoi An is very easy to get around on foot - the best way to appreciate the vibe, especially at night. Budget accommodation options are clustered in the northern part of town around Tran Hung Dao and Hai Ba Trung Street. The Old Town quarter stretches east to west in the southern part of town along the muddy Thu Bon River.
To book inexpensive accommodations in the vicinity, check out our list of Budget Hotels in Hoi An. If you have a little more cash to burn, read these two lists: Mid-Range Hotels and Resorts in Hoi An; and Luxury Hotels and Resorts in Hoi An. (And don't miss our review of Long Life Hotel in Hoi An.)
The Japanese Bridge - constructed in the 1600s and a Hoi An landmark - located on the western edge of town crosses a small canal; a quiet street dominated by art galleries and handicraft shops lies just beyond. An arched footbridge crossing the river serves as a photogenic focal point within Old Town as well as access to cheap restaurants across the river on An Hoi Peninsula.
- Read more about the Hoi An Japanese Bridge.
Hoi An Old Town
The Old Town of Hoi An is comprised of narrow streets, brick alleys, and ancient structures that have been partially restored. At night the streets are dimly lit only by lantern, lending a warm, pleasant atmosphere as tourists stroll around. Numerous restaurants and cafes line the narrow Thu Bon River which overran its banks during a massive flood in 2009.
The Hoi An Old Town - a UNESCO World Heritage Site - is interesting enough just to stroll around. An archaic coupon system allows visitors to enter into five of the 18 museums, communal houses, temples, and other attractions such as the Tan Ky House. For around $5 you receive a coupon which grants access to your choice of five sites - some are small and not-so-interesting unless you have a Chinese background. It may be possible to visit extra sites with one coupon; many times no one is present to check for tickets!
- Read more about Southeast Asia's Ten UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Two legitimate ticketing offices for the Old Town exist. Buy your tickets either from the office on Hai Ba Trung Street or Hoang Dieu Street - both are at opposing ends of the Old Town.
- Read about the sites of Hoi An Old Town.
Shopping in Hoi An
- Clothes: Aside from wandering the Old Town, shopping is the number one draw for tourists to Hoi An. The town is famous for custom clothing; numerous tailor shops make suits, shoes, and other fashion goods to order. The prices in tailor shops are very open to negotiation: read more about how to haggle prices in Southeast Asia.
- Lanterns: The thousands of colorful lanterns which make Hoi An so enjoyable at night are perfect gifts for people at home. Cross the footbridge to the peninsula and turn left to find a large cluster of lantern shops.
- Artwork: Both modern and tradition artwork is widely available around Hoi An. To really appreciate the number of galleries, cross the Japanese Bridge and stroll down Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street.
- Woodworking: The historic woodworking village of Kim Bong has been crafting fine wooden sculpture since the 16th century. Emperors, colonial masters, and Communist Party leaders have benefited from the town artisans' mastery of the woodworking craft. Today, you can visit the village (about 30 minutes' boat ride from the Old Town) and purchase the town's unique wooden sculptures and knick-knacks. Read more: Kim Bong Village.
A new outdoor market contains a chaotic mix of animals, produce, and cheap souvenirs. Known as the "New Market", walk on Bach Dang Street along the river to the eastern edge of town for shopping.
Eating and Drinking in Hoi An
Aside from a small number of wine bars and fine dining establishments, food in Hoi An is fairly simple. Most budget eateries have the same, tired menus however a handful excel with great vegetarian options. Restaurants along the river tend to be the cheapest; many have pleasant upstairs seating with a view. As usual, tasty Vietnamese pho is easy to find.
Give these delicious local specialties a try:
- Cao Lau: This Vietnamese noodle dish is only available in Hoi An as it reputedly has to be made by water from a local well. Nearly every restaurant advertises Cao Lau, however many interpret the dish differently. Expect narrow, firm noodles with a tasty broth, salad, and thinly-sliced pork. Read our article on Cao Lau noodles to find out more.
- White Rose: The name for this popular appetizer comes from the shape when presented properly. White Rose is a plate of inverted dumplings; the noodle is folded neatly below the ingredients - usually shrimp and pork - in the shape of a rose.
- Hoi An Pancakes: Delicious and filling, this appetizer is a kit! Expect to receive sheets of firm rice paper, salad greens, a bowl of water, and an egg omelet. With a little friendly instruction from the staff you will be folding tasty springroll-like pancakes to enjoy before a meal.
- Hoi An Beer: Popular with the backpacking crowd, a special blend of light beer brewed locally in Hoi An is available in many restaurants for only 25 cents a glass.
Getting to Hoi An
Hoi An is located near the coast between Nha Trang and Da Nang. If moving north from Nha Trang, plan on a long bus ride - around 11 hours - to reach Hoi An. Buses from Hue take around four hours to reach Hoi An.
The nearest airport and train station are both located within the urban sprawl of Da Nang - around one hour north of Hoi An by bus.
Read this Vietnam travel guide for more information.