Hoi An – Guide for first time visitors

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Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An – Guide for first time visitors

I had heard that Hoi An is a beautiful place, but I had not guessed this small coastal town would be so incredibly charming. We had read that its very touristy and budgeted only a day at Hoi An. I wish we had planned at least 2-3 days here, if not more.

About Hoi An:

Hoi An was a very important port city till the 18th century. Traders from Japan, China, Portugal, Dutch and Vietnam settled here and Hoi An was the commercial capital of the area. In the late 18th century, trade was moved to Danang for various political reasons. Hoi An was then forgotten and remained forgotten for the next 200 years. In 1999 the old town area of Hoi An was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The old town in Hoi An is a small area that can be covered by foot. We had heard that the place is very touristy; which is true. You cannot walk around the riverside without being called by boat men/women for a ride in their small lantern boats; or by vendors urging you to buy something or the other. We would have loved to just stroll around the place without being called out every now and then. Nonetheless, charm of the city is very strong and tourists visit Hoi An in large numbers.

Whats so special about Hoi An?

Hoi An is very different from the rest of the Vietnam. If you are coming from Danang or Ho Chi Minh City; you will see a sharp contrast. It feels as if you have travelled back in time. If you can forget about the tourists swarming the city; you can enjoy the authenticity that the small town offers:

Ancient Houses, temples and well preserved monuments: Hoi An has a distinct architecture with a blend of Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese influence. The streets here are bordered with old houses, pagodas, ancient wells and temples. Many of these have been preserved in their original form.

Festivals and traditions:

Lanterns and lantern festival: As the sun sets, the lanterns in Hoi An come to life. Every shop, house and establishment in the old town has lanterns in various colours and size and they are lighted every night. 14th day of every lunar month is also observed as Lantern Festival in Hoi An. Candles are lit inside cute lanterns and placed in the Thu Bon river to wish for happiness, luck and love. Old town area is completely cordoned off for vehicles (including cycles and cyclos) and all the lights are turned off at 8 pm. This is the day when Hoi An gets the maximum tourist footfall so be mentally prepared for the crowd.

Hoi An
Hoi An
Lantern boat at Hoi An
Lantern boat at Hoi An
Traditional dance at Hoi An traditional art performance house
Traditional dance at Hoi An traditional art performance house

Lantern festival will also see many performances being held along the river and food stalls selling traditional Vietnamese dishes; both veg and non-veg. You can also see locals playing board games outside their house. However, if you are in Hoi An around this time, take care of your valuables and cash because this is the peak time for pick-pocketing too.

Lunar New Year: Lunar new year is celebrated with gusto in Vietnam and its very important in Hoi An too. There are traditional dances like Unicorn dance and four noble-animal dance.

Yellow coloured houses and shops: All houses in the old town are are yellow in color. Traditionally, yellow is supposed to be the color of royalty. This traditional is still being continued in Hoi An.

Beautiful street with yellow coloured houses
Beautiful street with yellow coloured houses

Shopping: Hoi An has a night market daily from 5pm to 10pm. The place is bright with the colourful lanterns and buzzing with tourists and locals.You can find souvenirs, jewellery, silk products, trinklets, lanterns and a number of food stalls here. The prices are highly inflated so bargain before you buy. If you want to try Hoi An street food, this is the place to be!

Apart from the night market, Hoi An has number of shops selling various souvenir items, clothes etc. The streets are lined with shops.

Shop selling souvenirs
Shop selling souvenirs
Street Food at Hoi An
Street Food at Hoi An

Custom made suits and dresses: Hoi An is also called “Tailoring capital of the world” 🙂 and it lives upto its reputation. The small town has more than 300 tailors and some of them have been in the business for generations. You can get custom suits made for men and women, and beautiful dresses done for women. You can choose some of the designs of high end brands and get it stitched at a fraction of cost at Hoi An. If you have a design in mind, show the photograph to the tailor and he will make it in your size. This is one of the most sought out things in Hoi An. There are tailors who have turn around time of 24 hrs for casual dresses, but suits may take more time. Budget 2-3 days if this is going to be main agenda of the trip.

A shop in Hoi An displaying designer clothes
A shop in Hoi An displaying designer clothes

Custom made leather shoes: Hoi An is best known for its tailors, but their leather work and custom made shoes are also very popular. Similar to dresses, you can choose your designs online or browse through available designs at shops. You can get these done to your size at a much lesser price. Unlike dresses, there are not many fitting sessions required and you can get your shoes in 1-3 days.

Workshops: There are so many local craft workshops in Hoi An that it could be difficult to choose! There are lantern making workshops, pottery, wood carving, bamboo sculpture, leather workshops to mention a few. And then there are cooking and farming experiences too! If you are in Hoi An for a longer duration, try a few of them to get the local feel. Backstreet Academy offers some unique workshops with the help of local artisans and you can check them at https://www.backstreetacademy.com/47934/things-to-do-in-hoi-an. We tried them during our trip to Laos and were very happy with the experience they had to offer. If you are looking for some referrals, leave a comment on the blog and I will send you my referral code.

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Tours in and around Hoi An: There are again multiple ways to explore villages in and around Hoi An. There are cyclo rides, boat rides, bicycle rides, motorbike tours and even sidecar tours 🙂 Even for a boat ride, you have the choice of paddleboat, lantern boats, coracle boats or kayaks!! One is spoilt for choice in Hoi An.

How to reach Hoi An?

Hoi An is around 30 kms from Danang and takes 40-45 mins drive from the Danang airport or city. If you plan to stay in Danang, you can book one way transfer. Else, you can book a car through your hotel.

One way transfers: You can book private and shuttle transfers from Danang Airport through this site

Taxis: If you are more than 3 in the group and visiting Hoi An for a day, booking a private taxi would be more reasonable. We paid 800,000 VND for cab to Hoi An through Sofia Boutique Hotel. This included a stopover at Marble mountains.

Best season to visit Hoi An

Hoi An has 2 distinct seasons – dry and wet. The town receives very heavy rainfall and its best to avoid visiting during the wet season.

Sep to January: Rainy season in Hoi An; with Oct and Nov being the wettest. However, Hoi An saw floods even in Dec in 2017 and 2018 and the weather has been unpredictable in recent years. The town is very well planned though and it comes back to normal couple of days after the flood.

Feb to August: These are dry seasons and best months to visit Hoi An. June, July and August are extremely hot with temperature reaching as high as 37-38 degrees.

Getting around Hoi An

Hoi An is very pedestrian friendly and it is very easy to explore the town because of its small size and budget friendly transport options. Most of the attractions and restaurants in old town are easily accessible on foot, bicycles or cyclo. Cars, taxi, motorcycles and any other motorised vehicles are banned inside the old town area from 8:30 to 11 in the morning and 3 to 9:30 pm in the evening.

There are many attractions within 8-10 kms of Hoi An which can be accessed on a motorbike / cycling tours.

Rent a cycle: Cycling is the cheapest and easiest way to discover the old town area. You can rent a bicycle through your hotel or many rental shops in Hoi An. It costs 300,000 VND per day and there is a small refundable deposit. Some of the hotels lend bicycles to their guests at no extra charge. If you are enthusiastic about cycling, you can also check out cycling tours

Where to stay in Hoi An?

Where to stay in Hoi An depends completely on your travel style, things that you would like to do and your budget. There are hotels in the old town, close to the beach and along the countryside. You can look for hotels on the OTAs or on Airbnb. Given the small size of the town,its a surprise Airbnb has more than 1500 listings for Hoi An.

You can sign up on Airbnb using my referral link and get Rs.2200 off your home booking and Rs.825 off your experience booking. Click here to use my referral (https://www.airbnb.co.in/c/psinha38?currency=INR)

To make the most of your visit, stay in an area that best suites your travel type. A quick guide on the best neighbourhoods in Hoi An:

Old Town Hoi An: Old town is the heart of Hoi An. Most of the attractions and restaurants are located in this area. However, it could be expensive and noisy too. This neighbourhood is best suited for first time travellers who like to spend most of the time exploring the various museums, temples, ancient houses; shop to their heart and try the mix of Vietnamese and European cuisine that Hoi An has to offer.

Keep in mind that motorised vehicles (like cars, taxi, motorcycles) are not allowed in the Old Town area from 8:30am – 11am and then 3pm – 9:30pm.

Cam Pho: Cam Pho is the central part of Hoi An which lies just outside of the old town. If you want to stay close to old town but find the hotels expensive; check out Cam Pho.

An Hoi: This is the place where Hoi An’s nightlife thrives. It is the island in the Thu Bon river and the venue of night market. There are many backbackers hostels and bars at the riverfront and the night view can be stunning.

Cam Chau: Located around 2km to the east of old town; Cam Chau is ideal for visitors looking to explore the countryside. It offers a more authentic Vietnamese stay with rice paddies and many homestays offered by locals. It is also easy to visit the neighbouring villages from Cam Chau.

Cam Thanh: This is a village located along the river and is between An Bang beach and the old town. It is ideal if you are travelling with kids because it has number of rice paddies, streams and rivers.

How to explore Hoi An Old Town

Old Town is the heart of the town and is recognised at the World Heritage site by UNESCO. Nobody can miss the old town; whether they visit Hoi An for a short trip or long stay. We were in Hoi An only for a day and we had a lovely time exploring the old town.

It is expected that all tourists buy the old town entrance ticket when they are in the old town. The rule is however not consistently enforced and therefore creates a lot of confusion among tourists. Some visitors on travel forums claim they were never asked for any tickets while visiting Hoi An. However, it is compulsory for every tourist and there are 22 monuments that have ticketed entry.

Entrance ticket price: Hoi An old town ticket costs 120,000 VND (~5 USD/ 350 INR) for adults and kids upto 12 years are allowed for free. Tourists are supposed to keep the ticket with them all the time when in old town; but usually they are asked for it only at ticketed monuments.

Every ticket gives you entry to 5 of the 22 monuments and is valid for 24 hrs (though no one really checks the date on the ticket).

Hoi An Old Town entrance ticket
Hoi An Old Town entrance ticket

There are 5 vouchers attached to the slip and everytime you visit a ticketed monument, one of the vouchers will be collected. If you want to visit more than 5 monuments, you will need to buy more such tickets. There is no ticket that covers all the siteseeing places.

Ticketing Counters: The ticket counters are present at many locations in the old town and outskirts of the old town. They are small huts with “Please buy entrance tickets” written in front of them.

Ticket Booth at Hoi An
Ticket Booth at Hoi An

You cannot buy tickets at the monuments entrance. Some of the areas that you can look out for them; in case you cannot spot one easily (I have mapped them in the Google map at the end of the blog) :

  1. Near An Hoi bridge (the bridge over Thu Bon river; on the side where there are restaurants on An Hoi island)
  2. Near Japanese bridge at an intersection of Tran Phu street and Bach Dang street
  3. Near Wellspring Cafe

You will also get a map of the Hoi An old town area with the monuments and other important places marked for your reference.

Hoi An Old Town Tourist Map
Hoi An Old Town Tourist Map

Ticketed sight seeing places covered under Hoi An entrance ticket

Entrance ticket covers a total of 22 monuments; while many other are free. Some of the ticketed places are private houses or temples and have different opening hours. Many are also closed during lunch hours. A blend of various cultures can be seen in the building architecture.

Timing of various monuments with timings:

Tran Family Chapel : 7 am to 9 pm daily

Nguyễn Tường Family’s Chapel: 8 am to 5 pm daily

Old House of Phùng Hưng: 8 am to 6 pm daily

Old House of Quân Thắng: 9:30 am to 6 pm daily

Old House of Đức An: 8 am to 9 pm daily

Old House of Tấn Ký: 8:30 am to 5:45 pm daily

Museum of Trade Ceramics: 8 am to 5 pm. Closed on 15th of every month

Museum of Hoi An (also called Hoi An museum): 7:30 am to 5 pm daily

Museum of Sa Huỳnh Culture: 8 am to 5 pm. Closed on 10th of every month

Museum of Folk Culture: 7 am to 9:30 pm. Closed on 20th of every month

Japanese Covered Bridge: Open through the day

Quan Am Pagoda: Open through the day

Quan Công Temple: Not sure of the opening time

Xứ Đàng Trong: Not sure of the opening time

Cẩm Phô Communal House: Not sure of the opening time

Minh Hương Communal House: 7 am to 9 pm daily

Quang Trieu Assembly Hall (also called Cantonese Assembly Hall): 7 am to 6 pm daily

Phúc Kiến Assembly Hall: 8 am to 5 pm daily

Hải Nam: 8 am to 5 pm daily

Triều Châu Assembly Hall: 8 am to 5 pm daily

Hoi An Traditional Art Performance Theatre: 3 shows daily at 10:15 am, 3:15 pm and 4:15 pm

GAM Gemstones Art Museum: 8 am to 5 pm daily

All these places are marked on the map provided with the entrance ticket.

Hoi An entrance ticket counter and ticketed monuments on Google Map

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