Hoi An, translating to “peaceful meeting place,” is the perfect example of a former Southeast Asian trading port. The Thu Bon River meandering through town once made for easy transport of goods between Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. With time, Hoi An became an extremely crucial trading port between Europe, China, India, and Japan. Today, you will still find buildings ranging from the 15th to 19th centuries.
I’ve gotta say… Hoi An may be one of the cutest towns I have wandered through in a long time. I simply loved strolling the streets, smiling with the locals, and taking in the environment. Alleys dotted with lanterns juxtaposed with the traditional-style buildings makes for a picturesque glimpse into the past.
While it's a sleepier town than Nha Trang, below you will find the best things to do in Hoi An.
1. Hoi An Ancient Town
Deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, be sure to devote at least a day to explore Hoi An’s Ancient Town (the old city). While there are numerous historical places, part of the fun is simply exploring the little alleyways and side streets, as that’s part of what makes Hoi An so charming. The most popular site is the Japanese covered bridge, a 16th-18th Century wooden bridge with a Buddhist Temple attached to one side. You will also find the Cantonese Assembly Hall, Quan Cong Temple, and Phung Hung House in the area.
2. My Son Sanctuary
After spending sufficient time taking in the historical sites of the old town, rent yourself a motorbike and drive 35 minutes to My Son Sanctuary, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, yet quite different from Hoi An. My Son Sanctuary is said to have been built in the 4th Century, making it older than Ankor Wat! My Son Sanctuary was once the religious and political capital of the Champa Kingdom and, upon visiting, you will find the ruins of many Hindu temples that were in use. Unfortunately, during the Vietnam War, the majority of the longest inhabited archeological site in Indochina was destroyed. While there were once more or less 70 monuments, the most impressive still-standing structures are located at the back of the site. Fair warning, this is quite the touristy spot, so I recommend arriving as early as you can so that you’re not pushing your way through everyone. We arrived at 6am and had the entire site to ourselves.
3. The Tailory
What I discovered days before arriving in Hoi An was that it’s well-known for its custom apparel. In the heart of downtown, you will found tailor after tailor advertising that they can make any article of clothing you want… and they can! On the main strip you’re bound to find more expensive places, while on the side streets, you’ll find the more authentic places. I decided to give both a try, having designed 2 custom dresses and 3 custom bathing suits across 4 shops. The ladies are all incredibly friendly, but a “personal bubble” isn’t a thing, so if you’re not ready to strip down and have women measuring you in allll different places, it may not be for you. Personally, my favorite place was The Tailory. Lu, the owner, was one of the sweetest people ever and created my dress perfectly. Do allow yourself, at minimum, 48 hours for your piece to be complete (no matter where you go), as you’ll typically have a fitting 24 hours later, and then they will adjust anything necessary to make the clothing perfect. Highly recommended!
4. The Beach and The Waterfront
Hoi An has a lovely beachfront. While it’s not as beautiful as say Cam Ranh or Phu Quoc, it’s warm and filled with locals. You can even see Da Nang in the distance! If sandy toes aren’t your thing, spend some time at the Waterfront in the old quarter of Hoi An. The riverbanks make for some cute photos as you’re bound to see colorful lanterns swaying with the breeze.
5. Bamboo Baskets
To do something a bit more local, ask your hotel to call you a taxi or motorbike driver, and show them an image like ours below. That’s what we did anyway in order to find these handmade bamboo baskets floating lazily down the river. I can promise you that you surely won’t see many (if any) tourists here! Locals will offer to take you on an hour-long bamboo basket boat tour for less than $10 if you’re looking for a more unique experience.
Where to Sleep? Koi Resort and Spa
In a town so charming, it only makes sense to stay at a place super charming…and that’s why we chose to stay at the KOI Resort and Spa. While it’s a 45-minute walk from the Ancient Town, they have a free shuttle running to and from the center throughout the day. Personally, I preferred being a bit away from the city as we were parallel to the beach on our own little island beside the De Vong River. Talk about relaxation!
From the moment we arrived (bright and early at 6am), the staff was full of smiles as they showed us around their beautiful property. While you will see KOI fish all around, the meaning behind the name of the resorts goes much further, as it relates to their mission statement to be Kind, Observant, and Innovative. I quickly realized that we had our own little oasis at KOI Resort and Spa.
Walking into my Lagoon View Bungalow, I found a large bed, couch, desk area, spacious bathroom, and a great balcony. That night, I learned that the beds at KOI Resort and Spa are seriously some of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in while traveling! I rarely ever work in bed, yet I found myself setting up my laptop in bed simply to spend more time in it.
Peeling myself away from the bed, I discovered the adult swimming area behind the Spa. It was incredibly peaceful and silent compared to the main pool with families. I highly recommend spending some time in the sun before pampering yourself with an hour-long massage at KOI’s spa, as it was incredibly relaxing! If the spa isn’t your thing, rent a free kayak on site and spend some time kayaking through the river.
And if you simply want to “be on vacation” and eat your way through your day, there are five restaurants and bars on site that are bound to meet all of your culinary cravings. The complimentary breakfast at Chopstix Restaurant is absolutely delicious, as you’ll find everything from sweet to savory foods, both Western and Vietnamese alike.
There’s truly no place I’d rather stay in Hoi An, and I will most certainly be back! Book your stay at KOI Resort and Spa here.
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Thanks for the images Jonny Melon!
Hi Sarah, totally dig this trip. The baskets on the river and boat ride sound like my cup of tea. Absolutely want to visit Vietnam with my Viet friends who are always sharing something fascinating about their culture and traditions with me. Anthony Bourdain has had me craving Viet food with all of its spices, richness and freshness since his show aired. Thanks, as always, for the best travel tips! ✌️ from sunny Los Angeles, Jess || https://www.learningfromstrangers.com