Like you, we travel to see and experience new things. Some of the things we experience are quickly forgotten while others leave a more lasting impression. For me, seeing Hoi An for the first time at night is an experience I will never forget. As pretty as this town is during the day, it turns into something magical at night.
After spending our first morning in Hoi An exploring the Ancient Town, we rode our bikes west to have dinner at this roadside eatery called Mì Quảng – Cao Lầu Bích. It was getting late so we quickly inhaled our bowls of cao lầu and mì quảng (both of which were delicious) before getting on our bikes and following the river back to the Ancient Town. By the time we got there, night had already fallen. Temperatures had cooled so the streets were buzzing with people. It was too busy to keep riding so we got off and walked our bikes onto Nguyen Thai Hoc Street.
Turning the corner, that’s when we saw it for the first time, Hoi An at night.
Lit from the inside, the paper lanterns we were admiring that morning were glowing like fairy orbs against a midnight blue sky. They were hanging from shophouse balconies, from trees, from building to building in zig-zagging rows that stretched the entire length of the street. Bathed in that soft colorful light, the Ancient Town looked so beautiful it almost didn’t seem real. For a moment, it felt like we had walked into some kind of Vietnamese fairy tale.
We’ve been lucky to visit many beautiful places on our travels, but seeing Hoi An lit up for the first time like that is one of the most stunning things I’ve ever seen. I’ll never forget it.
GUIDE TABLE OF CONTENTS
HOI AN AT A GLANCE
Hoi An is a city in Quảng Nam Province in Central Vietnam. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was one of the most heavily-frequented trading ports in Southeast Asia from the 17th to the 18th centuries. During that time, many foreign merchants lived in Hoi An, mostly Chinese and Japanese then later Europeans, creating a unique fusion of cultures that can’t be seen anywhere else in Vietnam. The name Hoi An translates to “peaceful meeting place”.
Hoi An’s prominence as a trading port fell sharply at the end of the 18th century. This was due in part to the silting up of the Thu Bon River as well as the rise of nearby Da Nang as the new center of trade in Central Vietnam. Fading into a forgotten backwater, Hoi An has been left largely untouched by the changes to Vietnam over the next 200 years.
Today, Hoi An is a well-preserved community of merchant houses, temples, and ancient tea warehouses that harken back to its days of prominence as a trading port. It’s become one of Vietnam’s most popular and beloved tourist destinations.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Unlike Northern Vietnam which sees climate changes akin to the four seasons, Hoi An truly has just two seasons – dry (Feb-Aug) and wet (Sept-Jan). It stays warm throughout the year with an average temperature of about 29°C (84°F).
DRY SEASON: Hoi An’s dry season is from February to August. It’s hottest from June to August when the mercury is known to reach 35°C (95°F). February to May is the best time to visit Hoi An. It’s the driest time of the year, humidity is low, and temperatures are relatively mild.
WET SEASON: The rainy season in Hoi An is from September until January. Heavy showers are frequent which may come with typhoons and flooding. This isn’t the best time to visit Hoi An.
We went in late April and the weather was great. Like any Southeast Asian city, it would get hot during the day but it wasn’t intolerable. It didn’t rain once and I don’t remember it being too humid either. Based on weather averages and our own personal experience, February to April seems like the best time to visit Hoi An.
Just be mindful of the Tet holiday (Vietnamese New Year) which happens sometime between the end of January and early February. Many establishments will be closed during that time and accommodations will be at their most expensive.
HOW TO GET THERE
We flew in to Da Nang International Airport from Hanoi and arranged for private transfer to our hotel in Hoi An. It’s about 45 minutes by car from Da Nang to Hoi An. Assuming you’ll be arriving via Da Nang as well, then you can get to Hoi An either by by car, taxi, or bus.
BY PRIVATE TRANSFER: We arrived in Da Nang at night so we arranged for a private transfer through our hotel. We paid VND 300,000 each way. If you can, then I suggest making similar arrangements with your hotel. Otherwise, you can book a private transfer through Kkday.
BY TAXI: Based on my research, it should cost you anywhere between VND 300,000-400,000 to get to Hoi An from Da Nang Airport via taxi. Going by taxi is fine, but you’ll probably pay less if you arrange for a private transfer through your hotel.
BY SHUTTLE: I read that there’s a shuttle bus which takes you from the airport to Hoi An for USD 5. It leaves every hour from 5AM-11PM. There doesn’t seem to be much information about it online, so I suggest asking airport personnel about the shuttle bus when you arrive in Da Nang.
BY BUS: The cheapest way to get to Hoi An from Da Nang is by public bus. It costs VND 25,000 (about USD 1) each way. However, it doesn’t stop at Da Nang Airport so you’ll need to take a taxi first to Da Nang central bus station. From there, buses leave every 20 minutes from 5:30AM until 6PM. It will make several stops and get you in to Hoi An in about 70-80 minutes.
As described, we got to Hoi An via Da Nang but there are other ways to get there depending on where you are. I suggest checking 12Go Asia to find route options available to you. It’s a popular transportation website that services Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Laos.
HOW LONG TO STAY
We had two weeks to divide between Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An, and Saigon. I did research to figure out how best to divvy up that time and suggestions were overwhelmingly in favor of spending the most time in Hoi An. Simply put, Hoi An is a favorite among the vast majority of tourists. Some people stay for weeks, even months at a time.
We stayed 3 full days which was a decent amount of time to spend in this small town. We got to enjoy its highlights without feeling rushed, though I wouldn’t have minded at all if we stayed longer. Like Ubud in Bali or Langkawi in Malaysia, Hoi An is the kind of destination that invites you to relax and do absolutely nothing. We could easily have spent a week here just walking around everyday and enjoying the food of Central Vietnam.
3 full days is enough to see the best of Hoi An. It’s enough time to enjoy the Ancient Town, take a cooking class, visit My Son Sanctuary, and even take a day trip to Huế and the Marble Mountains. But stay longer if you can. Hoi An is the type of destination best enjoyed when you aren’t rushing from one place to the next. Take a boat ride, sit by the Thu Bon River, eat cao lầu, enjoy a beer. Hoi An has its attractions, but for me, those are the absolute best things you can do in this timeless, picturesque town.
HOW MUCH MONEY TO BRING
The unit of currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). Vietnam is an inexpensive country even by Southeast Asian standards. It’s about the same as Cambodia, maybe even cheaper. Assuming you’ll be sharing a hotel room with one other person and eating modestly, then a budget of around VND 500,000 per day should be plenty. This takes into account your hotel room, meals, the Ancient Town entrance ticket, pocket wifi rental, and some light shopping. If you plan on going on any tours or taking a cooking class, then please take that into account when setting your budget.
Giving budget suggestions is always difficult because everyone’s spending habits are different. Some people like to shop, others like to eat (like us). Some go on guided tours, others go on their own. With that said, VND 500,000 is a good baseline which takes into account the essentials. Please feel free to adjust based on your own personal travel habits.
WHERE TO EXCHANGE CURRENCY
The best places to exchange currency in Vietnam are at banks and gold/jewelry shops. We exchanged currency at a gold shop in Hanoi and at a bank in Saigon and rates from both were excellent. In Hoi An, I read that gold/jewelry shops are slightly better than banks. We didn’t have to exchange any currency in Hoi An but I do recall seeing several gold shops around the Central Market with favorable rates. Just shop around and look for the best rate.
I’ve read that you can exchange currency at hotels and some restaurants too, but the rates generally aren’t good or they charge you an additional fee for the service. Same goes for the airport. If you’ll be arriving at Da Nang International Airport and need to exchange currency, then change a small amount there, just enough to get you to your hotel, and change the rest in Hoi An.
Alternatively, you can also withdraw VND from an ATM. The rates are competitive. Just be sure to advise your bank you’ll be using your ATM card overseas so you don’t run into any problems. In my experience, my ATM card works in some machines but not in others.
WHERE TO STAY: Ngan Phu Villa
When you’re in a town as laid back as Hoi An, you need to stay in a place to match. Ngan Phu Villa, with its garden setting and relaxed vibe, is that kind of place.
We got good deals on accommodations throughout Vietnam but Ngan Phu Villa was a steal. For just USD 20 a night, we got a huge private room with breakfast for two already included. On top of that, guests have free use of the hotel’s bicycles! This was super convenient because Ngan Phu Villa is about 15-20 minutes away from the Ancient Town on foot. If you don’t mind the distance, then this place is perfect. Check out my post on Ngan Phu Villa in Hoi An for more pictures and information.
You can book a room there through Booking.com or Agoda. Be sure to check both sites to find the best rate. You can browse through those links for other listings in Hoi An as well. You can also book a room here through AirBnB. If Ngan Phu Villa isn’t the ideal hotel for you, then you can search through their Hoi An listings. If you’re new to the site, then you can get USD 22 free travel credit via THIS LINK.
Approximate Room Rate: Around USD 20 per night (as of April 2017, with breakfast)
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO DO
1. Be Enchanted by Hoi An’s Ancient Town
Hoi An Ancient Town is stunning. It’s beautiful during the day with its rows of preserved shophouses and dangling paper lanterns. Walking down its streets, you feel like you’re in 17th century Vietnam. But at night, when the lanterns are lit up and the streets come alive with people, it feels almost like a dream. When we were there the first night, we could tell exactly which tourists had just arrived in Hoi An. They had the same awestruck look on their faces as we did.
Hoi An, at any time of the day, is one of the most beautiful towns we’ve been to in Southeast Asia. As described, most tourists to Vietnam spend the majority of their time here. Spend one day in Hoi An and you’ll understand why. Check out my post on Hoi An Ancient Town for more pictures and information.
Please be advised that you’ll need a ticket to enter some attractions like the Japanese Bridge and Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall. The Ancient Town entrance ticket costs VND 120,000 and includes 5 passes that you can use at any of the 22 sightseeing attractions in town. Follow THIS LINK for more details.
Length of Walking Tour: Full Day / Admission: FREE for the Ancient Town, VND 120,000 for up to 5 attractions
2. Channel Your Inner Luke Nguyen and Take a Vietnamese Cooking Class
Before our trip to Vietnam, my knowledge of Vietnamese food was limited. Outside of phở and bánh mì, pretty much all I knew was what I saw on the Vietnamese episodes of Chef Luke Nguyen’s show, Street Food Asia. With Ren being a terrific cook, it made sense for us to take a cooking class which is one of the most popular things to do in Hoi An. We had a blast learning how to make Vietnamese favorites like gỏi cuốn, phố bo hà nội, and bánh xèo. It was one of the most fun things we did in our two weeks in the country.
Check out my post on Thuan Tinh Island Cooking Schoo in Hoi An for more pictures and information.
Length of Class: Around 5-6 hrs / Cost: USD 34 per person
3. Take a Day Trip to My Son Sanctuary
According to our guide Turtle, My Son Sanctuary is the most popular tourist attraction in Hoi An. It’s a Hindu sanctuary dedicated to the worship of Shiva. Often referred to as a “mini Angkor Wat”, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was built by the Cham people of Vietnam between the 4th and 14th centuries. If you enjoy visiting temples and ancient ruins, then My Son Sanctuary makes for an interesting day trip from Hoi An.
Check out my post on My Son Sanctuary in Hoi An for more pictures and information.
Length of Tour: At least 6 hrs / Cost: USD 20 per person (group tour)
4. Take a Day Trip to the Imperial City of Huế
About 3 hours by car from Hoi An is the imperial city of Huế. This city served as the seat of the Nguyen Dynasty and Vietnam’s capital from 1802–1945. The Nguyen Dynasty was the last ruling family in Vietnam before transitioning to a communist government under Ho Chi Minh.
We didn’t have time to visit Huế this time around, but we definitely will on our next trip to Vietnam. Aside from being Vietnam’s seat of power for well over a century, the region also features highly decorative food which is a vestige of ancient Vietnamese royal cuisine. We want to spend a few days there to really explore the cuisine, but if you’re interested in getting just a taste of Huế, then you can do so on a private tour from Hoi An. Klook and Kkday offer private tours to Huế for USD 72 and USD 46 respectively. I believe the Klook tour includes a stop at the famed Marble Mountains as well.
Length of Tour: Full Day / Cost: Starts at USD 46 per person
5. Have a Suit or Dress Custom-Tailored in 24 Hours
One of the most popular things to do in Hoi An is to get a dress or suit custom-tailored. The tailoring tradition goes back many generations in Hoi An, so you’ll find hundreds of tailor shops in town that can produce exact replicas of what you want in 24-48 hours. Unfortunately, I’ve read that not all tailors are honest. If you’d like to have something made but aren’t sure where to go, then you can refer to this TripAdvisor post on Hoi An tailors for guidance.
THE ULTIMATE VIETNAMESE FOOD GUIDE
Vietnamese food won me over. I wasn’t the biggest fan before our trip, but after spending two weeks exploring over fifty different dishes across the country, I left Vietnam with a newfound fascination and respect for the cuisine.
Vietnamese food is all about balance. It aims to achieve harmony in different aspects of cooking like taste, nutrients, and presentation. Fried foods are tempered with fresh greens, warm pork with cold vermicelli, soft noodles with crunchy vegetables. Phở and bánh mì may be the most popular dishes, but you’ll see after reading our Vietnamese Food Guide that the cuisine has so much more to offer than that. From bánh cuốn in Hanoi to cao lầu in Hoi An to cơm tấm in Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll be pleased to find that Vietnamese food is every bit as diverse as its landscape.
WHERE TO EAT IN HOI AN
9 Must-Try Vietnamese Restaurants & Street Food Stalls
While the link above takes you to a general Vietnamese food guide, this one focuses on must-try Vietnamese restaurants and street food stalls in Hoi An. Ren consulted respected food blogs and crowd review websites to come up with a list of 9 must-eat places in Hoi An. From nationwide favorites like bánh mì and bánh xèo to Hoi An specialties like cao lầu and White Rose Dumplings, this list will show you where to find some of the best places to eat in this town.
Of all the cities we visited in Vietnam, I enjoyed the food in Hoi An the most. The food was delicious throughout the country, but for me, Central Vietnamese cuisine was the most interesting. Listed below this picture are 4 restaurants and street food stalls offering the tastiest specialties unique to the region. Be sure to click into the complete list of must-eat restaurants in Hoi An to know where they are.
1. Morning Glory Restaurant
Morning Glory Restaurant is owned by Ms. Trinh Diem Vy, a celebrity chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author. As mentioned earlier in this guide, cooking classes are a popular activity in Hoi An and Chef Vy is credited for pioneering the cooking course that launched all Hoi An cooking schools. Morning Glory Restaurant is in the heart of the Ancient Town and serves many local favorites like cao lầu and mì quảng. It’s a little pricier than the other restaurants on our list but worth it.
Pictured below is a delicious bowl of cao lầu which is probably the single most important Hoi An dish. Made with water sourced from a local well, it’s a dish of rice flour noodles topped with cha siu pork, fresh greens, herbs, rice crackers, and fried pork rinds. If you were to have just one dish in Hoi An, then this should be it.
Expect to Pay: Around VND 110,000 per person
2. White Rose Restaurant
This restaurant is a Hoi An institution. They’ve been open for three generations and are famous for a dish called White Rose Dumplings. Known locally as banh bao banh vac, these flower-shaped dumplings are made with translucent white dough filled with spiced minced shrimp or pork. They’re topped with crispy fried shallots and served with a special dipping sauce made with shrimp broth, chilies, lemon, and sugar. Like cao lầu and mì quảng, white rose dumplings are unique to the region and a must-try in Hoi An.
You’ll find many restaurants and street food vendors selling White Rose Dumplings in Hoi An. The recipe is a well-guarded family secret so most of the dumplings you see in town are supplied by White Rose Restaurant. Aside from these dumplings, the restaurant serves just one other dish – crispy wontons.
Expect to Pay: VND 70,000 per order of white rose dumplings
3. Ong Hai (Mr. Hai Restaurant)
If Morning Glory Restaurant feels a little touristy or pricey, then perhaps you’d prefer this place. Frequented mostly by locals, Ong Hai is a much simpler venue with plastic chairs and stainless steel tables. They specialize in cao lầu and mì quảng, which is an equally popular rice noodle dish that originated in Da Nang.
Unlike cao lầu that’s made with hardly any broth, mì quảng (pictured below) is a slightly soupier dish made with a concentrated broth and a wider type of rice noodle. It’s topped with pork, shrimp, or chicken and a host of other ingredients like hard-boiled egg, peanuts, rice cracker, and fresh herbs. Like cao lầu, mì quảng is a core Quảng Nam Province dish. Equally delicious, I couldn’t decide which one I liked better. Just try both.
Expect to Pay: Around VND 35,000 per bowl of mi quang
4. Aunt Bay’s Banh Beo
Banh beo or “water fern cake” is an interesting dish originally from Huế. It refers to a variety of small steamed rice cakes topped with savory ingredients like dried or fresh shrimp, scallions, roasted peanuts, mung bean paste, fried shallots, and fish sauce. If you’re familiar with Singaporean food, then you may find these to be similar to chwee kueh. They’re delicious and loaded with umami.
Banh beo is sold mainly as a street food. There are many well-known banh beo vendors in Hoi An, but one of the most famous is Aunt Bay. You can find her outdoor setup at the corner of the old wall on Hoàng Văn Thụ Street after 3PM everyday.
Expect to Pay: VND 15,000 per order of banh beo (3 small plates)
1. Rent a Pocket Wifi Device
A constant wifi connection is a must when traveling these days. You’ll need it to do research, convert currencies, use ride-sharing apps, stay connected on social media, etc. We never go anywhere now without renting a pocket wifi device first.
We rented a 3G pocket wifi device from Klook for USD 5 a day. We had it delivered to our hotel in Hanoi and left it for pickup two weeks later at our AirBnB rental in Saigon. It gave us reliable internet access throughout the country. If I remember correctly, the only time the signal was poor was when we were on a cruise in Ha Long Bay. We were out in the middle of nowhere though so that was just the nature of connectivity in the area and not because of the device. Even the ship’s onboard wifi was virtually nonexistent.
I won’t get into details but we had an issue with the device mid-trip which StarTelecom, the Vietnamese company that rents out the device, quickly resolved within 24 hrs. I was super impressed with how they handled it which is why I can’t recommend them enough. If you rent a pocket wifi device from StarTelecom (via Klook), then you can pick it up and drop it off in Hanoi, Saigon, Da Nang, and Hoi An.
2. Plan your Trip with Sygic Travel (formerly Tripomatic)
I love this app. Sygic Travel is a free app that allows you to plot points of interest on a map, including your hotel, so you can see how far you need to travel between points. It allows you to lump attractions that are in close proximity to each other so you can minimize travel time. With pocket wifi, it can turn your mobile phone into a GPS tracking device so people with a poor sense of direction never get lost again. Pretty sweet right? Check out my post on the Sygic Travel app for more information.
Follow this link to check out our 3-day Hoi An itinerary on Sygic Travel. You can also download a copy of our 2-week Vietnam itinerary in editable Word format by signing up for our FREE newsletter below. It goes north to south and covers Hanoi (including Ha Long Bay), Hoi An, and Saigon.
3. Check for Discount Tickets
There are many websites that offer discount passes to tours and services. The websites I’ve used the most are Klook and Kkday. They offer deals in many cities around the world, including Hoi An. On this trip, we bought three deals from Klook. We got vouchers for pocket wifi rental, a Hoa Lư and Tam Cốc day trip and an overnight luxury Ha Long Bay cruise. We were happy with all of them. Follow these links for a complete list of Hoi An deals on Klook and Kkday. You’ll often find interesting activities that you wouldn’t normally think of yourself so it’s definitely worth a look.
Another good website to look through is Viator. I haven’t used it as much (probably because of the less pleasing interface) but they’re actually one of the leading online providers of tours and activities. They’re owned by TripAdvisor so you know they’re solid. You can follow this link to search through tours and activities in Hoi An on Viator. I purchased a Cu Chi Tunnels tour voucher from them for the Saigon leg of our trip.
4. Get Travel Insurance
To be honest, it was only recently when we started buying travel insurance. Back when we traveled just once or twice a year, travel insurance felt more like a luxury, one we didn’t need. But now that we travel more often, I understand how important it is. The fact is, you never know what might happen on the road. It’s one of those things that you hope you never have to use, but if you do wind up needing it, then you’ll be thanking the gods that you had it. Or cursing them if you didn’t.
Though I do find it more necessary now, it’s still up to you if you think you need it. A 3-day trip to Hong Kong for example just shopping and eating may not call for it as much, but if you plan on doing more active things like bungee jumping, skiing, or horseback riding, then I’d say travel insurance is a must.
We buy travel insurance from World Nomads because every long-term traveler I know recommends it. From the sound of it, they’re the best in the industry by a mile. Not only do they provide a high coverage limit for medical expenses (up to USD 5 million with the Standard package), they also cover things like trip delays, missed flight connections, theft/loss of passport and luggage, etc. Follow this link to learn more and get a free travel insurance quote from World Nomads. It’s super quick and easy.
5. Pay Only in VND
I read how some establishments like hotels, restaurants, shops, and even night market stalls will accept payment in USD. Don’t do it. You’re losing money every time as the rates they give you are less favorable. If something is quoted in VND, then pay in VND. As described earlier in this guide, gold/jewelry shops and banks are the best places to exchange currency in Hoi An.
6. Don’t Be Confused by the Currency
Vietnamese currency can be very confusing. The multiple zeros on banknotes are confusing enough, but some denominations look very similar to each other. VND 100,000 banknotes for example, have a similar greenish hue as VND 10,000 bills. I’m very careful with money but I often had to look really closely at the notes before handing them over to the vendor.
Tourists overpaying in Vietnam because of banknote confusion isn’t uncommon. In fact, it happened to a woman who was with us on a Hoa Lư and Tam Cốc tour in Hanoi. If I heard correctly, she meant to give a VND 50,000 note to pay for a soda but mistakenly gave a similarly red VND 200,000 bill instead. Not realizing her mistake until it was too late, she called it the most expensive can of Coke she’s ever paid for.
I don’t mean to make generalizations but a Vietnamese-American tourist on the same tour said that Vietnamese vendors won’t correct you should you make that mistake. So unless you want to overpay for a can of Coca-Cola, then be sure to check your money carefully before handing it over.
7. Bring the Right Power Adapter
HOW TO GET AROUND
Hoi An is a walking town. You can easily get around on foot or on a bicycle. As previously mentioned, we were allowed to use our hotel’s bikes for free so you may be able to borrow one from your hotel as well. If not, then there are bike and motorcycle rental shops around town. I did some research and it typically costs USD 1 to rent a bike for the entire day and USD 5 for a motorcycle. Hoi An is a small town though so unless you plan on going farther out, like to My Son Sanctuary or the Marble Mountains, then a bicycle is best.
Philippine passport holders don’t need a tourist visa to Vietnam for stays of twenty-one (21) days or less.
HOW TO GET CHEAP AIRLINE TICKETS
Ever since I scored my first piso fare from Cebu Pacific, I’ve been hopelessly addicted to cheap airline tickets. Our tickets to Hanoi with a shared 20 kg baggage allowance came out to just under PHP 7,000 each roundtrip. Not bad right?
These piso fare tickets are limited and sell fast, so you have to be quick. To give yourself an advantage, I suggest liking their Facebook page and following them on Twitter to quickly find out about these seat sales. If you check off “Get notifications” on Facebook, then you’ll receive instant alerts every time they post something new.
I’m not an expert on Hoi An but I do hope that you find this guide useful. I’m only sharing some of the things I learned from our trip. If you have any suggestions or simply want to share your own experiences, then please feel free to do so in the comments section below. You’re welcome to join our Facebook Travel Group as well. We’d love to hear from you.
Here’s a quick video I put together to get you even more excited about visiting this beautiful town. Thanks for stopping by and have an awesome time in Central Vietnam!
These are some of the things we brought with us to Hoi An. As you can tell, I document a lot of content for this blog so most of the things I bring are photo and video equipment. 😆 If you’d like to see what other gear we use, then you can check out our “What’s in Our Backpack?” post. (NOTE: The following links are Amazon affiliate links.)
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