Hoi An Town is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century. Its buildings and its street plan reflect the influences, both indigenous and foreign, that have combined to produce this unique heritage site.
How to get there
Hoi An has no airport, and no train station either. The only way to get there is by road. You can hire a taxi from the neighbouring city of Da Nang, which does have an airport with daily flights from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other large Vietnamese cities. There’s also a train station in Da Nang, and bus services are plentiful.
What to see:
The Old Town
Once a major Southeast Asian trading post in the 16th and 17th centuries, the seaside town Hoi An is basically a living museum featuring a unique mixture of East and West in the form of its old-town architecture.
Among the heritage architecture stand Chinese temples, a Japanese-designed bridge, pagodas, wooden shop-houses, French- colonial houses and old canals. Though large-scale trading had long moved elsewhere Hoi An has been successful in preserving and restoring its charming roots and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in December 1999.
Hoi An Riverside
is the best place to be at night as the area is lit by quaint and old-fashioned lanterns, making it an atmospheric and beautiful spot. For those who love sea, sun and sand, Hoi An offers two lovely beaches five kilometres away from the town centre – a sort of holiday within a holiday.
Hoi An is known for its great food, fun shopping, skilled tailors, friendly people and cosy atmosphere – all key characteristics that draw people to this picturesque town.
Two great things about Hoi An’s Old Town are that it is small enough to get around in on foot and the traffic is nowhere near as heavy as in bigger cities. Some of the streets only allow bike and motorbike traffic and some are pedestrian only. These factors make Hoi An even more inviting for most travelers to Vietnam, especially those who have passed through frenetic Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) or Hanoi.
Many buildings in the Old Town were constructed over a century ago and feature strong Chinese influences stemming from merchants from Guangzhou, Fujian, Chiu Chow and Hainan. Some of the wooden signboards bearing the company names are carved and gilded in Chinese characters, reflecting the strong presence of the Chinese in Hoi An ever since its prosperous times.
Tradition is still very much alive in the Old Town. Even though many of the old shops have been converted to modern businesses aimed at tourists including countless tailors, souvenir shops, art galleries, restaurants and cafés, all have been converted with care to preserve the past.
Happily, all Hoi An’s major attractions or landmarks are located within walking distance of each other including the Japanese covered bridge, the Chinese assembly halls, Guan Yin Temple, the museum of history and culture and the Tran family home and chapel.
It’s amazing to see such a huge variety of local cheap eats and fine dining in a tiny town like Hoi An. Diners can select from both local and western cuisines at most of the up-market restaurants.
Many of them feature big lounge bars on the ground floor and an eating section with a balcony upstairs. The highlights of the meal often include local specialties such as white rose (prawn dumplings) and Cao Lau (a pork noodle dish).
Other Things to Do
A cylo riding tour is an alternative and fun way to explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site though the Old Town can easily be managed on foot. Many restaurants in the Old Town also offer cooking classes in English. Students normally learn to cook three to five dishes and eat the results together afterwards.
For those who are looking for more sporty activities, there are a few good dive centres in Hoi An including one located opposite the Hoi An Museum, a bit further north inland from the Old Town.
Japanese Covered Bridge
One of Vietnam's most iconic attractions, Hoi An's Japanese covered bridge dates back to the 18th century and is a beautiful historical piece of Japanese architecture. It is claimed that it was created by the Japanese then living in Hoi An as a way to reach the Chinese quarter across the water.
The bridge was opened by Nguyen Phuc Chu Lord in 1719 who carved three Chinese symbols above the door in commemoration. The bridge also features the sculptures of two dogs and two monkeys representing the Chinese years in which many Japanese Emperors were born along with the fact that the building of the bridge began in the year of the dog and was completed in the year of the monkey.
The Japanese Covered Bridge underwent renovation work in 1986, which saw the restoration of the arch that was once flattened to make way for cars. Today, the bridge stands as a symbol of Hoi An and remains as aesthetically pleasing as it was when it first opened.
On the north side of the bridge you'll discover a temple dedicated to the Taoist God of weather, Tran Vo Bac De. This is where locals will often pray to stave off any impending earthquakes. The monkey and dog animal statues guard the bridge at either end along with an ancient Chinese script at one end written in Chu Nho, listing all the benefactors who contributed to the restoration of the bridge.
Know locally as Cau Nhat Ban or the Pagoda Bridge, the bridge connects Tran Phu with Nguyen Thi Minh Khai. Crossing over the bridge you will find plenty of paintings for sale by artists living in the vicinity. The bridge is about 60 feet in length and simply, yet colourfully painted in red with a wooden pagoda roof.
My Son Sanctuary
The My Son Hindu Sanctuary, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a great example of the ancient Champa civilization located in the southern part of Vietnam. It was an independent state from around the 2nd to the 17th century, at which time it was occupied by Vietnam.
The impressive Hindu-themed ruins feature many beautiful stone sculptures, temples and towers in tropical jungle surroundings.
My Son was also a political centre and a royal burial ground and the complex consists of more than 70 structures devoted to Hindu gods and goddesses and the most noticeable one, Shiva, was considered the protector of the Champa’s kings. Their skillful use of red bricks and sandstone is remarkable.
Like many historic sites around the world, My Son was destroyed by time and wars and after lying neglected for a long time it was rediscovered and renovated by the French in 1898. Sadly the most recent war did great damage to the complex as the Americans bombed this area knowing that the Viet Cong used it as a hiding place, mistakenly thinking that the enemy would not touch a holy site.
However, the majority of the central complex managed to survive the bombs and parts of the ruins have now been rebuilt. Overall, this Hindu sanctuary reminds visitors of other similar sites in Southeast Asia including the great Angkor Wat in Cambodia. A must-visit for those who appreciate history.
Hoi An Central Market
Sharpen your bargaining skills and head south east to Hoi An Central Market, one of Vietnam’s best, offering an unmissable shopping experience. Rich in the smell of fragrant herbs and spices and the vibrant colours of Vietnamese silk delve deep and you are guaranteed a bargain. Prices tend to be more inflated at the stalls closest to the entrance so head right in for the best buys.
There is a vast array of foodstuff for sale including spices such as saffron and cinnamon, which are superb purchases as are the exotic fresh fruit and vegetables on display. Due to its riverside location there is also a huge selection of fresh fish available.
The marketplace is renowned for its tailors who have a section of the market all to themselves. Fine silk tailoring is cheaper here than anywhere else in Hoi An with garment makers running up a dress, shirt, jacket or full suit usually within 24 hours. Souvenir and local handicraft hunters will also find plenty to browse through at the Central Market.
Resting on the banks of the Thu Bon River, bustling Hoi An Central Market is certainly worth a look for its authentic slice of Vietnamese life. The market is busy throughout the day with locals bargaining hard alongside tourists so its best to arrive first thing in the morning. The negotiating over fish usually starts around 07:00 as the fishermen drop their catch off and the market vendors and local buyers dive in to get the best fish. Be warned that it can get very messy; nevertheless it's certainly a sight not to be missed.
Inside the market there are also plenty of live ducks and chickens tied together and ready for sale alongside row upon row of Vietnamese cooking ingredients. The smell can get quite strong as the day heats up and the market will also become a lot busier and louder as the day progresses. If you want to avoid this, then head to the east side and the large shed type building which houses the tailors and all manner of Asian silk and textiles.
An Bang Beach
An Bang Beach is one of the few stretches of beach in Hoi An that’s relatively unspoiled by development, making it a popular option for soaking up the sun and enjoying an array of seaside activities. It also houses an array of beachfront resorts, seafood restaurants, and hippy bars with stunning views of the neighbouring Marble Mountains, Da Nang Bay, and Da Nang and Cham Island.
Some of the most popular activities at An Bang Beach are swimming, paddle boarding, and surfing. If you’re looking to learn how to surf during your visit, there are plenty of board rentals, surf and stand-up paddling classes offered by An Bang Beach’s expat surfing community. Surf season is from September until March, offering spectacular wave conditions, comfortably warm climate, and average water temperature of 25°C.
You can also enjoy an array of affordable dining options at An Bang Beach, ranging from fresh seafood and Vietnamese BBQ to authentic Italian and French fare. Bistros such as Soul Kitchen, La Plage and White Soul stay open until late, featuring lively parties, themed nights, happy hour promos, strong cocktails, cold beers, and a diverse playlist.
Located seven kilometres north of Hoi An Ancient Town, you can easily get to An Bang Beach via bicycle or motorcycle. Parking at the entrance to the beach is priced no more than VND 10,000 for the entire day. Alternatively, you can opt for a five-minute taxi ride, which costs about VND 80,000.