20 Fantastic Things To Do in Hoi An the Old City of Lanterns

Things To Do in Hoi An

Hoi An old town (Vietnamese spelling: Phố cổ Hội An) is one of those uniquely special places. It’s the world’s largest and best preserved historical urban landscape. Over one thousand timber frame mustard-colored buildings create an aesthetic continuity and harmony that soothe the soul. Far from being a Unesco tourist monument, it’s a proud and thriving town that actively nurtures old traditions, crafts, and hospitality. As such, there are a myriad of things to do in Hoi An, and delights around every corner. 

The town we know today developed between the 15th and 19th centuries. At its height, it was the most important trading port in SE Asian, blending Chinese, Japanese, and later European influences. 

Ever since the 19th century, its eminence has waned into a forgotten backwater content and comfortable in its ways. Hoi An, with a population of 120 000, is situated on the Thu Bon River (sông Thu Bồn) in Quang Nam province next door to the central metropolis of Danang city.  

Top Things To Do in Hoi An 

Strolling around Hoi An and enjoying its picturesque delights is effortless. Along the way, in historic buildings, you’ll find coffee shops, restaurants, boutique galleries, and traditional theater stages. Building interiors can have a rustic simplicity or ornately decorated wooden girders, while outside, many have decorative lanterns and quaint wooden shutter.

You can visit ancient trading houses with antique furnishings, or join fun cooking and lantern making classes. Outdoor activities include boating the estuary and canals, bicycling into the countryside, and scuba diving in the Cham Islands. 

1. Best Thing To Do in Hoi An – Explore the Old Town 

Hoi An - Explore the Old Town
[ by Jil Beckmann from Unsplash ]

Hoi An old town is one of the most charming places to spend a day walking around. Even in the busy tourist season, there are hidden gems to be found where you can escape the heat and crowds. Walking is a simple pleasure here, often taken for granted, and most of the streets are for pedestrians, cyclos, and bicycles only after 10 am. 

There are different ways to explore the old city. You can wander around by yourself, but a half-day guided tour will introduce you to more of its history and hidden tails than you’d find by yourself. 

Alternatively, you can take in the view from the front of a cyclo, or gaily cycle its alleys and lanes. Regardless, there are many things to do in Hoi An, including galleries, museums, temples, craft shops, and cafes. 

Protip: You can get an entry ticket for 120 000 VND and visit 5 sites free out of a selection of 22. 

Google Maps Link

2. Réhahn Precious Heritage Museum 

Réhahn Precious Heritage Museum
[ image from rehanhphotographer.com ]

One of the most appreciated things to do in Hoi An is a visit to the Réhahn Heritage Museum. This museum is free to enter and features a unique collection of photographic works by the renowned photographer Réhahn. His vivid portraits capture the daily life of especially ethnic or traditional peoples.

There are also traditional costumes, fabrics, and artefacts on display representing all of the 54 officially recognized ethnic groups of Vietnam. The museum is located in an old French colonial building, and the exhibitions are housed in five rooms covering some 500 square meters.

Réhahn has since become a resident of Hoi An and one of his most famous photographic portraits, Madame Xong, is permanently housed in the Vietnamese Women’s Museum in Hanoi. Photography coffee table books and prints are available for sale. 

Google Maps Link 

3. Phuc Kien Assembly Hall 

Phuc Kien Assembly Hall
[ by falco from Pixabay ]

Phuc Kien (Hội quán Phúc Kiến) is a Fujian style temple which is a key landmark in the old city. It dates as far back as 1690 and is dedicated to the sea goddess Thiên Hậu. The temple is right opposite one of the old town main entrances. The assembly hall itself is free to enter and the ornate mosaics and decorative architecture are quite picturesque. 

Inside, you’ll pass by the central bonsai tree, and the main hall has beautiful old furnishings and large coiled incense rings hanging from ceilings. It’s particularly nice during new year with lanterns and a yellow blossoming kumquat tree inside. 

Google Maps Link 

4. Lantern Making and Other Handicrafts

Lantern Making and Other Handicrafts
[ by theLanternLady from Facebook ]

Hoi An is not just a great place to shop around for handicrafts, but you can also get first hand experience in the making of these items. 

One of the most popular handicraft things to do in Hoi An is lantern making. A nice place to learn the art, and other handicrafts, is the Hoi An Handicraft Workshop. Other reasonable options are Hoi An Handicraft Tours, or enjoy a smaller intimate setting with The Lantern Lady. Another good choice is Reaching Out Workshops.

Apart from lantern making, you can also make a day of it visiting nearby commercial craft making operations. There’s the Hoi An Silk Village Resort for upmarket folk, or a more popular local favorite is the Kim Bong carpentry village (làng mộc Kim Bồng). Other handicrafts you can experience are pottery making and basket boat weaving among others.

Google Maps Links

5. Try Some Cao Lau Noodles 

Try Some Cao Lau Noodles
[ by Quán Cao lầu Bá Lễ from FaceBook ]

Many locations in Vietnam like to boast their own home styled noodle dish, and for Hoi An it’s Cao Lau noodles (mì Cao Lầu). 

These rice noodles are somewhat thin, with a solid texture, and slightly yellow in color. The rice is actually soaked in ash water from the Cham Islands before being made into noodles. 

Cao Lau contains fried pork meat which is then stewed in a special sauce (thịt heo xá xíu). It’s usually served with small crispy wafers made of rice flour, along with sides of bean sprouts and herbs.

You can try any of these places for the tastiest cao lau in the old town: 

  1. Cao lầu Không Gian Xanh on 687 Hai Bà Trưng Street
  2. Trung Bac Restaurant on 87 Trần Phú Street 
  3. Quán Ăn Ty Ty on 17/6 Hai Bà Trưng Street

Google Maps Link

6. Cook Up Some Local Favorites 

Cook Up Some Local Favorites
[ image from hoiancookingtour

Cooking classes are quite a popular and fun activity in many countries that you may choose to visit. Most major tourist centers in Vietnam all run cooking classes, but these are particularly popular in Hue and Hoi An.

 Popular tours may include other activities such as a boat ride to the Noi Rang Market (chợ Nồi Rang) to shop for ingredients, learning about unique fruits and vegetables, and experiencing traditional fishing techniques. It’s a fun activity for kids and there’s a selection of tours you can peruse on tripadvisor. 

7. Stroll Down to Japanese Bridge 

Stroll Down to Japanese Bridge
[ by David McKelvy from Flickr ]

The old Japanese wooden bridge (Chùa Cầu Hội An) is one of the most recognisable vestiges of Japanese influence from the bygone days of Hoi An. It’s quite a popular landmark, but the best part is the nice walk along the way, especially if it’s a full moon day and the lanterns are out. 

The unique thing about this wooden bridge, which dates back to 1719, is its tiled roof and a small Japanese shrine inside to the commerce god Ebisu. There are also statues of two dogs and two monkeys which may allude to the lunar years of the construction, or Japanese emperors born in those years. 

Protip: Just over the bridge to the right is the historic Phung Hung Old House (Nhà cổ Phùng Hưng). It’s worth a visit, but there’s not much information available without a guide. 

Google Maps Link

8. Chill with a Brew or Cuppa for Two

Chill with a Brew or Cuppa for Two
[ image from 11 Coffee ] 

Part of the unique charm of Hoi An is not just wandering through its picturesque streets, but taking time out in imbue the rustic ambiance and classic interiors of the buildings themselves. One of the best things to do in between sightseeing in Hoi An, is to find that perfect place just for you: 

  1. Reaching Out Tea House is along the way (150 m) to the Japanese bridge. They serve teas, coffees, juices, and snacks. It’s part of a fair trade organization. 
  2. Hoi An Roastery has a couple of shops in the old town and they serve a light breakfast and lunch too.
  3. 11 Coffee House is over the Bridge of Lights, to the left and down, next to Shamrock Irish Pub. They specialize in Italian coffees with a great river view. 
  4. U Cafe is on the other end of the old town. It’s a very tranquil and shady spot with a terrace facing the Thu Bon River. 
  5. Phin Coffee is a place to get away from the hustle and bustle and relax with a drink and some really healthy home cooked food. 

Google Maps Link

9. Visit Tan Ky and Duc An Old Houses 

Visit Tan Ky and Duc An Old Houses
[ by xiquinho from Flickr ]

Tan Ky Old House (Nhà cổ Tấn Ký) is a seven generational property of an old merchant family. It’s a unique blend of Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese influences. There are no windows, but the ventilation is very efficient. There are many beautiful antiques to view with some explanations on English plaques.

 It may take 20 minutes to go around. Going with a guide is better, but sometimes there are free guided sessions on the go. You can view three places namely, the welcoming room, living room, and courtyard.

Duc An Old House (Nhà cổ Đức An) is the better preserved house and it offers a more authentic and friendly experience. It’s a lot quieter than Tan Ky Old House, but sometimes it may get a little crowded.

 At one stage this house was the most influential bookshop in central Vietnam, and later it became a traditional apothecary. Both houses can be entered using the five free entries that are included in the old city entrance ticket.  

Protip: Duc An Old House is on the main road towards to Japanese bridge. It’s next door to the Reaching Out Tea House, and there’s a Hoi An Roastery just down the road. 

Google Maps Link

10. Peddle Out into the Countryside

Peddle Out into the Countryside
[ image from vietnam-bicycle.com ]

Hoi An Old City is largely a pedestrian zone for most of the day, with the exception of bikes and cyclos. Bike rentals are fairly cheap and some guest houses may provide free bicycles. There are also bicycle tours around the city, including foodie tours. 

If you want to stretch your legs a little more, try biking tours (Tripadvisor) out to the countryside, surrounding villages, communes, and islands. 

Tours often go to places like the vegetable growing village, or exploring nearby Cẩm Kim or Duy Vinh Islands. Tours may include other activities such as river cruising, basket boating, or kayaking. Some tours go as far afield as the My Son Sanctuary and may include an overnight homestay. 

11. Enjoy Traditional Performing Arts 

Enjoy Traditional Performing Arts
[ by xiquinho from Flickr ]

Hoi An Traditional Art Performance House (Nhà biểu diễn Nghệ thuật cổ truyền Hội An) is the place to go for some good entertainment. You can be enthused with folk music and dance performances using traditional instruments and costumes. There are also explanations in English before each performance, and the entry ticket is 100 000 VND. Main performances are between 5 and 6 pm. 

Protip: Right next door to the Museum of Folk Culture (Bảo tàng Văn hoá Dân gian). It’s free to enter and they have really interesting displays of instruments, implements, and also dioramas. 

Google Maps Link

12. Hoi An Impressions

Hoi An Impressions
[ image from hoianimpression.vn ]

If you’re looking for modern theme styled entertainment, then head on over to the Hoi An Impressions entertainment complex. It completely occupies a river island, and there are various themed areas, one including a Japanese village. There is also outdoor entertainment and gorgeous light ups at night. 

In the evening times there are various staged performances of traditional deploying modern theatre technologies and costume design. The largest production is the impressive Hoi An Memories cabaret extravaganza. Other shows that tell dramatic stories usually have display board translations into English. 

Standard tickets are 600 000 VND and mid-ranged high seat tickets 750 000 VND. The VIP tickets with cushioned, covered seating and complimentary drinks and snacks are 900 000 VND / adult. Check with your hotel first because they may be able to get you better priced tickets. 

Google Maps Link

13. Hoi An Night Market 

Hoi An Night Market
[ by Chris Slupski from Unsplash ]

Hoi An Night Market is across Thu Bon River from the main part of town. The easiest way there is over the Bridge of Lights (cầu An Hội), which is just a short distance down from the Japanese bridge. The market is along Nguyễn Hoàng Street and it operates from 6pm to around 9 to 10pm. 

It can be quite lively and busy, and the lanterns and old buildings make for a really nice ambience. It’s well worth a visit if you love street foods, or enjoying browning for extra things to buy. It’s kind of touristy, so prices can be higher than other places.

Protip: Walking along the nearby riverside is a great extension to the market, and there are also lantern boat trips you can get. 

Google Maps Link

14. The River and Canals by Day or by Night 

The River and Canals by Day or by Night
[ by thanhhoa from Pixabay ]

Exploring Hoi An on the waters is a great way to experience its unique charm and beauty from a different perspective. Many daytime tours include activities on the water which are part of a fun filled itinerary. 

These may include an early morning boat ride to see the fishermen, basket boat rides through coconut groves, or trips to vegetable markets on cooking tours. Other boat rides go to craft villages along the banks or estuaries of the Thu Bon River, and some tours come back by boat to admire the sunset.

You can, at any time, just bargain for a boat trip along the river docks. Flat-bottomed wooden canoes, or sampans, are the quieter option. A one-hour trip is around 100 000 VND. At night you can negotiate your own lantern night-cruise, or there are more fancy dinner cruise options (cinnamoncruises.com).

15. Hang Out by An Bang Beach 

Hang Out by An Bang Beach
[ by ewolivera from Flickr ]

An Bang Beach (bãi biển An Bàng) is the main public beach of Hoi An. To get there you can take a taxi or a Grab Car for around 80 000 VND or less, and it takes about 10 minutes. It’s a 4 km stretch of sand with various developments and facilities in the village. General amenities include a few ATM’s, convenience stores, drug stores, as well as clothing and swimming accessory shops. 

On the beach there are deck chairs and parasols for rent, and various water sports you can investigate such as parasailing, jet skiing, and paddle boarding. Surfing conditions are not that great, but there are surfing classes for kids. 

An Bang Beach is quite popular with local expats so there are some good restaurants to choose from, with live music and late night bars in the evening time. The best time to go is early morning or late afternoon. Other things to do include yoga classes, cooking classes, local spas, and massages. 

Google Maps Link

16. Museums, Art Galleries, and Shopping

Museums, Art Galleries, and Shopping
[ by Exquisite-CultureGallery from FaceBook ] 

For museums, galleries, or exhibition spaces, the best recommendation is the Rehanh Precious Heritage Museum. There is the kind of official Hoi An Museum just outside the old town. It’s not that great, however, the view of Hoi An Old Town from the rooftop is the best there is. Better galleries and museums are mostly private or semi-commercial enterprises: 

  1. Exquisite Culture Gallery: This gem of a place displays and sells beautiful high quality crafts from many ethnic groups and places across Vietnam.
  2. Xứ Đàng Trong Art Craft Center: You can see craft making in progress, and also enjoy cultural performances. They sell a wide range of high quality craft products including ceramics, vases, lanterns, leather work, shoes, clothing, quilts, laceur work and more. An excellent shopping choice. 
  3. March Gallery: They feature original contemporary paintings, etchings, woodcuts, l silk screen prints, and more. There are also collections of modern jewellery, ethnic textiles, and sculptures. An excellent shopping choice.
  4. Cotic Art Space: There are local art works on display and sale including paintings, sketches, figurines, ceramics, and clothing. The beautiful, old interior and garden are great for relaxing with a book and a cup of tea. 
  5. Museum of Sa Huỳnh Culture: They have 971 artifacts dating back to 2000 years to the Sa Huỳnh who predated the Cham. It’s well worth a visit for history buffs and you can use one of your free passes too. It’s right before the Japanese bridge. 

Google Maps Link

17. Get Snazzed Up with Tailored Attire

Get Snazzed Up with Tailored Attire
[ by B’Lan Silk from FaceBook ]

Hoi An is the epicenter of bespoke tailored fashion in Vietnam. The quality and pricing also rivals competitive places such as Bangkok and Hong Kong. Many of the 200 or more tailoring shops, including silk garment tailors, are concentrated in Hoi An old town.

Suits, jackets, dress shirts, and dresses are the mainstay and you can expect to pay 120 – 200 USD or more for a suit. Dresses can be between 80 -100 USD and dress shirts from 30 – 40 USD a piece. A suit can take 24 hours, but also up to 48 hours.

Do some online research for reviewed and recommended (Tripadvisor) tailors before you head off to the Hoi An Cloth Market (chợ vải Hội An) and other tailors found along Hoang Dieu street.

Two of the most trusted names in Hoi An tailory are BeBe Tailor and also Kimmy Tailor. Other highly recommended places are the Mrs. An Cloth Shop, Mr. Xe Tailor. For silk there’s the small and personable B’Lan Silk, or the more famous Bảo Khánh Silk.

Protip: In-house tailors are much better than shops that have clothes made elsewhere. They have faster service, better quality, easier alterations, and fewer tailoring errors. 

Google Maps Link

18. Disappear to Cham Islands 

Disappear to Cham Islands
[ image by Roger ] 

Cham Islands (Cù lao Chàm) are the perfect idyllic getaway from the often crowded attractions of Hoi An old town. There are eight islands which include the Cu Lao Cham Marine Park— a protected UNESCO biopark. Diving and snorkeling is a favorite thing to do, and there are many tour operators or diving schools to choose from. 

March to September is the best time to visit with June, July, and August the best of the diving season. From mid October into February there are no diving tours operating, and you should avoid the stormy season because you can get stranded on the islands— sometimes for a few days or more.

On the main island Hòn Lao you can visit fishing villages, sunbathe, try watersports, or visit historic sites. You can also join trekking tours to scenic viewpoints, or rent a motorbike or bicycle. 

The best way to visit the islands is on an organized tour, which includes the landing fee. You can take a cheap public ferry which leaves around 7am from An Hoi Pier just past the Silk Marina Resort, or 8am from Cua Dai Pier (Cửa Đại). The only way back after 11:30am is by speed boat— the latest being around 3pm. 

Staying overnight is a great option because you can enjoy a lot more, and after 3pm the day trippers are all gone. You can also rent camping equipment at Bai Chong beach (Bãi Chồng).

Google Maps Link

19. Explore Ancient Cham at My Son 

Explore Ancient Cham at My Son
[ by Chris Hoare from Flickr ] 

My Son World Heritage Sanctuary (Thánh địa Mỹ Sơn) is about 40 km into the Hoi An hinterland. There are about 71 standing structures and ruins within eight clusters. 

These ancient Cham temples date back to even the 4th century and cover eight centuries of Cham culture. The intricate bas relief carving depict Hindu gods and legions.

Some temples still house Shiva deities and ancient lingams alongside royal tombs. The best way to get there is by tour, private vehicle hire, and some pro-bicycle tours will go there too. 

Google Maps Link

20. Take a Day Trip to Friendly Danang 

Take a Day Trip to Friendly Danang
[ by Quangpraha from Pixabay ]

Many people choose to stay a couple of nights or more in Hoi An because of its unique charm and historic atmosphere. Danang, on the other hand, with its international airport, is a more central location with easier access to Hue and Bana Hills

From Hoi An, popular places for a day trip to Danang include Marble Mountains, Linh Ung Pagoda, and Son Tra Peninsula. If you’re interested in a game of golf, the world acclaimed BRG Danang Golf Course, designed by Gregg Normal, is located between Hoi An and Danang. Alternatively, there is Montgomery Links course right next door. 

How to Get to Hoi An

Hoi An is a good old fashioned town even when it comes to modern transportation. There is no airport, and no train station either. The best way to get to Hoi An is from Danang. Danang has both a domestic and international airport, and Hoi An is only 50 minutes away by taxi, car, coach, or bus. The coastal highway is a comfortable ride and the road is good. 

  • A private car hire or a taxi is between 230 000 to 300 000 VND (10 USD max.) depending on the vehicle size. 
  • Grab Cars can be a little more expensive for going out of town. 
  • The tourist bus is only 79 000 VND.
  • If you’re really hanging loose on a shoestring, there’s the local bus.

Weather in Hoi An and Best Time to Visit

One of the nicest times to visit Hoi An is from February into September. This is the dry season with comparatively few rainy days. From February to April the temperature is quite moderate varying between 20℃ / 68℉ in the evenings to 30℃ / 86℉ in the day. Tourist numbers are also much lower than the busy July and August periods. 

From May the temperatures will gradually rise and peak in June at around 35℃ / 95℉ maximum. High temperatures can continue into August. During this dry period there are patchy rainy days, and these will double to an average of 14 for August and September. 

Hoi An old city is prone to flooding in the wet season, and many old houses have flood mark records on the walls. This doesn’t happen every year though. October and November are the rainiest months, and the rain decreases into December and January. The day time temperature cools down below 30℃ /86℉, and January is the coldest month with evening temperatures around 19℃ / 66℉.

Hoi An Lantern Festival 

Hoi An is the City of Lanterns, and their inescapable charm is everywhere. However, every 14th day of the lunar month at the full moon, people throng to temples to honor ancestors and the old town nostalgia lights up. Extra lanterns are hung out on this day especially along the river bank and the Bridge of Lights. Lights are dimmed around 8pm, and the lanterns glow until around 10pm. During this time, bicycles are discouraged and the main thoroughfares are overturned to pedestrians. 

Dates for the Full Moon Lantern Festival: 

August 3, 2020September 1, 2020October 30, 2020November 28, 2020
December 28, 2020January 26th, 2021February 25, 2021March 26, 2021
April 25, 2021May 25, 2021June 23, 2021July 23, 2021
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