The historic town of Hoi An in northern Vietnam is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Southeast Asia. Most of its buildings and structures date back to the 15th century when the town was established as a major regional and international trading port. The culture and architecture of Hoi An was heavily influenced by the French (who ruled Indochina from 1887 until the Geneva Accord of 1954) and the Chinese and Japanese traders who frequented the town for long visits when monsoons drove them from their home countries.
In 1999 Hoi An was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site based on its outstanding material manifestation of the fusion of indigenous and foreign cultures, in addition to being an exceptionally well preserved traditional Asian trading port.
Hoi An is a relatively small town, so most of the accommodation is quite central. I stayed at the Belle Maison Hadana Resort & Spa (which is a beautiful four star hotel with an onsite bar, restaurant, gym, spa and pool facilities for an affordable price) as well as the Little Town Villa (slightly cheaper boutique hotel minus all the trimmings and closer to the town). Most hotels in Hoi An also provide free bicycle usage for guests which in my opinion is the best way to explore the town. The roads are flat, wide, have minimal traffic and easy to cycle on. I felt completely safe riding along the road and was able to take in the beautiful scenery along the way. I recommend spending the first day exploring the ancient town – there are so many small shops, restaurants, cafes and beauty parlours (yes ladies, that means nails!) with great wares at cheap prices. Its pretty much impossible not to buy anything!
If you didn’t know already, Hoi An is home to some of the best tailors in the world. Many international clothing brands have their goods manufactured in Hoi An, which means you have a fantastic opportunity to get some of your favourite designs tailor made at a fraction of the price. It’s best to do some research about the tailors in town and seek quotes once you arrive. I also recommend choosing a tailor early on in your visit as you need to allow time for them to create your designs, fit them and adjust them as necessary (the process needs a minimum 2 days). An important thing to note is that the “best” tailors are the most expensive and have shop fronts along main streets. In my opinion these are the ultimate tourist traps unless you are looking for something incredibly detailed and specific (i.e. a very difficult suit pattern or wedding dress. There is no guarantee that they will sew better than some of the smaller, lesser known tailors. If you are looking for a cheaper, more affordable option I recommend going straight to the Cloth Market in the town centre where you have your choice of multiple tailors and endless fabrics. I got some clothes made at Sewing Bee Hoi An who did an incredible job on all my garments (please note that I spent about 5 days getting my designs refitted multiple times which is crucial to getting the best result). Bee, the lady who runs the shop speaks great english, was so friendly and welcoming, doesn’t rush you through the designs, is very patient and understanding and most of all replicated my designs almost perfectly. Another great tip to getting a great design – take an item of clothing you love i.e. your favourite dress, choose a fabric you love and give it to them to replicate.
On the third day visit one of the many reputable cooking schools in the area and learn how to cook true Vietnamese style dishes. As a vegetarian it was hard to find a cooking school which would cater to teaching only vegetarian dishes, but alas I did find one and it was amazing! Goian Cooking class, rated one of the best in Hoi An was an incredibly fun way to spend the morning. First they take you to local produce markets to buy fresh ingredients and then its back to the kitchen where you work with the class teachers to create three different recipes. Once the group has finished cooking, you all eat your creations together for lunch and are given the recipes to take home and re-create. I 100% recommend booking this in on your trip as it was one the best experiences from my time in Vietnam.
During the evenings spend your time at the night markets, eating street food and drinking at the bars scattered along the river. If you prefer something a little quieter pop into one of the local restaurants (the rule of thumb is that typically the smaller less flashy restaurants serve the best food). Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and eat with the locals. If you’re feeling up for some great Thai food, Eat Thai is your best bet!
For the best Banh Mi – and please let me re-iterate THE BEST – Bánh Mì Phượng. Another crowd pleaser is Madam Khanh which I hear is just as good. Definitely do not miss getting a Banh Mi from one of these two spots. The lines will be long, but I guarantee you it is well worth the wait!
Other great things to do in Hoi An:
- Visit An Bang or Cua Dai Beach
- Stop by the herb village Tra Que
- Shop for leather goods or get custom made leather shoes, sandals & bags (similar to the tailor clothing process – visit a leather store, choose a specific colour or even better the exact piece of hide you want to use, and choose your design. Allow at least a day or two)
- Day trip to the UNESCO Heritage listed Mi Son Sanctuary (best way would be to organise a private transfer)