Top 5 Things To Do In Hoi An – 36 Hours in The Vietnam of Your Dreams
Silk lanterns, sampan boats, water buffalos, and rice paddies. Enjoy the traditional Vietnam of your dreams with these top things to do in Hoi An.
Hoi An is located in central Vietnam, near the coast. It’s a small city but has a big history. It was one of Asia’s leading ports from the 15th to 18th centuries.
Hoi An was an international and multicultural boomtown in its prime. Strong Japanese, Chinese, and Indian influences combined with Vietnamese traditions to create one of the most distinctive, lovely, and historic cities in Vietnam.
The city is most famous for it’s preserved “ancient town” neighborhood, but Hoi An is also immersed in some beautifully rustic countryside. Any visitor will want to see both signature aspects of Hoi An for a rich and memorable Vietnam experience.
A longer stay is better in this beautiful, old city, but Hoi An is a short stopover for most visitors. Here are our top 5 things to do in Hoi An for the typical 36-48 hour visit.
Most are independent activities that do not require any tour guides, drivers, or extensive planning. We didn’t include any of the great daytrips outside Hoi An, like An Bang Beach or the Cham ruins of My Son.
These are worthy destinations, but Hoi An itself is loaded with more than enough to make your short visit enjoyable and worthwhile.
Independent Walking Tour of Ancient Town – Things to do in Hoi An #1
A self-guided walking tour is like stepping back in time, and it’s the best way to explore the preserved architecture of “ancient town.” Hoi An’s “ancient town” is a Unesco World Heritage site, because it has many original buildings and is so well preserved. As if that weren’t charming enough, “ancient town” lies along a few traditional and picturesque canals.
All of the “ancient town” neighborhood is basically one big attraction. It’s filled with centuries-old temples, pagodas, communal halls, and family residences – all open to the public. Tickets are technically required to enter the “ancient town” zone, and staff can check tickets. Enforcement is often loose, but it’s more convenient to just get a ticket.
Tickets are only 120,000 VND (about $6 USD) and last for the duration of your stay. An “ancient town” ticket includes both general admission to the neighborhood and special entry into any 5 of the 22 most original and historic sites. In our experience, 5 will be plenty because the ticket takers at many sites can be pretty lax and you’ll see more than 5 sites.
We’ve seen and enjoyed almost all the attractions. It’s impossible to pick the 5 best, but here are 5 that we think many will enjoy the most for beauty and historical importance.
Night Stroll Through Ancient Town – Things to do in Hoi An #2
Hoi An’s ancient town is it’s most beautiful and captivating at night.
Begin the evening with a paddleboat ride down the canal during sunset. Enjoy the changing scene along the canal banks during your ride. As the sunlight fades, Hoi An’s famous silk lanterns flicker on, covering every street.
Next, take a night stroll through “ancient town.” View the centuries-old buildings in the soft light of the silk lanterns. The lanterns are displayed every night, but there’s a special full moon celebration on the 14th of the lunar month. All other light is extinguished, and only silk lanterns illuminate “ancient town” with their magic glow, just like they did centuries ago.
It’s a quaint and lovely setting, but it is also very lively. The shops are open late and numerous bars and restaurants line the canal and side streets for nightly festivities. The mood is lively but remains family-friendly.
Once you have your ticket, the only extra cost is your food and drink.
Boat Ride on a Sampan – Things to do in Hoi An #3
A simple sampan ride through the canals Hoi An may be one of your fondest moments.
A sampan is a traditional Vietnamese canoe. Modern motorboat rides are available too, but the paddleboats are the more quaint and desirable experience. Some sampan owners are the most darling local elders that you could meet.
You’ll probably end up doing most of the paddling, but it’s a pleasure to spend 30 minutes with these warm folks. We mentioned the sunset ride, but we also recommend a morning sampan ride. The rivers and canals are serene yet busy with the work of the local fishermen.
You must negotiate the price of your ride. The sampan owners are very sweet but very savvy. Aim for around 100,000 – 200,000 VVD ($5-$10 USD).
Explore The Countryside – Things to do in Hoi An #4
If you came to Vietnam hoping to see rice fields and grazing water buffalos in an authentic rural setting, the outskirts of Hoi An are sure to satisfy.
Numerous interesting and inexpensive countryside tours exist, but they’re really not necessary. We recommend exploring the countryside on your own. It’s fun, safe, and surprisingly easy to do. It’s also completely free.
We often love the convenience of taking a tour, but in Hoi An, you’ll have more fun and do more on your own.
Many local farms (like Tra Que Vegetable Village) are about 1-2 miles west of the city center. It’s almost impossible to get lost. Getting here is a breeze on foot and on a bicycle. Almost every hotel in Hoi An provides guests with free bike rentals.
Just take Hai Ba Trung street out of the city going toward the coast and you can’t miss the farms. Pick a place that looks interesting and bike or walk around. Farms, farmers, and water buffalo are everywhere. They’re all very open and accessible to visitors.
The land is flat, so you can explore several side streets while staying in view of the main road (Hai Ba Trung). Also, explore the countryside beyond the farms to find hidden gems of rustic delight.
Cooking Class – Things to do in Hoi An #5
Cooking classes are common in most popular destinations, but Hoi An has taken it to another level. Organized cooking classes are available from most of the larger restaurants and hotels. These usually include a morning trip to the local market. Prices range from $20-$50 USD pax.
The most famous is by Ms. V, the diva of Hoi An cuisine and owner of Morning Glory restaurant.
The special thing about Hoi An is that you can get a cooking class from almost every restaurant – even small hole-in-the-wall places. These usually don’t include a market visit but are often as cheap as $5 pax. So if you find a restaurant and/or dish you like, you can get the recipe and learn to make it on you own for a small fee.
36-48 Hour Sample Itinerary for Hoi An
We’ll provide more extensive posts and guides to all Hoi An’s activities, attractions, and day trips in a future post, but this is our short list of the best of Hoi An for a short visit.
If you have the time, this city will reward a longer stay, but these 5 are essential Hoi An, in our opinion. We’ll end by giving a sample itinerary that would fit into the schedule of many visitors.
• Evening arrival. Enjoy Hoi An’s magical night scene.
• Early morning sampan ride through canals.
• Half day independent walking tour of ancient town before lunch.
• Half day independent countryside exploration after lunch.
• Sunset Sampan ride through canals.
• Enjoy another night under the silk lantern’s of ancient town.
• Hotel check out.
• Morning Cooking class.
• Leave Hoi An for next destination.
Enjoy Hoi An!
Are you planning a visit to Hoi An? How long will you stay? What’s on your itinerary?
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