I loved Hoi An. We stayed there a week on our three month trip though Southeast Asia, and it was one of the most memorable destinations. (All the shit we bought there probably helps with that!)
Lovers of history, local craftsmanship, and beach getaways will freaking love Hoi An. Travel foodies, scuba divers, and fashion enthusiasts will be thrilled.
Hoi An is not for off the beaten track travelers, however. Those who prefer to be the sole foreigner in places with no tourist infrastructure might hate it here. Hoi An was the most touristy place we visited on our entire Southeast Asia itinerary.
As much as I enjoy the discovery and adventure of traveling to unknown gems, I completely understand why Hoi An is so popular. There’s something here for everyone, and it comes packaged in a beautiful, cozy, historic trading port town.
There’s so much to do here, but I’ll talk about my favorite, unmissable experiences to add to your Hoi An itinerary.
1. Hoi An Historic Old Town
The charm of Old Town Hoi An is so tenacious that it can withstand even the hoards of tourists that pass through it. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Old Town Hoi An is a fabulously well preserved trading port from the 15th to 19th century.
I recommend just wandering around the old streets, getting a snack and a drink, and people watching.
2. Visit a Tailor to Get Clothes Made
Hoi An is the tailor capital of the world. There are more than 300 tailors, most small family operations. They know their shit. I highly recommend getting clothes made: it’s a fantastic experience to work with local craftswomen, and you get a unique and useful souvenir. I have a detailed guide for getting clothes made in Hoi An here, where I go into detail about what to get, how to choose a tailor, things to keep in mind during fittings, etc.
3. Visit a Leatherworker to Get Shoes Made
I’m writing this blog post in a coffee shop wearing my custom leather Chelsey Boots that I had made in Hoi An: they are my most used item that I bought in my three months in Southeast Asia.
Although more famous for its tailors, there are quite a few leatherworkers in Hoi An as well. You can get custom shoes made to your feet (people with different sized feet rejoice!), that will last you years and just further mold to your unique foot shape. I got four pairs of shoes, and have no regrets. I have a guide about how to do this here.
4. Bike to An Bang Beach
An Bang Beach is a 15 min bike ride from Hoi An Old Town, which makes a great active beach day. A lot of guest houses include bike rentals: if not, bikes are cheap to rent.
This is a beautiful, long, sandy beach with delicious blue water, great for strolling or chilling. After two months of rainy mainland Southeast Asia, it was so refreshing to go for a swim! Like everything else around Hoi An, it’s touristy, so you’ll have to pay to use the umbrellas and lounge chairs. It’s worth it though, the sun is relentless and you can order a cold beer from one of the beachside bars.
5. Snorkel or Scuba Dive on Cham Islands
About 15 km off the coast, the Cham islands are gorgeous green mountainy islands with beaches and turquoise water. The people who live there are fishermen, and oh man was the seafood there good. We ended up going with a random last minute snorkeling tour because our scuba diving plans fell through. (Side note: props to Blue Coral Diving, we got our full refund after rough waves canceled the trip. They take safety there seriously!)
The snorkeling was fun, and eating seafood plus lots of beach time made it a great day trip!
6. Hoi An Night Market
Veeeeery touristy, but also a fun evening! The products for sale range from cheap souvenirs, Tshirts, and elephant pants, to ceramics, hand painted paper lanterns and silk scarves and robes. I like to just walk around to experience the bustle of the market even if I’m not planning on buying anything.
There’s lots of street food and snacks available: I definitely recommend trying something. It’s a cheap, low commitment way of trying things you’ve never even heard of! For a refreshing snack, try the fresh fruit or durian ice cream, which was surprisingly amazing!
7. Take a Cooking Class
We took a cooking class in every country we visited on our three month trip to Southeast Asia, and the class we took in Hoi An was THE BEST ONE!!! Seriously, it was so good! The food was delicious, the instructors thorough, and the menu both familiar and new. There were individual cooking stations, which is crucial for a good cooking class, and each person made each dish. None of that cooperative shit where everyone only learns one thing.
We took the Thuan Tinh Island Cooking Tour, and it included a market visit and a boat ride to get to the cooking school. The menu was pho, spring rolls, Bánh xèo, and a Vietnamese beef salad that you literally lit on fire. You could sip on fresh passion fruit juice the whole time. A+ experience!
8. Eat Some Bánh mì
OK imma be honest, the next three entries are all about eating things. But the food in Hoi An is sooooooo good! If you go to Hoi An and all you do is eat, I’d say you had a great trip.
Bánh mì is a delicious Vietnamese sandwich, with meat, sauce, and veggies nestled inside a crunchy baguette. It’s cheap and mouth watering, and honestly great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. My favorite Bánh mì joint in Hoi An was Phi Bánh mì, and we walked there for lunch almost every day!
9. Try Bánh xèo
Bánh xèo is a Vietnamese rice flour pancake, stuffed full of shrimp, meat, and veggies. It makes a fantastic brunch, and it’s also great hangover food: hot, savory, fried, but also fresh, crisp, and nutritious. You can learn how to make one in the cooking class I talk about above, or order one from most food joints in Hoi An. It’s a local classic.
10. Eat Some White Rose Dumplings
A Hoi An specialty, white rose dumplings are delicate white dumplings that look a little bit like roses. Stuffed with shrimp and pork, and often topped with crunchy fried onion, these are a comfort food that also looks and feels sophisticated. Perfect 🙂
These are sold everywhere, but the best, according to our guesthouse owner, is White Rose Restaurant. They literally only serve white rose dumplings and fried wontons. In the back there’s a table of women making the dumplings by hand. Deffo worth a visit.
Hoi An Itinerary
In my opinion, it’s best to go to Hoi An without too rigid of a plan. It’s a small, touristy town which is best explored by foot or bike.
I would recommend spending at least four days in Hoi An. That way you have time to get clothes made and see some of the main sights. Below is a sample itinerary, but it’s very very flexible.
Visit some tailor shops first thing in the morning and afternoon. It might be a bit overwhelming, so have a sit down lunch somewhere with some beer to go over your notes. Pick a tailor and some items to get made (More tips and tricks about how to do this here). After lunch, go back to your favorite tailor and put in your order.
In the late afternoon, explore old town, stroll around, people watch, drink cold beer, and relax. I like my first day somewhere to be on the chill side to recover from travel.
In the morning, try some Bánh xèo for breakfast, then rent some beach cruisers and bike to An Bang beach. Spend the day chilling on the beach.
Try to schedule your first fitting for the evening so you can do other things during the day. After your fitting, if you’re feeling energetic, explore the Hoi An Night Market.
Have some Bánh mì for breakfast, you lucky bastard. Then go take the Thuan Tinh Island Cooking Tour. This will be a most of the day thing, but it’s worth it unless you hate cooking and food.
In the evening, schedule fitting #2. Stuff your face with White Rose Dumplings for dinner.
Go snorkeling or scuba diving on the Cham Islands. Most excursions will include lunch, so just get some Bánh mì for breakfast and you’re good for most of the day.
In the evening, schedule your final fitting and clothes pick up. Have a chill dinner and evening, you’ll be pooped.