How To Enjoy Beautiful Hoi An Vietnam

How To Enjoy Beautiful Hoi An Vietnam

Arriving late afternoon in Hoi An, the sunset cast a golden light whichever way I looked. I took this as a good sign.

Hoi An escaped the bombardments during the war and today it’s become a must-see for many travelers.

Things to do in Hoi An varies from visiting its historic old town, biking through rural villages and taking a closer look at life on the river.

Indulge in street food and local coffee, visit a temple or have a dress tailored exactly as you imagine.

Anything is possible here.

 

ANCIENT TOWN

Listed as a Unesco Heritage Site, the Ancient Town is the most authentic part of Hoi An and also the most visited.   No cars or motorbikes are allowed in this area during certain times making it a perfect place to walk.

You could also rent bikes or hire a tuk-tuk.

 

hoian tuk tuk street
Hoi An Tuk Tuk. Photo: Urban Pax

 

The old town is laid out as a series of narrow alleys and winding paths which open up to wider streets lined with traditional and colonial architecture.

Much less hustle and bustle than Hanoi but still, at midday, you won’t be alone.

We found that the best time was early in the morning!

 

two men sitting in front shop hoian
Hoi An Old Town. Photo: Urban Pax

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hoian two girls walking
Hoi An. Photo: Urban Pax

 

Chinese, Japanese, French and Vietnamese influence can be seen throughout the Ancient Town’s architecture, including pagodas, traditional homes, and bridges.

 

hoian yellow main road
Hoi An Old Town. Photo: Urban Pax

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large yellow buidling motorbike hoian
Hoi An Architecture. Photo: Urban Pax

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hoian yellow facade with blinds
Hoi An. Photo: Urban Pax

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hoian woman carrying goods shoulders
Hoi An street vendor. Photo: Urban Pax

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PHUC KIEN ASSEMBLY HALL

hoian red facade temple
Hoian Temple Assembly Hall. Photo: Urban Pax

 

Phuc Kien Assembly Hall, also know as Fujian, was created in the late 1600’s so the Chinese community could have a central meeting place when visiting Hoi An.

On the inside, there is a sacred temple dedicated to the sea goddess, Thien Hau, known for protecting sailors from the danger of the seas.

 

temple in background and silhoutte hoian
Hoi An Temple. Photo: Urban Pax

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hoian sitting on side of road
Hoi An Old Quarter. Photo: Urban Pax

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Is it break time yet?

 

 

JAPANESE COVERED BRIDGE

japanese covered bridge hoian
Hoi An Pagoda Bridge

 

This small covered bridge is walking distance from anywhere in the old town.

Also known as Pagoda Bridge, because of the small temple on the north side. The bridge was built by Japanese traders who used it to cross over the canal into the Chinese side of town.

A pair of dog and monkey sculptures symbolically guard the entrance and represent the Chinese year corresponding to the start of the bridge construction and its commemoration.

You do need to buy a ticket for all Unesco Heritage Sites you visit in Hoi An,  but for some reason when we crossed the bridge no one asked.

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RIVERSIDE

From the old town, cross over the An Hoi bridge to the other side of the river and walk a few minutes to the right.

The main street parallels the river and is lined with restaurants, coffee shops, bars and of course the night market which is very lively.

If you walk past the main street, deeper into this neighborhood you’ll find no tourists and be immersed in Hoi An’s traditional life outside the old quarter.

We went to the night market in low season but crowds seem to be there year round.

It’s not very big but you can buy souvenirs, handcrafted items, jewelry, glazed bowls made of coconuts and of course lanterns.

 

hoian coconut bowls
Hoi An Coconut Bowls. Photo: Urban Pax

 

Whether at the market or inside a shop, you really should bargain a bit. Most often a very high price will go down considerably if you negotiate nicely or with some friendly humor.

 

hoian shop with man inside
Hoi An Shop. Image: Urban Pax

 

Lanterns everywhere. Hoi An is THE city of lanterns!

They come in all shapes and sizes, multiple decorations and colors. Some have the advantage of folding up flat so it fits nicely in your suitcase 🙂

By the river, vendors will sell you a small paper lantern so that you can place it on the water and have it float away.

 

hoian night market
Hoi An Lanterns. Photo: Urban Pax

 

Each month during the full moon, Hoi An shuts down its electricity and restaurants, bars and shops rely solely on lanterns to light up the town.

Very beautiful.

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CAM KIM ISLAND

We like easy bike riding. In Hanoi, we didn’t have the courage because of the chaotic traffic. We had trouble crossing the street let alone bike riding! But we had a great time on bicycles in Mai Chau.

In Hoi An renting bikes is easy and recommended especially since we wanted to go further out onto Cam Kim island.

After boarding the bikes and enjoying the 20-minute relaxing ferry ride, we were pedaling away happy.

 

hoian bicycles lined up ferry
Bikes on Boat. PHoto: Urban Pax

 

The rural island of Cam Kim is about boat builders, wood crafters, mat weavers and incredible scenery from rice fields to luscious dense vegetation.

Very peaceful and nearly car-free, this is the place to wander to your heart’s content without crowds.

We went with a small group of university students who offer their guiding knowledge, and in exchange, we speak English so they can practice.

We did the same thing in Hanoi when visiting the Temple of Literature and it’s really a great way to converse with locals who know a lot about their country and a bit of English.

Their goal is to become fluent and they work hard at it.

 

cam kim wood crafter
Cam Kim Craftsman. Photo: Urban Pax

 

Wood sculptors are concentrated in Kim Bong village, the area next to the boat dock.  Their workshops are open to all if you’re interested in buying unique pieces and learning more about their trade.

Cycle deeper into the village to see the changing scenery and immerse yourself with each mile into the village life.

 

cycling down dirt road green trees
Cam Kim Bike Ride. Photo: Urban Pax

 

There are many traditional houses here and most have their doors wide open. You get a close-up view of family life. Kids wave as and locals welcome you on their territory with a smile.

 

hoian interior room with boy
Cam Kim Home. Photo: Urban Pax

 

In most homes, there is very little furniture, yet the TV occupies a central place in the main room.  Everywhere we went it was always on even if the family was busy doing something else.

One woman told me that during a flood the first thing they save is the TV.

And the second is grandma.

I hope it was a joke.

Typhoons, however, are no joke during flood season in October – November.

Families are forced to move all their belongings to the second floor of their home to avoid damage. Second floors or large mezzanines are built in order to have a safe dry place to sleep and store food. Those who can’t afford a second floor seek shelter at the hospital or school.

 

woman carrying baskets on shoulder
Cam Kim Woman. Photo: Urban Pax

 

Hot! Very hot. I don’t know how these women manage to carry so much weight on their shoulders in this humidity.

Seems easier on a bicycle as it creates a welcoming breeze. We took a break every now and then in the fields to spot water buffalos.

Stop and talk to an elderly woman and her son. A family of weavers.  Ok, we mimed instead of talking.

Like many families on the island, they make wonderful and unique mats using colored straw stems that have been dried in their yard.

The son weaved very fast and knew what he was doing, but I couldn’t help but notice that he always kept looking over at his mother’s technique!

 

hoi an weavers
Cam Kim Weavers Mother and Son. Photo: Urban Pax

 

Cam Kim is also known for its excellent boat crafters.  It’s a hard business and involves elaborate techniques, such as soaking the wood for a long time in order to make curves or a specific shape.

Each boat whether big or small, have eyes painted on the front of the bow, yet no one can explain the real reason for this practice. Most people I asked talked about the Vietnamese being superstitious and the eyes are a means of protection.

During the north-south war, boats were recognizable according to the shape of the eyes.

Boats from the south had round eyes, those from the center of Vietnam had more stretched out ovals, while those from Ha Long were drawn out with much more detail.

 

cam kim small blue boat
Boat Building. Photo: Urban Pax

 

After learning about the island’s trade we made a stop to quench our thirst and just watch life go by in the shade.

The relaxing ferry ride back allowed us to take in some well-needed rest.

 

hoi an canoe man slanted
Fisherman. Photo: Urban Pax

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hoi an boat ceremony
Ceremony. Photo: Urban Pax

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hoi an large fishing net on river
Fishing Nets. Photo: Urban Pax

 

 

hamac hoian
Relax. Photo: Urban Pax

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ON THE WATER

Back in the old town, we strolled along the river. The port of Hoi An was once a bustling and important entry for international silk and spice trade.

Times have changed.

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small boat hoi an
Hoi An small boat. Photo: Urban Pax

 

 

 

hoian canoes red green
Colorful boats Hoi An. Photo: Urban Pax

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hoian view with boat tassle
Riverside View. Photo: Urban Pax

 

Today the colorful boats that line the river are mostly for taking visitors out to the countryside.

Gliding down Thu Bon River is a great way to see fishermen at work and explore nearby villages.

 

Hoi An two men with fishing net
Fishermen Hoi An. Photo: Urban Pax

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Fishermen use the same gestures when stretching out their fishing nets towards the sky.  The calmness of the waters, the silence while swirling their yellow net in the air with the same gestures. Each time.

To us, it seemed very poetic somehow.

But when I tried it, the poetry vanish immediately. It’s quite an art!

 

hoian woman trying to throw fishing net
Me trying to fish. Photo: Urban Pax

 

Fishermen also use basket boats, also called thung chai to transport certain goods. Made with bamboo strips, they are transportable and very practical. And basket boats are a lot of fun!  Especially when you can’t figure out how to stop going around in circles.

Try paddling along the river and see life up close.

 

hoian three tub boats in row
Basket Boats Hoi An. Photo: Urban Pax

 

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boy and girl in basket boat hoian
C. happy to row 🙂 Photo: Urban Pax

 

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Hoi An house on water
Home on water. Photo: Urban Pax

 

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Hoi An floating houses
Homes on water Hoi An. Photo: Urban Pax

 

 

Hoi An straw basket near wood bridge
Scene An Hoi. Photo: Urban Pax

 

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Hoi An man sitting on plateform on boat
Setting sail. Photo: Urban Pax

 

 

 

HOI AN MARKET

Of course, I couldn’t leave Hoi An without taking a peek at the market.

It’s actually pretty big so I took more than a peek. We got there early in the morning and it was manageable. But by the time we left crowds were everywhere!

Some hard bargaining going on here between locals over fruits vegetables and other products like spices and dried shrimp.

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hoian central market fruits
Hoi An Market. Photo: Urban Pax

 

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hoian market veggies lined on ground
Hoi An Market. Photo: Urban Pax

 

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hoian central market giant egg bsket
Hoi An Market. Photo: Urban Pax

 

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hoian central maket dragon fruit
Hoi An Market. Photo: Urban Pax

 

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hoian central market color fruits
Hoi An Market. Photo: Urban Pax

 

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hoian market vendor with big bird
Hoi An Market. Photo: Urban Pax

 

 

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AN BANG BEACH

blue sign beach hoian
Cau Cua Sign to Beach. Photo: Urban Pax

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Cua Dai beach is where most tourists go and the closest beach to Hoi An,  but I didn’t enjoy it. Due to erosion problem caused by rough winter storms, there is little sand to stretch out on.

Instead head a bit further north to An Bang Beach, it is not really a “must see” but if you want to spend some time at the beach, then this is it.

Sun loungers, restaurants, and a beautiful view! The beach is clean, the sand is soft and you can relax with some refreshing coconut juice.

Be prepared however to just say no if pushy vendors come your way.

For quiet spots, you have to walk further down the beach where there are fewer restaurants and sun chairs.

 

woman on sunloungers hoian

 

You can cycle the 5km from the Hoi An’s old town – cut through the rice fields and treat yourself to some beautiful scenery on the way!

Or you could also take a 5-minute taxi ride.

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HOI AN TIPS

yellow house with plants hoi an

 

Getting In

Hoi An does not have an airport, nor a train station. The easiest way is to fly into Danang. There are regular flights from Hanoi or Saigon and if you check the specials you can get a cheap ticket. From Danang a car is necessary and it takes about 45 minutes to reach Hoi An.

If you have a lot of time you could also take the overnight train from Hanoi, it is a long 15-hour overnighter and not the most comfortable.  But doable.

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Beware of Prices 

Hoi An during high season often equals high prices. They fluctuate according to the size of the crowd. Either learn to bargain, or find other options just further down any side street where most tourists don’t wander.

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Tailors in Hoi An

Talented tailors have shops all over Hoi An.

Shops for shoes, for dresses, suits or anything you may want.. If you decide to have something made, make sure you go when you arrive in Hoi An and that you know exactly what you want. Your order can be delivered to your homestay or hotel, but you will have to get measured at least twice and allow time for alterations.

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Heat

In summer Hoi An can get extremely hot and very humid.

Perhaps not as much as in other parts of Vietnam, as Hoi An is in Central Vietnam, but still, it can get very uncomfortable.

Stop plenty of times throughout the day to have refreshing drinks and keep your hat/cap on to protect yourself from the sun.

Look for shady spots to relax and leave the intensive walking for early morning or late afternoons.

Have fun!

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There are a lot of things to do in Hoi An, it’s just one of those small cities that make you feel good.

Walk everywhere. Try a tuk-tuk. Just relax. Go to the beach. Have a tailor whip up the dress of your dreams. Set sail a lantern and make a wish.

Enjoy really good food.

Smile a lot.

 

Walk the Old Town. Together.

 

If you’re following a similar itinerary or want more information on Vietnam then read this post:

4 Reasons Why You’ll Love Vietnam.

You’ll find articles on  The Best of Hanoi and also How to have Fun in Charming Mai Chau

For a wonderful experience on Ha Long Bay check here: : How to Set Sail on Amazing HaLong Bay

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