Hoi An is located in Vietnam’s Quang Nam Province. A historical city with UNESCO World Heritage status, its location on the South China Sea means that you can just as easily intersperse days of sightseeing and soaking up the local culture with catching a few rays and relaxing on nearby pretty beaches.
Sometimes also referred to by its former name of Fai-Fo (or Faifoo), Hoi An is a laid-back destination, great for spending a few days enjoying the local delights and recharging your batteries. Whether you’re looking for some high-quality relaxation, shopping galore, delicious local cuisine, interesting history and culture, or more, you’ll find plenty to keep you happy in Hoi An.
Here are five of the best things to experience when visiting Hoi An:
1. Visit historic heritage homes
Hoi An has several old heritage homes that now allow admission to visitors who want to admire the decor, furnishings, and ornamentation, and see how families lived in the past. Owned by the same families for several generations, these houses are still used as homes by the families. Living in somewhat decaying grandeur, the houses offer an interesting peek into times gone by. You can also admire lots of traditional items.
Tan Ky House was built by a wealthy Vietnamese trader. Almost 200 years old, you can see a blend of Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese architectural styles, as well as ornamentation and antiques from the different countries. Sturdy columns support the curved roof and display beautiful mother of pearl, arranged in Chinese characters.
Phung Hung House was built in the late 1700s and it is another great example of an old house from Hoi An’s prosperous past. A two-story house made from wood, you’ll notice that the ground level displays mainly Japanese designs, whilst the upper floor is strikingly Chinese. Wander around the upper wooden corridor and peer down into the lavishly-furnished living area below. You can also see the revered shrines on the upper level, kept by the family in honour of their ancestors and spirits.
Each home has large collections of pottery, fans, lanterns, books, pictures, textiles, and more.
Admission to the heritage homes is by way of the Hoi An Old Town Ticket.
2. Cross over the Japanese Covered Bridge
A small bridge that spans a narrow stretch of water, the Japanese Covered Bridge was built in the 1600s. A symbol of the city today, a statue of a dog stands proudly at one end, whilst a monkey guards the other end. There is a reason for the choice of these creatures – the bridge’s construction started in the year of the dog, and it finished in the year of the monkey!
Although it will only take you a few steps to cross the bridge, do make sure that you look inside the inner annex; you’ll smell the sweet aromas of incense before you reach it! Tucked away in this annex is a small pagoda, complete with a shrine and offerings.
Crossing the bridge is free, although you will need to show the Hoi An Old Town Ticket to access the pagoda.
3. Enjoy the tranquillity in sacred temples
Step into one of the several revered religious buildings to soak up the serene atmosphere. Active places of worship amongst the Buddhist community, make sure that you are dressed respectfully, with your shoulders and knees covered, before wandering in.
The pale facade of Phuoc Lam Pagoda is covered in spiritual pictures, with traditional lanterns hanging from the roof and well-manicured miniature trees in ornate pots decorate the courtyard. Inside, you’ll find colourful shrines and religious statues.
Large stone lions stand at the entrance to Van Duc Pagoda, greeting visitors to this Buddhist temple. Flowers and trees are scattered across the courtyard and the front yellow wall is adorned with descriptive scenes from the Lord Buddha’s life.
Whilst admission is free to the temples, donations are appreciated.
4. Shop for souvenirs and clothes in the market and stores
Hoi An has a fairly large market close to the river, where vendors sell an array of goods aimed at both tourists and locals. The pungent smell of fish pervades the air in the wet section, where you will also see a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and other fresh produce. Trinkets and souvenirs include handicrafts, small colourful statues of Vietnamese ladies clad in traditional attire, embroidered bags, and fridge magnets.
There are many souvenir shops to be found along the streets, although a highlight for many is seeing the numerous tailoring shops with examples of their hand-made clothing draped on plastic models. Hoi An is known for its many tailors, and lots of tourists enjoy the luxury of choosing their own designs and fabrics and being measured for custom-made clothing. From smart suits to gorgeous partying dresses, you can have almost anything made here!
5. Stroll along the river
The riverside area of Hoi An is particularly charming, with crumbling colonial-era buildings lining one side of the river and adding even more character. Many of these historic buildings are now home to cafes, bars, and restaurants, and they offer a perfect place to enjoy a local beer whilst feasting your eyes on the sparkling river and watching the world go by.
A pretty sight by day, the river is even more magical by night. Brightly-coloured statues are illuminated after nightfall, casting their colourful reflections on the sparkling waters. Cats in a basket, a nose-diving fish, a Chinese dragon, and a ferocious-looking lion are amongst the curious statues. Brilliant lanterns and multi-coloured baubles hang from the trees, making the waters dance even more. Get even closer to the beauty with a ride on a small boat.
Other things to do in Hoi An
There are several old congregation halls, used as meeting places by various groups within society, which are worth a visit when in Hoi An. You may even see elderly gentlemen sitting on the floor outside enjoying an intense game of mah-jong (a traditional Chinese game whereby participants must uncover and match tiles). Hoi An’s congregation halls include the Hokkien Meeting Hall and the Cantonese Assembly Hall.
Learn more about the city and its residents at museums like the Hoi An Museum of History and Culture, the Museum of Folk Culture, and the Museum of Sa Huynh Culture. For a more hands-on experience, why not sign up for a cookery class or join a pottery demonstration? Visit An Bang Beach for sun, sea, and sand and wander the old streets to see a mixture of colonial buildings and traditional Vietnamese wooden buildings.
Visitors to Hoi An Old Town must pay an admission fee of 120,000 VND (approximately 5.40 USD). There are several ticket booths around the edges of the Old Town. Whilst it is possible to dodge paying this fee, admission to many of the local attractions is with your ticket, the Hoi An Old Town Ticket. You will be given a leaflet explaining how the ticket works and where it is valid.
Atmospheric, beguiling, and with plenty of things to see and do, make sure you plan to spend at least a couple of days enjoying Hoi An when travelling around Vietnam.