From the 15th to the 19th century, Hoi An was one of the most important trading ports in Southeast Asia. Now just a part of the Vietnamese region, Hoi An Ancient Town is still well-preserved, therefore deserving its title as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Despite being widely known as a tailor city (with hundreds of tailors lining the streets), there are cheap things to do in Hoi An, Vietnam without blowing your vacation budget all at once. From sightseeing to diving into the Vietnamese culinary scene, Hoi An awaits your adventurous soul!
Sightseeing for free!
There are dozens of heritage sites in the ancient town of Hoi An. To enter some of them, you need to have an all-inclusive ticket that you can buy at the town’s entrance for 120.000 VND (around 5.2 USD). If you have the budget, go for it. However, if you prefer to spend the money on more bowls of Pho, you can skip the purchase and walk around the city for free. Even the town itself is a sight to see and definitely Instagrammable. Don’t worry about missing out, because you will still be able to see those heritage sites from outside and even enter some that do not require any ticket.
Explore the Japanese Bridge
As mentioned before, most of the heritage sites in Hoi An Ancient Town do not require any ticket. One of which is the Japanese Bridge. This is the most iconic spot in Hoi An, and you can visit it for free! Back in the day, this was where most trades took place. With such history and beauty, the Japanese Bridge is a must-visit while in Hoi An.
Why is it called the Japanese Bridge? It is believed that this bridge was built by Japanese people who lived in Hoi An to connect with the then Chinese area. On the bridge, you will see sculptures of dogs and monkeys, representing the Chinese years when the bridge was being built and completed. Today, the bridge connects Hoi An Ancient Town with an area known for its paintings made by local artists.
Not a fan of walking under the sun? You can opt to get around on a bicycle instead. Hoi An Ancient Town is a walking-and-cycling town. After 2 pm until late at night every day, the streets are free of motorcycles and other motorized vehicles. So, it is safer (and more fun!) for you to explore the heritage site on a bike. How to do this for free?
If you’re staying near Hoi An Ancient Town, your accommodation will most likely provide free bikes to rent. If not, they should be able to help you to get one for a small price, usually around 50.000 VND (or 2 USD) for one bike per day. Keep in mind that the streets are relatively narrow and packed with people, so it is highly suggested that you opt to ride a bike only if you are used to riding one and not a novice biker.
Insider Tip: After 2 pm, police officers will patrol the area to clear the streets of motorized vehicles. If you happen to rent a motorbike, make sure to park them outside of Hoi An Ancient Town to avoid it being confiscated.
Here is my personal recommendation on accommodation near Hoi An Ancient Town that provides free bikes to rent and also free shuttle service to and from Hoi An Ancient Town:
Enjoy cold beer by the street
In Vietnam, drinking beer is a part of their culture. It is common to see people enjoying a glass or two (sometimes even more) during lunch. When your legs are tired from walking or biking around, take a break at one of the local eateries with their characteristic plastic chairs and tables by the street.
Don’t worry about being overcharged. Despite being a touristy area, these eateries also serve local people, therefore offer local prices. One can of local beer, served in a glass with ice, is less than 5.000 VND (only 0.2 USD). It is tempting to get all the beer you want, but remember to drink responsibly especially if you need to continue riding your bike afterward!
Fill up your tank with a bowl of "Cau Lầu"
While Pho and Bun Cha are commonly found in most parts of Vietnam, Cau Lầu or Khao Lao only exist in some areas, one being Hoi An. The noodles used in this dish is similar to Japanese udon. Here, it is called bánh canh, which is the specialty of Hoi An.
Khao Lao is usually served with roasted pork meat, greens, some crackers on top, with a little bit of broth in the bottom enough just to keep the noodles juicy. A bowl of Khao Lao usually costs 25,000 VND (around 1.1 USD). Most Khao Lao restaurants serve water or hot tea for free. So, with just a little over 1 USD, you get to enjoy a good lunch in Hoi An Ancient Town.
Not in a mood for soupy noodles? Try some other dishes at local eateries, such as Bahn Mi or Vietnamese sandwich, which cost the same as a bowl of Khao Lao.
Take a selfie with traditional lanterns in the background
A visit to Hoi An Ancient Town is not complete without taking photos at night. As the sun is going down, the town comes to live under the lights of traditional lanterns. The sight is simply mesmerizing. So, if you could only spend an hour or so in Hoi An, come around 5 pm right before sunset.
Right in front of the Japanese Bridge, there is a river where boat owners offer a short tour at night, which is perfect to see the city lights from afar. If you are interested, expect to pay around 100.000 VND (or 4.3 USD) for one boat ride. However, you could also pick a spot to sit by the river and still enjoy the view!
A living museum you can visit for free!
Even if you find visiting a museum as a dull activity, you will enjoy walking around Hoi An Ancient Town. History lovers will definitely find this area fascinating, while foodies won’t be able to stop themselves from ordering the second bowl of Khao Lao!
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