There’s a reason Hoi An is a destination Hong Kongers keep flocking back to.
This Vietnamese city has got old world charm, great beaches, fresh food and lovely locals. What’s not to love? But the best thing is, it’s just a two-hour flight from Hong Kong! So we’ve put together this guide to the best things to see and do in Hoi An, including where to shop, eat and sleep, based on what’s been tried and tested by members of the Sassy team.
What To See
Hoi An is one of those places where you can happily while away the hours just wandering around. A fluke of history has meant that this once bustling trade city was abandoned in favour of Da Nang, just in time to protect it from modernisation. It was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list and has been a firm favourite with tourists ever since.
Walking through the streets (much of the old town is closed to traffic) you will see a mix of Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and European architecture. At night, colourful lanterns light up the streets and as the temperature drops, it’s the perfect time to take in the markets and restaurants.
Make the effort to pop into the Precious Heritage Art Gallery and Museum. This free museum showcases the traditional dress of the ethnically diverse hill tribe people of northern Vietnam, as well as being home to a stunning collection by Rehahn Photography.
Sassy Mama Tip: Take advantage of its newly opened coffee room. A great place to beat the heat while sampling local produce.
If you have time for a side trip, the UNESCO World Heritage listed My Son Temples are an easy one hour drive from Hoi An. Set out early (before the heat sets in) and you’ll be treated to exploring this historic Champa temple complex (a similar design to Angkor Wat) without the crowds.
What To Do
Food Tours and Cooking Classes
Surely we aren’t the only one who go to Hoi An purely to eat our way around town? While there are countless restaurants, sometimes you want to eat as the locals do, but don’t know where to start. A food tour is a great way to try the popular favourites (banh mi anyone!) as well as local, regional delicacies (a steaming bowl of cao lau noodles) and some dishes for the more adventurous eaters (try the balut, not quite an egg, not quite a duck).
Hoi An Food Tour offers a range of private and small group food tours where you can walk, cycle or be whisked around town on the back of a motorbike as you sample the best street food in the area. The friendly, young guides will keep you entertained throughout the tour, whether zipping through the back streets or meandering past the rice paddies.
Most of the good restaurants in town offer cooking classes so you can try your hand at local favourites. We can’t go past fresh rice paper rolls or Hoi An crispy pancakes. What a treat to learn how to make them! Vy’s Market Restaurant (see our restaurant recommendations below) is a great place to start for lessons but you can also check out Green Bamboo or Tra Que Water Wheel.
All around Hoi An you will find custom clothing and footwear, even bag and jewellery shops. We challenge you to leave town without at least one made-to-measure piece! The tailors range in quality and price, largely dependent on the type of materials selected and craftsmanship involved.
Yaly Couture is tried and tested (one Sassy Mama even had her wedding dress made here). It isn’t the cheapest in town, but it has a range of quality fabrics, skilled seamstresses and its three branches have a reliable reputation.
BeBe is another firm favourite for quality tailoring. With 15 years experience, three branches across Hoi An and a promise of unlimited fittings, you’re sure to be pleased with the results.
Sassy Mama Tip: Know what you like, what you want and what suits you before you visit a tailor. The possibilities are endless and if you are short on time it is easy to get overwhelmed. If you choose something that doesn’t suit your body type, no amount of tailoring is going to make it work.
Yaly Couture 1, 358 Nguyen Duy Hieu, Hoi An, Vietnam, +84 235 3914 995
Yaly Couture 2, 47 Tran Phu, Hoi An, Vietnam, +84 235 3861 119
Yaly Couture 3, 47 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Vietnam, +84 235 2212 474, [email protected], www.yalycouture.com
BeBe 1, 05-07 Hoang Dieu Street, Hoi An, Vietnam, +84 235 2212 670
Bebe 2, 95 Phan Chau Trinh Street, Hoi An, Vietnam, +84 235 3923 678
Bebe 3, 40 Tran Hung Dao Street, Hoi An, Vietnam, +84 235 3923 399, [email protected], www.bebetailor.com
The area around Hoi An Old Town and the surrounding countryside is mostly flat, and once away from the main roads, surprisingly quiet. Perfect for a family cycling trip. Your hotel will most likely have bicycles available to rent (by the hour or by the day), but if you worry about your navigational abilities, following a local guide will be your best option. Many companies combine a cycling tour with other activities, like cooking classes and boat tours, so you can customise your perfect day trip. Once again, check out Hoi An Food Tour for some great day trip options.
French expat, Pascal, and his wife run Heaven & Earth Bicycle Tours. The company offers small group and private cycling tours for all capabilities and families will love that they have kids’ bikes and baby seats (that comply with EU and international safety standards).
Island Tours, Scuba Diving and Snorkelling
Just off the coast of Hoi An in the South China Sea are the Cham Islands, home to the Cu Lao Cham Marine Park. While we wouldn’t call the scuba diving here world class, the islands do offer up some of the best coral reefs along the coastline of Vietnam. There are a number of operators offering speed boats to the islands as well as full day snorkelling and scuba diving trips.
Cua Dai and An Bang beach are just a few kilometres from Hoi An Old Town and should definitely be on your list if visiting in the dry season. Who would say no to lazing about under a palm tree with a coconut in hand? Small bars and restaurants line the sand so go for a stroll, find a perfectly located sun lounger and park yourself for the day.
Where To Shop
There are countless shops and markets around the Old Town of Hoi An. Don’t forget to bargain, hard! Whether you are after custom clothes, leather goods, jewellery, artwork or general souvenirs, you won’t have to search far. There are however a few standout shops well worth the visit for nicer souvenirs to take home.
Homewares shop Sunday is a favourite with more than one of the Sassy Mama team. Pick up some nice personal accessories, or maybe a statement piece for your apartment. You’ll be feeling those holiday vibes long after you return home! The store invites you in with handmade crafts and homewares that have been sourced from villages throughout Vietnam and Southeast Asia.
Lovers of quality fabrics and French design should head straight to Metiseko for clothing and accessories. The creative team has drawn its inspiration from Vietnamese traditions and landscapes(think jungle and bamboo inspired prints)to create silks and organic cotton that is sustainably sourced from local artisans. More than one piece from Metiseko has made it into this mama’s wardrobe!
Sassy Mama Tip: Metiseko also has an online store and ship overseas!
Metiseko Organic Cotton Boutique, 142 Tran Phu, Minh An, Hoi An, Vietnam, +84 235 3929 878
Metiseko Silk Boutique, 140 Tran Phu, Minh An, Hoi An, Vietnam, +84 235 2929 278, www.metiseko.com
Where To Eat Vietnamese
You should never, ever go hungry in Hoi An! This city serves up some of the best cuisine in the country. While you can of course opt for the Vietnamese classics like banh mi, pho or rice paper rolls, my advice is to seek out the more local Hoi An favourites. Look for dishes like cao lau noodles, white rose dumplings (banh bao vac), Vietnamese turmeric noodles (mi quang) and crispy pancake (banh xeo).
For a sure bet for quality local cuisine head straight to any of Ms Vy’s restaurants (and there are a lot of them!). Ms Vy is somewhat of a legend in Hoi An with over 30 years’ experience in the restaurant business. She grew up in Hoi An, but her parents are from the north and the south respectively so she has been able to bring this influence into her cooking. Morning Glory and Vy’s Market Restaurant both serve up delicious Vietnamese recipes passed down through the generations.
Sassy Mama Tip: To try out Ms Vy’s recipes at home, pick up a copy of the Taste Vietnam: The Morning Glory Cookbook.
Occupying a prime position overlooking the Thu Bon River, grab a table at the upstairs terrace at Mango Mango. From here you’ll have a great view not only of the river (especially beautiful if visiting during the full moon), but also of the Japanese Covered Bridge and the Hoi An Night Market. There’s live music every night, a great cocktail list and a menu perfect for sharing. This is our pick for unwinding after a day of sight-seeing!
Home Hoi An is also worth a visit. Tucked inside a beautifully preserved French townhouse, it offers up an authentic menu of Central Vietnamese dishes. As the name suggests, it is going for a cosy, homely ambience and uses the freshest seasonal ingredients sourced from local gardens.
We’re a sucker for a social enterprise, so STREETS Restaurant Cafe is always going to make our list of recommendations. STREETS is a training restaurant where young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds can get an education and a start in the hospitality industry. It has also branched out to offer market tours and cooking classes. Go on, put your tourist dollar towards a good cause!
For a truly local foodie experience, take a stroll through the Central Market Food Hall (if you take a food tour this will almost certainly be included). Not for the faint-hearted this is where the locals source their fresh produce and also pick up cheap and cheerful lunches and snacks. It’s overwhelming for your senses in the best possible way. As with all street food, look for a stall packed with locals and a high turnover so that you are eating the freshest fare!
Central Market Food Hall, corner of Tran Phu Street and Nguyen Hue, Hoi An, Vietnam
Where To Eat – Other Cuisines
We could eat Vietnamese for breakfast, lunch and dinner! But sometimes you need something a little more familiar (especially with young fussy mouths to feed). Since Hoi An has historically been a melting pot of cultures you will find a great selection of cuisines from all over the world.
Vegetarians are generally well catered for in Vietnam, but you do need to be wary of sauces containing seafood products (fish sauce is a key ingredient in most sauces). For a sure bet head to Minh Hien. Located slightly out of town, it’s a small spot catering to a mix of locals, expats and tourists.
While Hoi An has great food, it doesn’t really have a fine dining scene. Aubergine49 is setting out to change that! Serving up European flavours with a Vietnamese influence, and using locally-sourced ingredients, this is a great location for a nice evening away from the Old Town. The head chef trained at top restaurants in London and Japan before moving home to Hoi An, so the food is naturally top notch.
You wouldn’t necessarily think of eating “Tex Mex” or pizza in Vietnam, but if you have a wide variety of tastes in your family then there is sure to be something that pleases on the menu at Green Chili. Its husband and wife team are accommodating and flexible with its dishes and the location is conveniently located in the Old Town. A good all-round crowd pleaser.
The French and the Chinese have had a major influence on cuisine all over Vietnam, but this is particularly evident in Hoi An. Cargo Club Café is the go-to spot for French pastries and desserts (who can go past a pain au chocolat!) while Yum Cha serves up classic and fusion Cantonese dim sum. Both are overseen by Ms Vy so you can expect the same quality and service as her Vietnamese restaurants.
Minh Hien, 50 Tran Cao Van, Hoi An, Vietnam, +84 905 667 743, www.facebook.com/Vegetarian.vietnam
There are so many options when it comes to sleeping in Hoi An. Most accommodation is either found on the outskirts of the Old Town or by the beach a few kilometres away. You could even choose to stay further afield in Da Nang (30 to 45 minutes drive away) and come to Hoi An for a day trip. Sassy team members have tried and tested the following options and they are listed according to price.
Small and charming, the Cliff Boutique Village is an affordable option halfway between the town and the beach. There are just 29 rooms and a small restaurant and bar serving up fresh food using organic ingredients. Soak up the tropical vibes of the lush garden by the small pool and cool off after a day of sightseeing.
The La Siesta Resort and Spa is located an easy 10-minute walk (or $1 USD taxi ride) from the Old Town. It is a boutique hotel that goes the extra mile when it comes to warm and friendly service. It has lovely spacious rooms and a central pool to cool off in. The highlight at La Siesta is definitely the spa. Book yourself in for an indulgent massage, body scrub or wrap (whether you stay at the hotel or not). All the treatments are excellent and it is worth splurging on one of the World Packages!
Occuping prime position on Cua Dai beach is the Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort. A highlight is having direct access to both a private white sand beach as well as a pool overlooking the sea. It has beautifully furnished garden and river view rooms, and spacious suites overlooking the ocean. Families will love having the option for interconnecting rooms and amenities for younger children (baby cots, baths and toiletries) can all be provided. The hotel restaurant serves up a variety of Vietnamese and western dishes for when you want to stay in, and a free shuttle to the Old Town when you want to head out and about.
For a luxe option, you can’t go past the Anantara Hoi An Resort. The riverfront location (less than a kilometre from the Old Town) can’t be beaten and indulging in the fabulous breakfast spread with water views is a daily treat. The spacious rooms either overlook the landscaped gardens or capture the breeze from the river. Families will love having a separate living area, huge bathrooms and an outdoor area to unwind on at the end of the day. Make time to visit the spa either for a romantic couples treatment or some solo relaxation.
Cliff Boutique Village, 85 Le Hong Phong, Hoi An, Vietnam, +84 235 3926 688, www.thecliffboutiquevillage.com
Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort, Cua Dai Beach, Hoi An, Vietnam, +84 235 3927 040, www.victoriahotels.asia
When To Go
Hoi An has two main seasons, the wet and the dry. The wet season lasts from September to January, but most of the rain falls in October and November. Expect cooler temperatures around this time (a max of around 25°C) and there is also the potential for flooding.
The summer heat really kicks in from June to August (expect temperatures well above 30°C). On the flip side, this is also the time when you get the most spectacular full moons. Each month at this time all the street lights are turned off in the Old Town and you are guided by the colourful lanterns and moonlight. A highlight if you time your visit right and can handle the heat! If you are an avid beachgoer, this is the time for you. The water is calm and the wind light so you can make the most of island hopping and scuba diving.
Most families will find the shoulder months (March to May) the most comfortable. The humidity is relatively low and temperatures are comfortable. Perfect for meandering the Old Town at leisure as well as lazing by the pool!
How To Get There
The nearest airport to Hoi An is Da Nang. There are daily flights from Hong Kong on Cathay Dragon, Jetstar Asia and HK Express. The flight time is around two hours (so not too long to keep the kids entertained!). From Da Nang it is just over a 30-minute drive to Hoi An. Your accommodation will be able to organise transfers for you.
Featured image courtesy of Getty, image 1 courtesy of Steve Douglas on Unsplash, image 2 courtesy of Getty, image 3 courtesy of Bebe Tailoring, image 4 courtesy of Heaven And Earth Tours, image 5 courtesy of Blue Coral Diving via Instagram, image 6 courtesy of Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort, image 7 courtesy of Metiseko via Instagram, image 8 courtesy of Taste Vietnam via Facebook, image 9 courtesy of Taste Vietnam via Facebook, image 10 courtesy of Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort, image 11 courtesy of Toomas Tartes on Unsplash.