BEST HOI AN ATTRACTIONS
There’s little doubt that Hoi Old Town cultural sites and shopping are the big drawcards for visitors to Hoi An. And of course we have that covered but after that, what are the best Hoi An attractions? Don’t be fooled by the small-town charm, there are plenty of attractions in Hoi An to keep visitors busy. We kick off here with 13 ideas for trips, some short, some for the whole day. From the Cham Islands to a walk back in time on Cam Kim to theme parks near and far. By the way, just in case you missed it, ‘Kids’ has its own section back on the main menu.
Whether you’re just trying to relax or looking for culture, art or theater, Hoi An has lots of options for you. Beaches and culinary adventures are also on the horizon and for those looking ahead we have some great ideas further afield as well.
Spend the day snorkeling and exploring the lovely and unspoiled marine-protected Cham Islands, the least developed islands in Vietnam. Experience the islands as a day trip from Hoi An or an overnight stay in one of the rustic island homestays. Also the best spot for scuba diving enthusiasts.
As well as the aquatic activities over the extraordinary coral reefs, eating and drinking, karaoke and shopping, parasailing/paragliding and motor bike rides all play their part on a visit to the Cham Islands. But it’s also a glorious opportunity to get away from it all if you move across the island away from the central landing point towards Bai Ong village and Bai Chuong Beach.
Overnight homestay accommodation, dive tour operators and lots more information are listed here.
Best done with a local guide to pick up the complex story, My Son is a popular day trip for tourists wanting to learn more about South East Asian history. A UNESCO world heritage site under an hour from Hoi An city center, the My Son ruins are some of the few remaining constructions of the ancient Cham Empire in Vietnam. There would be a lot more but bomb craters all over tell another more recent story from the American War. Many statues were beheaded by the French in a bizarre fit of trophy taking as well at some point.
But My Son isn’t for everyone. Many will only see rubble and wonder what the fuss is about. The ‘Wow!’ factor of Peru, Egypt, Greece and of course nearby Siem Riep certainly isn’t there. But for those with a genuine interest in the past, it’s well worth it although an hour or two should do the trick. The approach through magnificent rainforest is a bonus.
The Marble Mountains
Only 20 minutes from Hoi An by bus or hired car, the Marble Mountains is the perfect destination for history lovers or anyone looking to get a better view of the central Vietnamese plain from above. Below the surface, a complicated system of caves and tunnels interlaced with pagodas, shrines and gigantic statues make this an unforgettable experience. But go early to avoid unbearable heat during the summer months as well as the hordes of tourists all year round.
The Marble Mountains site is also famous for its sculpted marble statues that range widely in size and price at nearby venues.
Hours: 8am – 5pm
Son Tra - Monkey Mountain
People come to Monkey Mountain to feel the immensity of nature, its sweep and its transformative power. They come to feel closer to God and God’s mysteries, even if that’s not how they’d put it. They come to experience time standing still. The peak of Monkey Mountain features some of the steepest inclines in SE Asia and its roads approach through lush rainforest.
The mountain is named after the very rare, Red-shanked Duoc and it is also home to the imposing Lady Buddha – which at almost twice the size of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer (67-meters) is a spiritual protector from natural disasters, especially typhoons. Behind her is the impressive Ling Ung – Bai But Pagoda, an active monastery and pilgrimage site, especially for domestic tourists.
Hai Van Pass
Acclaimed as one of the great coast roads in the world Hai van Pass doesn’t disappoint. When traveling between Hue and Da Nang/Hoi An Hai Van Pass is not to be missed – otherwise make a day trip of it.
The road snakes along the hillside, weaving back and forth through a series of hairpin bends, steep inclines and breathtaking scenery until you reach its famous summit. Here the fortifications date back to the Dai Viet Kingdom and to Emperor Minh Mang’s rule. Historically, Hai Van was the physical division between the Champa and Dai Viet Kingdoms, and the imposing gate-like structures at the summit were used as a border crossing. It is the natural frontier between north and south Vietnam.
There are many ways you can reach the Hai Van Pass; hire a car with a driver or a motorbike, or even get the train to Hue and come back via car/bike.
Countryside by Bicycle
One of Hoi An’s best activities on your own or with friends, bicycling in Hoi An is a great way to explore or get from A to B. Structured bicycle tours are also available and provide a stimulating opportunity to discover what Hoi An and its surrounds offer beneath the surface. Rice fields, duck farms, fishing villages and glorious beaches are just minutes away.
Another option is to explore by yourself. As its fascinating bucolic settings are only minutes away, no matter where you are, Hoi An presents special and diverse opportunities. See Cycling to An Bang Beach: Scenic Route, Cam Kim Cycle Tour, Alternative Hoi An Cycle Tour to get you started on your own discovery tours.
The Coconut (Nipa) Palms of Cam Thanh Island once offered a unique, tranquil escape from the bustle of Hoi An with guided tours in bamboo basket boats or kayaks. Towering palms provided a Jurassic Park feel in the maze of Nipa Palm channels and moving to the river proper fishermen launched bright nets in a languid, calm setting.
Or, this was how it was before hundreds of busloads of East Asian tourists descended. Ghetto blasters now spew out ‘Oppa Gangnam Style’ and local operators set up sideshow tricks on the water (kids may find fun in the corny action).
If in search of the primeval experience look for smaller kayak or basket boat operators in quieter areas further away from Cua Dai Bridge.
Ba Na Hills
European architecture, much of it medieval, on top of a 1,487-metre high Vietnamese mountain. Wow! For this alone this theme park is worth a visit. But for most, the spectacular entrance by cable car, the new Golden Bridge supported by giant hands and the Fantasy Park are the big drawcards. Each to their own, for Ba Na Hills has a little something for everyone from garden labyrinths to elevated pagodas to rollercoasters and, as it’s still a work in progress, it’ll be interesting to watch how it develops. But fully developed or not, it’s already quite expensive, particularly if you have children in tow.
Ba Na Hills has hotels and restaurants and a beautiful pagoda at the top of the highest peak in the complex. With over 1.5 million visitors a year it can get packed at certain times so if you want to avoid the peak hour crush and the cable car queues at day’s end, and see what’s on offer at at your own speed, consider staying the night!
Only a short bike ride separates Cam Kim Island from An Hoi Islet, but after crossing the narrow bridge that spans the Thu Bon River it feels like you have ridden hours into the countryside. Automobiles are prohibited – there’s just a slow trickle of bikes and motorbikes that eventually peters out in the expansive rice paddies and corn fields that separate the island’s scattered hamlets. If you have the time you could easily spend a day losing yourself in this bucolic setting.
Shipbuilding, mat weaving, rice paper making and artifact carving are some of the local activities on display. But the countryside itself is the key attraction. Just wander through the island’s ever-changing worlds – grain fields, river crossings, boatyards, forests, water buffalo, cows, ducks and wildlife. There’s something new around every corner as you progress along the island’s hushed, meandering tracks.
The temples and pagodas in Old Town are the most famous in Hoi An. These are often assembly halls as well, mostly built by the Chinese during Hoi An’s trading heyday. For more on this see Chinese Assembly Halls in Hoi An’s Ancient Town.
But as Vietnam is essentially a Buddhist state there are temples, pagodas and monasteries scattered all over the town and they can mostly be visited at any time. Wherever you are staying there will be a major Buddhist center not far away. While mostly you can visit any time, early evening is often a good time when monks and nuns gather to meditate and pray. The mixture of Buddhist thought with traditional ancestor worship in Vietnam is a particularly interesting aspect of religious life in Vietnam.
Chuc Thanh, Van Duc and Phuoc Lam are well known Buddhist pagodas in Hoi An.
Water Buffalo Riding
It could be your best photo from Vietnam — you, conical hat askew, astride a water buffalo up to its knees in muck. Head out into the rice paddies where you will find cheeky locals charging a dollar for a photo on top of their beloved buffalo. Many tours also include water buffalo riding as part of their experience.
Unlike elephants that need to be tamed before they can be ridden ( a horrible process), water buffalo have been ‘domesticated’, having been crucial to rice farmers’ field ploughing and other tasks for millenia. As they can grow to weigh in at 2,500 pounds or so, they’ll barely notice you’re there as they relish a stroll in the muddy rice paddies with you on board.
Tam Thanh Mural Village
Visiting Tam Thanh is much like Dorothy stepping out of black and white into technicolor Oz. This little village explodes out of pastoral sepias into pinks and blues, yellows and deep violets. The main street is a kaleidoscope where every house has its own unique color and character. Murals of local people decorate the larger walls and smaller paintings trail down the alleyways inviting visitors to explore.
The first of its kind in Vietnam, this painted village strives to boost local tourism and bring a new vitality to an otherwise sleepy corner of the province. With the blessing of the local people, the volunteer artists have been able to turn garden-variety construction into a cohesive work of living art.
Tra Que Vegetable and Herb Market Garden
Tra Que Vegetable and Herb Gardens are on the itineraries of many tours in Hoi An but there’s nothing stopping you visiting the area yourself. The farming methods are organic, using seaweed from the river in an age-old process and the city’s vegetable sellers get their produce from Tra Que.
If you do take a tour you’ll be shown how the herbs and vegetables are cultivated by local farmers. You can roll up your sleeves and have a go yourself if you want to and you’ll also be invited to eat in a local family house before you leave.
Add: Either side of Hai Ba Trung between Hoi An City and An Bang Beach
In Hoi An, there are more massage parlours available than limbs that need rubbing From budget, no-frills affairs to lavish sanctuaries, it’s actually quite easy to reach Nirvana here. Or to get pretty damn close.
Unfortunately, many spas that offer massage don’t actually have trained masseuses or masseurs on staff. But hey, at less than $10 for an hour’s rubdown in a tranquil setting, that won’t bother a lot of people. Just make sure that if you have a back or neck injury, leave it to the professionals… The rule of thumb is spend a little more on a day spa to experience soft music, incense and well-trained staff on salary who are actually there when you arrive… and who’ll even give you privacy while you undress! Imagine.
Eastern philosophies and practices have finally become ‘trendy’ in the Western world. We’re learning to broaden our minds and many of us favour acupuncture, reiki and other forms of traditional medicine over the scrawls of a prescription pad. Although of course there is still space – and rightly so – for modern medicine in our lives, we’ve started to look elsewhere for spiritual healing. And for those lucky enough to visit or live in Hoi An, you don’t need to look very far.
Yoga, essential oils therapy, mindful meditation, acupuncture crystal healing and many other paths to wellness and true relaxation can be found in Hoi An.
Coffee connoisseurs will not be disappointed in Hoi An. There’s a plethora of cafés to choose from – nestled in hidden gardens, peeking out of attics in the Old Town’s ancient houses, basking in the full splendor of the Thu Bon river – you can have any background for your brew.
Local hipsters get their fix at the trendy Espresso Station, while expats flock to the Dingo Deli to enjoy a taste of home (and a few minutes of peace, having parked their kids in the attached playground). Chat politics at Phin Café’s weekly “Coffee Talks” or embrace the quiet oasis that is Rosie’s.
But if you want a quintessential Vietnamese cafe experience and you’re looking for more punch from your coffee and some idea of what’s important to the Vietnamese when choosing a cafe see our ‘Quick Guide to Cafe Viet‘.
Bars in Hoi An are sprouting like mushrooms, especially in the growth areas of An Bang Beach and An Hoi Islet. From backpacker joints with thumping house to the refined Q Bar, from cocktail happy hours to dedicated live music joints there’s something for everyone in Hoi An.
If you’re after the best value deals, jump straight to the cocktail and happy hour listings. Sport lovers can rejoice with three strong options – 3 Dragons Sport Bar and Restaurant and Hoi An Sports Bar near Old Town and Salt Pub just south of An Bang Beach while craft beer lovers should head straight to Tap House. Many restaurants feature a lively bar scene while some bars, like Happy Buffalo and Sessions, are hidden away from the crowds in bucolic settings.
Cheers! Sante! Mot Hai Ba Do!
Hoi An has a hundred bars, but just a few that offer really great live music. Be it Vietnamese ballads, contemporary covers or old school rock classics, Hoi An has something for most music lovers. The clear leader for many years has been Soul Kitchen at An Bang Beach which hosts an incredible variety of bands and solo performers Wed-Sun. In recent times it has been joined by sister venue Soul Beach and neighboring Shore Club.
On An Hoi bar/restaurant Mango Mango has joined the fray and Belleville Restaurant & Lounge has a resident performer hosting open mic most nights. Vietnamese performers can be heard at Guitar Hawaii where sometimes the musicianship is surprisingly very high quality.
See our What’s On for current listings.
There are so may cooking classes in Hoi An it’s hard to know where to start. Remember, you don’t have to be a cook or even like cooking to get something out of cooking classes in Hoi An, they’re usually great fun for everyone, even the kids!
Most will show you where it all starts with fresh produce in the markets but thereafter there are lots of variations including buffalo rides, rice paper making, river cruises and tending the herb and veggie gardens at Tra Que before you chop up the ingredients and get frypan in hand.
From beginners to seasoned cooks, there’s a cooking class in Hoi An for you.
It’s a stunning revelation for many that the hundreds of street food vendors in Hoi An provide fantastic, authentic Hoi An cuisine at very little cost. The Vietnamese flock to these vendors and for good reason. The quality is high at bargain basement prices.
One of Hoi An’s most famous street food dishes is Cao Lau. But what other dishes does Hoi An have to offer? Put together by Hoi An Food Safari, follow the link below to a street food guide that provides an instructive take on many of the different foods you’ll come across in Hoi An.
Theater & Art
Whatever you do, if you have the opportunity to attend a Lune Production – Lune Cirque – do not miss it. For an hour or so you will be be totally absorbed by the drama and poignancy of traditional Vietnamese life in a unique way that will live with you long after the lights are turned up. The shows are genuinely world class in music and energetic, dramatic performance.
Lune Production has created an amphitheater in Hoi An that stages very Vietnamese shows which draw from the Cirque du Soleil tradition. Ha Noi and Ho Chin Minh City also stage Lune Production shows in their respective Opera Houses and other venues.
Hours: shows start 6pm
Address: Dong Hiep Park, An Hoi Islet
To Book: Lune Production
Hoi An Memories Show
Hoi An Memories Show is an open-air theatrical extravaganza involving a cast of 500 in an arena that can seat 3000. It’s comfortably the largest and most ambitious show anywhere in Vietnam. It showcases Vietnamese culture through an historical lens; a lens leaning heavily on Hoi An’s rich past as a multi-national trading port – since the 1500s a meeting place for East and West.
The setting is sprawling and magnificent, grandly depicting the nearby mountains, the sodden river flood plains that typify Vietnam and the old port of Hoi An. The music is exquisite, the lighting hi-tech and the choreography superb. Come early or hang around afterwards and check out the Impression Theme Park as well, it’s worth it.
Theme Park Hours | 4.45pm – 12.00am
Memories Show Hours | 7.30pm – 8.45pm
Add: Cam Nam Island
To Book: Hoi An Memories Show
Hoi An has a reputation as a center for culture and the arts in Vietnam and it is true that a number of artists and writers have been drawn to this beautiful town because of the gentle pace of life, the light, the variety of landscape, the architecture and the vibrant culture. There are several galleries in Hoi An and any number of shops flogging paintings of uneven quality. To help you through this morass check out our ‘Best Hoi An Galleries’ on the link below.
By the way, if you buy from one of the galleries we have listed, always ask if they can give you a certificate of authenticity. Vietnamese artists are now making a splash on the international art scene and the prices are rising. One day, it may be worth a lot of money!
A short walk from the Old Town, Hoi An’s Water Puppet Show is an entertaining prelude to dinner and fun for all ages. Set under the stars in amphitheater-styled seating, this energetic and frequently humorous 45-minute show presents a series of fables and stories on Vietnamese village life through colorfully hand carved puppets. There are unicorns and fairies, the odd boat race and dragons amidst smoke and spectacular lighting.
With or without kids, Hoi An’s Water Puppet Show is highly recommended and for the best seating arrive around 15 – 20 minutes early.
Add: 548 Hai BaTrung (near corner of Ly Thuong Kiet and Hai Ba Trung)
Tel: +84 (0)235 386 1327; +84 (0)941 378 979(hotline)
Owner Tan kicks old-school Vietnamese bamboo construction up a notch at Taboo Bamboo. Hidden away in the verdant outskirts of the Coconut Palm Village, Taboo Bamboo is an inspiring setting for making your own unique bamboo creations under the guidance of a third generation bamboo craftsman.
It’s all bamboo with Tan. He has even made a functioning rotary phone and a car out of bamboo. And, if that’s too old school for you, he’s also created a bamboo cellphone case! If you like, you can make your own bamboo bike by booking into one of his five-day workshops.
Hours: 7.30am – 5.30pm
Add: Thanh Tam Dong, Cam Thanh
Thanh Ha Terracotta Park and Pottery Village
If you’re looking for a different experience in Hoi An, head to Thanh Ha Terracotta Park and Pottery Village to paint your very own souvenir Vietnamese theater mask. With pot making and a little bit of history in between, this is a fun day for adults and kids alike.
Like Gulliver start off with a walk through the Lilliputian garden display at the Thanh Ha Terracotta Park – from the Taj Mahal to the Sydney Opera House in miniature. Then move through the intriguing museum and finally into the village to throw your own pot – a great hands on experience for the kids.
Add: Thanh Ha Terracotta Pottery Park, Nam Dieu
Tel: +84 (0) 235 3963 888
Timing Masks Workshop
A family business headed by patriarch Mr Phong Bui, the Timing Masks Workshop aims to preserve one of Vietnam’s oldest cultural activities: the art of mask making. Fun for all ages, an afternoon at the Timing Masks Workshop is a great family activity with a handmade takeaway to remind you and yours of your trip to Hoi An.
Tip. Ask the staff to mount your mask on a basket it really touches it off and looks amazing. The extra $US 3 more is worth it.
Add: 66 Bach Dang Street, Hoi An Old Town
Tel: +84 (0)235 395 9159