Hoi An is a living museum reflective of one of the most active Southeast Asian seaports of the 15th –19th centuries. Whilst the port was officially established in 1595, signs of human habitation can be found dating back 2,200 years. The town’s original street plan and gorgeous architecture have been maintained despite urbanization, with more than 800 preserved ancient buildings to marvel at.
Vietnamese culture is fascinating, with a host of different influences and philosophies and differences found across the country. From the ancient Buddhist influence to Confucianism, Taoism, French influence and beyond, the local culture is not just interesting but a little knowledge will greatly enhance your time in the country. Find out more about Vietnamese culture here.
History of Hoi An
Consider the bustling scene in the late-1500s: black market Japanese and Chinese traders haggling over silk and ceramics; a crowded harbor dotted with ships under full sail; the Dutch East India Company lording it over the rest of Europe for spices and materials, and British, Portuguese and French spies and adventurers hustling in a melting pot perfect for their intrigues. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese Nguyen Lords welcomed and fostered this economic bonanza and Persian, Arab and Indian traders sniffed around the edges. The silk road started here and Hoi An was in its prime.
Hoi An’s history as a premier international trade destination stems from its large estuary region, which facilitated trade and communication between Europe and China, India and Japan, enabling goods to be easily imported and exported. The area surrounding Hoi An, namely that of modern Quang Nam province, was known for its production of cinnamon, ginseng, textiles and ceramics, drawing in foreign traders from all parts of the globe.
Chinese and Japanese merchants were a dominant force during the 18th century. Many buildings in Hoi An reflect their influence and you’ll find a beautiful blend of Chinese and Japanese architectural styles, as well as European.
The Japanese Covered bridge is a stunning example of the significant impact that Japanese traders had in Hoi An. This architectural landmark receives a lot of attention from tourists and was originally constructed to connect the Japanese community with the Chinese quarter in the region. Inside the bridge, you’ll find a small shrine dedicated to the Taoist God, Tran Vo Bac De, who is believed to control the weather. He is simultaneously worshiped and feared by sailors while locals often pray to Him to protect the town from natural calamities like earthquakes. The two statues of animals – dog and monkey – at opposing ends of the bridge are said to symbolize sacredness in Japanese culture. It has been suggested that these animals were chosen to guard the bridge because they are the Asian zodiac signs of many Japanese emperors, while records supposedly show that construction of the bridge started in the year of the dog and was finished in the year of the monkey.
Renowned for its romantic scenery, friendly people, and vast cultural and historical offerings, it’s easy to see why Hoi An has become a haven for expats and jet-setters from different corners of the globe.
Tourists flock to Hoi An’s Ancient Town to see the yellowed buildings, the energetic banks of the Thu Bon River and its shimmering waters adorned with boats and colorful candles, quirky street performers and brilliantly-lit lanterns decorating trees, baskets of fruit balanced on Vietnamese ladies’ shoulders, and authentic market stalls packed with local specialities and souvenirs … you’ll find magic everywhere you look.
For much of the day motorized vehicles are banned from the streets in the Old Town affording an extraordinary walk back in time as one navigates narrow, curved lanes, the buildings of yesteryear now filled with stylish restaurants, cafes, bars, tailors and fashion houses.
Venture a kilometer or two out of town and you’ll find waterways, rice paddies, farming communities and sun-kissed beaches just minutes from the city center, each with a fine array of restaurants and bars by the waterside. Further afield, the larger city of Da Nang and its attractions are just 25 minutes away.
Now a UNESCO heritage site, Hoi An is one of the most magical environments anywhere in the world where Japanese, Chinese, French and Vietnamese architecture all come together with unique homogeneity.
Although its population is only 120,000 or so, Hoi An attracts a stream of Western travelers and a large expat population has developed over time. This has resulted in considerable Western amenities being readily available.
Many visitors, hamstrung by inflexible tour itineraries, just stay in Hoi An for two or three days and regret they hadn’t stayed longer. A couple of days is by no means long enough to sample its cuisine range which is second to none; its unique designer shops and its variety of outdoor trips and adventures – from piloting basket boats to scuba diving to motorcycle adventures exploring sections of the Ho Chi Minh trail.
Activities: Keeping Busy in Hoi An
With its broad range of cultural and recreational activities, you won’t be left twiddling your thumbs in Hoi An. You can try your hand at Vietnamese-style cooking, be entertained by traditional water puppets, take a mouth-watering food tour, cruise the splendid water coconut palm forest by basket boat, enjoy an art and crafts workshop, or hire a bike and cycle through picturesque villages and rice paddies, catching a glimpse of rural life.
There are various museums where you can learn about the fascinating history and culture of Vietnam, including the Museum of Trade Ceramics, Museum of Folk Culture, the Museum of Sa Huynh Culture, to name a few. Alternatively, take a stroll around town and you’ll spot countless landmarks and historical houses to stimulate the senses and offer a glimpse into the city’s colorful past. If sightseeing is your bag, then exploring the riverfront in the Old Town by foot, both in the daytime and at night, is a must-do on any Hoi An itinerary.
Surrounded by countryside, rice paddies and countless sandy beaches, there are many opportunities to escape the haze of scooters and tourists for the afternoon and reconnect with nature if you yearn for a soothing getaway.
Art and culture cravers won’t be disappointed in Hoi An either. In the last few years, the city’s contemporary art scene has flourished, making it a mecca for artists and creatives of many disciplines. Not only is it a great place to seek inspiration and engender innovative ideas, but there are some wonderful galleries and workshops that consistently exhibit and sell a range of original and exciting artwork.
Lune Production hosts a cirque in an intimate amphitheater on An Hoi Islet that’s based on traditional Vietnamese culture and lifestyle. This is genuinely world-class theatre for all ages and should not be missed.
The weather in Vietnam can be very different, depending on whether you’re in the north, south or central regions. You’ll also find micro-climates within those boundaries too! Hoi An has two distinct seasons – dry and wet – but depending when you travel it’s possible to experience a little cold too. Find our month-by month guide on our Weather page to help you plan your trip.
Street Food & Restaurants
Hoi An is often described by travelers and expats as one of the tastiest cities in Vietnam. It’s quickly become a food lovers’ destination, famous for its authentic cuisine and local specialties. There’s a wide selection of eateries to choose from and affordable prices are part of the charm – there’s nothing quite as gratifying as indulging in delicious cuisine without loosening the purse strings. For a real taste of Hoi An’s food, see our Street Food guide and get munching!
Vietnamese food and local dishes like Cao Lau or White Rose are likely to be super cheap wherever you go – our reviews will guide you on where to find the cream of the crop.
Starving for a bit of Western food but don’t want to loosen the purse strings? There is a fair number of high-quality establishments specializing in cheap, Western grub. Greek Souvlaki whips up a mean vegetarian or meat souvlaki alongside other Greek-style dishes, whilst Kebab Shack, situated directly opposite, is Hoi An’s greasy spoon where you can find a delicious yet affordable English breakfast, Middle-Eastern style kebab, and sausage butty. For burgers Jim’s Snack Bar and Circle are the most popular.
Mid-range, there’s Dingo Deli – Hoi An’s most popular Western-style café, deli and restaurant. (If you’ve been in Hoi An for a while you’re bound to bump into someone you know there.) Other great mid-priced options include Mix Greek Restaurant and Belleville Restaurant & Lounge. Fine dining options are led by Hoi An Steakhouse. Mango Rooms and The Hoianian.
Vegans, vegetarians and health nuts are equally well-catered for in Hoi An. At Rosie’s, patrons can enjoy a range of juices, vegan cakes, and breakfast, brunch and lunch options … the list goes on. Karma Waters is a great place to devour some nutritious vegan food, both Vietnamese and international, and gluten-free baked goods. Our guide on vegetarian restaurants in Hoi An will help you discover more of the best veggie and vegan-friendly eateries across town including Am and Annen.
If an unforgettable food experience is what you’re after and you don’t mind a bit of a splurge, you’ve got your fair share of high-end restaurants to choose from, such as Hoi An Riverside Restaurant. This swanky establishment is hard to fault, offering impeccable service and superb European cuisine with a Vietnamese touch as well as romantic views edging the scenic Thu Bon River in the Old Town.
Our guide to the Hoi An’s recommended restaurants and cafes has you covered every which way, providing an excellent road map with which to plot your next food hunt and embark on an exciting culinary adventure.
Where to Drink
Hoi An boasts a large variety of awesome haunts where you can enjoy some pre-drinks, listen to live music, catch a sports game, stage a perfect first date, or simply drink the night away amidst a hearty atmosphere. You’ve got trendy bars, sports bars, cocktail bars, Irish pubs, and even gin bars to choose from.
You can buy a glass of fresh beer as (insanely) cheap as 4,000 VND at many local eateries around town, such as the restaurants at An Hoi Market. In general, alcoholic beverages are fairly affordable by tourist and expat standards, but if you’re looking to end up somewhere a bit swankier you won’t have a hard time finding somewhere that fits the bill.
As far as trendy bars go, there’s Dive Bar, a relaxed Caribbean-style bar with lounges, big cushions, tropical interior and a chilled playlist. It’s also the headquarters for Cham Island Diving Group meetups, so a likely place to bump into fellow divers. One Love is a laid-back, reggae-themed bar, which tends to be a little emptier than most venues in Hoi An but it’s the best late night option
Hoi An’s premiere sports pubs are 3 Dragons and Hoi An Sports Bar, both on the outskirts of the Old Town, where you can enjoy a relaxing drink or catch a game on multiple screens. Drinks-wise, you’ll be spoilt for choice by a wide selection of beers and cocktails. Salt Pub, on the beach just south of An Bang, also has three dedicated sport screens.
A few specialist drinking dens can also be spotted. Hoi An’s fanciest bar, Q Bar, offers an extensive and sophisticated list of delicious cocktails for its patrons, while Old Town’s Pure Coffee works overtime, posing as a coffee shop by day and a cocktail bar by night. Meanwhile The Tap House has a vast selection of craft beers on tap.
We’ve profiled Hoi An’s best watering holes in our Bar Guides: be sure to peruse them before you go trawling town for a venue at happy hour.
You can easily find somewhere comfy to seek respite in Hoi An without going too wild with the purse strings. Homestays are an affordable way to catch some shut-eye and a wonderful opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture by living in the home of a local family. But if you’re looking for somewhere luxurious, then take your pick from a plethora of luxury and boutique hotels, mostly situated near Hoi An’s beaches.
There’s an excellent array of accommodation options, including homestays, hostels, hotels, and apartments, however, it’s easy to stumble upon somewhere mediocre in a town that caters so well to a ceaseless stream of tourists.
When it comes to finding somewhere to lay your head at night, it’s important to choose carefully and selectively, which is why Hoi An Now’s guide on where to stay is a must-read. It includes all locations and accommodation styles to aid you on your quest to the best night’s sleep in Hoi An, so that you don’t have to endure a nightmare hotel experience.
One of Hoi An’s many fabulous things is its coastline, stretching all the way to Da Nang City. The main beaches are Cua Dai and An Bang, but you’ll find a host of other places in-between if you’re looking for a quieter time on the sands. Find our guide to Hoi An’s beaches here, including the best places for watersports, restaurants, live music and more.
Markets are a must-visit! Opening early in the morning and closing late at night, Hoi An’s markets are some of the most vibrant places you’ll ever see. However sleepy you might feel at 6am, taking yourself to the market for coffee and breakfast is a wonderful way to start the day, and a fabulous way to wake-up. Some markets specialise in selling certain items, but you’ll generally find fresh food to eat and buy, clothes, drinks and a great range of souvenirs.
Shopping Opportunities Abound
You can’t swing a leather bag without hitting a tailor shop in Hoi An – some mediocre, some good and some excellent, where you can get an awesome outfit, a pair of shoes or a bag of your dreams fashioned in just a few days and at an absolute bargain. The tailors with higher-quality fabric will set you back a little more, but even the stores offering outstanding service, premium materials, exquisite craftsmanship and greater attention-to-detail are likely to be a fantastic deal in Hoi An compared to other parts of the world.
When it comes to ready-made fashion, shoppers flock to Hoi An to take advantage of the cheap price-tags and varied collections. There’s a plethora of places where you can pluck out some incredible dresses, coats, sandals, bags, harem pants, silk scarfs, and plenty more. From market stalls to vintage shops to high-designer boutiques, our guides will point you in the right direction and give you the low-down on where your dongs will be well-spent.
Despite the numerous activities at hand, there’s a tranquility that makes Hoi An somewhere that you can easily reconnect with yourself and exercise self-care. In most fast-paced cities getting a massage or a facial can easily be put on the backburner but in Hoi An there’s absolutely nothing wrong with spending your downtime getting well and truly pampered.
As they say here in Hoi An, “No Massage, No Vacation”! A visit to the spa is a great way to unwind after a morning of shopping or sightseeing, and the inexpensive costs of services mean that you can visit daily if your heart desires.
Likewise, there’s plenty of opportunity for pampering and grooming, with hair and beauty salons scattered all over the city. Services are considerably cheaper than in other countries which can be alluring, but the tourism boom also means that many inexperienced practitioners will try to woo you with their impressively low prices or special offers.
If you’re not a big risk taker where beauty is concerned and you’d rather avoid the embarrassment of a dodgy haircut or bikini wax gone horribly wrong, then read our reviews and recommendations on where to get the best haircut, trim, eyebrow shaping and bikini wax.
Hoi An also caters to the more alternative and spiritually-inclined traveler, with various activities such as yoga, meditation, and crystal healing to help you get in touch with your spiritual core. Perhaps you get your energy and inspiration by helping others, in which case volunteering may be on your agenda while you’re in town. Read our guide on reputable charitable organizations where you dedicate your time, skills and talents.