Hoi An is a place where the bold march of progress peters into a leisurely amble. In this one-time trading port, the Thu Bon River meanders past crumbling shop houses and weathered pagodas, while sampans come and go from the old ferry quay. Outside the Old Town, two-lane roads slice through waving rice fields and emerge at a frothy coastline. Stay a couple days, and Hoi An’s easygoing beauty and lantern-lit nights may leave you hopelessly beguiled.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN HOI AN:
Get lost in the Old Town
Hoi An’s allure is distilled in the narrow streets of the Ancient Town. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was a bustling commercial hub from the 15th to early 19th centuries. Merchants from China, Japan and later Europe settled in Hoi An, creating the unique architectural fusion you see today. The townscape — its open market, tight alleys and wooden footbridges — hasn’t changed. Bring your camera along as you tread the ornate Japanese Bridge, step inside the Tan Ky ancestral house, and wander the Phuc Kien Assembly Hall.
Treat your taste buds
Dining in Hoi An is pure pleasure. Farms all around contribute just-picked vegetables, herbs and fruit, and fishing boats yield their catches to the markets daily, so you’ll have no shortage of memorable meals. Three quintessential dishes in Hoi An are cau lau–a toothsome noodle dish–hoanh thanh crispy wontons, and the oh-so-succulent white rose shrimp dumplings. But it’s the humble banh mi that fosters culinary showdowns.
Sign up for a cooking lesson
Hoi An is a magnet for foodies and cooks looking to learn the secrets of Vietnamese cuisine. Most cooking classes include a trip to the bountiful Hoi An Market, although some will ferry you as far as the vegetable farms and fishing villages. Have a morning to spare? Try your hand at the cooking schools of Red Bridge, Morning Glory or Secret Garden.
Cycle in the countryside
Sunrise in Hoi An is a prime time to grab your hat and hop on a bike. With any luck, you’ll find yourself in a sea of green, with water buffalo flicking their tails along the path and flocks of herons scattering on the horizon. The island of Cam Kim, a ferry hop away, is a lush, lovely landscape. In Cam Thanh and Tra Que, you’ll pass quiet riverside lanes, vegetable farms, and frond-fringed ponds.
Hit the beach
An Bang Beach, just a 10-minute drive from the Ancient Town, promises seafood lunches, sandy stretches and cool waves. Soul Kitchen is a favourite chill-out spot to bring your books, beach blankets, and bikinis. For a full day of sun and surf, board the ferry to the Cham Islands, where you’ll have pristine shores and a handful of diving spots all to yourself.
Shop for a new outfit
Hoi An may charm your pants off, but it’ll also sew you a new pair. The streets are overflowing with tailors eager to stitch you an outfit in 24 hours. In the ready-to-wear category, check out the racks of cotton, linen, and silk threads at boutiques such as Papillon Noir and Metiseko. Jewelry and leather goods are also high on the list of temptations for shoppers.
Marvel at My Son
An insightful diversion awaits 40 kilometres away at the My Son Sanctuary, a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site. Tucked into a valley near a shaded stream, these temples were built by the Cham people, who established a thriving spice trade long ago in Central Vietnam. The surviving structures, which bear the scars of time and war, date from the 7th to the 13th century.