My 5 Favorite Things About Hoi An, Vietnam

My 5 Favorite Things About Hoi An, Vietnam

The City of Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage site on Vietnam’s central coast. Known for its well-preserved Ancient Town, the whole city is cut through with canals. Its small population and compact size make it easily explorable by bicycle or on foot. Being a four-hour bus ride from Hanoi, I’d only heard of Hoi An from fellow travellers once I had arrived in-country. Since it was near other places I wanted to see, I headed south.

When I visited Hoi An, the word was just getting out among the backpacking crowd. My current research shows that the city has become a tourist mecca. 

Old Town

Old Town is in an incredible state of preservation, with narrow streets that are closed to traffic. You can wander and admire the ancient houses, pagodas and temples, wells, and tombs without navigating cars, motorcycles, and scooters. The lichen-stained patina of pastel-colored walls immediately caught my attention, especially the ones splashed with vibrant red or purple bougainvillea. In the morning and evening light, fellow shutterbugs were in awe.

I stayed in Old Town, choosing a hotel with a pool for relief from the tropical heat. It was there that I learned Hoi An was the place to go for custom-made clothing. One of the main streets is lined with tailors and dress shops, the storefront windows crammed with colorful reams of material. I bumped into a guy who I met at Hạ Long Bay at a restaurant near my hotel. He was in town, waiting on his custom-made suit. 

There are plenty of authentic Vietnamese restaurants in Old Town. I fell in love with a local dumpling specialty called White Rose. I felt so impressed with another appetizer, stuffed squid, that I took a cooking class to learn how to make the delicacy. Despite how delicious the dish was, I was the only student and I mostly sat with cold beer in hand watching the barefoot chef cook on an old hot plate. I felt like I was in an episode of The Flintstones

Hoi An Night Market

This is not your average fruit and vegetable market. It has all the fresh produce you can imagine, along with local artisans who create and sell their wares on-site. Shopkeepers have set up the market stalls along the river, across the street from a row of restaurants and specialty shops. They’ve strung up colorful lamps and paper lanterns in front of the vendor booths like distant planets glowing in the twilight. 

One of my favorite pastimes while travelling is people watching. After learning that ‘fresh beer’ actually meant draft beer, I perched myself on a restaurant patio to sip and slurp my cold brew and White Rose dumplings. I watched the busy little people shopping and selling their wares, some wearing the traditional rice hat. I couldn’t have felt any further from home and that was just fine by me. 

An Bang Beach

An Bang Beach is about a 10-minute scooter ride, or a 25-minute scenic and leisurely bicycle ride along the river from Old Town. Stepping out from the row of shady palm trees that lined the white sand beach on the South China Sea, I felt blown away by the unobstructed views for miles in either direction. I spotted an Australian woman from my hotel and asked if I could share her blanket to get off the hot sand. 

We chatted, comparing previous trips and our lives at home. She was staying in town, waiting on a custom-made bridesmaid dress for a friend’s wedding. I borrowed sunscreen to stop my pale skin from burning to a crisp, one reason I don’t spend much time at the beach. The pleasant company and nearly deserted beach made for a nice afternoon. 

The beach in Vietnam

Mỹ Sơn 

Mỹ Sơn is a cluster of abandoned and partially ruined Hindu temples in central Vietnam. These gorgeous structures were constructed between the 4th and 14th century by the Kings of Champa, an Indianized kingdom of the Cham people. About 25 kilometers away from Hoi An, this awesome ruin site was nearly decimated by American bombing during the Vietnam War. The government is doing its best to restore Mỹ Sơn which was once more glorious than Angkor Wat. 

I took the bus there, feeding pills to my food-poisoned Aussie friend along the way. Many of the temples suffered severe damage from the bombing. Those that survived are truly magnificent. The guided tour is a must if you’re interested in knowing the history of what you’re looking at. Bring along a hat or umbrella if you arrive in the midday heat. There is no shade from the hot sun. 

Marble Mountain & Da Nang

These authentic hotspots are also close by. I rented a scooter for a short trip and enjoyed the scenery along the shoreline of the South China Sea. The City of Da Nang was once the location for a huge US military base. Although I didn’t visit the city, I checked out two of the concrete bunkers along the beach. Across the highway, Marble Mountain was much more impressive. It has an interesting history to boot. 

During the war, North Vietnamese soldiers took refuge and set up a military hospital inside mountain caves. The US bombed the mountain so severely, they eventually blew a hole in the top. Natural sunlight now streams through the hole, lighting up the altar and shrine below. I climbed to the top of Marble Mountain and took in amazing views of the sea and Da Nang. 

Unexpected Friends

On the way to the mountain, two young girls on a scooter befriended me and said I could park across the street at their uncle’s shop. I knew I’d have to pay in some way later on. One of the smiley young ladies was waiting when I returned. She told me I qualified for a discount in the store because we were friends. In fairness, she was the one who showed me the bunkers. The store was filled with amazing marble sculptures; I took home two hand-carved candle holders. 

I’d originally planned to only spend three days in Hoi An, but after falling in love with the place I extended my stay to five. It is a great place to explore or kick back, relax, and soak up the exotic culture.

If you enjoyed my story and would like to read more about my travels in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, please check out my book, A Casual Traveler, or visit the travel section of my website.

36 thoughts on “My 5 Favorite Things About Hoi An, Vietnam

  1. Vietnam is such a beautiful country not only because of the naturaol wonders but also because of tis people. At the same time, we should be wary of people giving us favors for no apparent reasons. We should not allow people to spoil our dream vacation.

  2. Oh wow this takes me back! I had the most amazing time in Hoi An when we travelled around Vietnam. It really is such an incredible place.

  3. This was one of the few places that I didn’t get to visit during my time in Asia and I’m so bummed I missed it. It sounds and looks amazing!

  4. I’ve never been to Vietnam. Reading this post makes me want to visit! My Son looks amazing and Ang Bang Beach… ugh the white sad… those 2 places really caught my attention.

    Enjoy your vacation 😊 will definitely check your book.

    1. I’m glad the article peaked you’re attention…it’s nice to know what awaits you on the far reaches of our planet.

  5. I can see why you love Hoi An; it’s so beautiful. I’ve always wanted to visit Vietnam but I don’t have any particular place that I’m targeting. Now, I might consider Hoi An.

  6. The son of one of our friends lives in Vietnam. We look forward to visiting him and seeing the beautiful country.

  7. That looks like such a great place. I would love to visit sometime. Seems like it would be such a beautiful country.

  8. I haven’t been on this side of Vietnam. I want to try their local delicacy. Hopefully after the pandemic! 🙂

  9. I have never been to Vietnam, but these are good places to visit and explore most especially the Bang beach.

  10. Sometimes it is best to travel to places that are less touristy than others. Those temple ruins are a must see for me. Hopefully we get to visit Vietnam sometime soon!

  11. I’ve heard that Vietnam is one of the nice places to visit, and I wish to be there once this pandemic is gone. Love to see Bang beach.

  12. So many interesting and to-me-unknown facts about this fascinating country. Would like to visit it one day.

  13. We’ve got the chance of going to Vietnam in a few years while on our Asian Cruise. I honestly can’t wait and really hope it goes through – everything with travel is so unclear at the moment.

  14. Great article! I loved Hoi An. I’ve never heard of this town before I went to Vietnam. Like you I found out about this magic lantern town from other travelers. Tons of authentic, unique and gorgeous restaurants, cafes & local shops! We spent couple of days doing nothing more than visiting them. 🙂 The customized clothes made me laugh when I saw whole families dressed in identical tropical/ palm trees patterns.

  15. I’m glad you enjoyed it as much as I did, Anna…can’t say I saw any families with matching outfits…but why not?
    Cheers!

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