There, in the air of Hoi An, stays an otherworldly historic charm. Stealing the dark from the night, and giving a run to the sun shining yellow in the day, the lantern city of Vietnam sure is special.
Imagine an entire city painted in monochromes of yellow detailed only by blue-brown doors and windows, very few people residing in these cottages across the town and city streets shining with lanterns being a way of life throughout the year. Doesn’t that sound like a larger than life destination? Hoi An is that!
Accredited by many as the best city in Vietnam, it rightfully holds the title of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Hoi An is situated in Central Vietnam, connected to pretty much all the big cities in the country, located south of Da Nang (the nearest airport situated about 32 KMs away), it once was a prominent port city. And like an old town that once gloried through its ports, the ways of life are pretty basic and simple, and people here, oh they are perfect for hanging out with!
If you meet a local host in Hoi An (just like we did), you’d know how warm, simple, and friendly they are.
An old river runs through the city’s veins, and heritage lampshades on either of its banks make it a great after-dinner stroll with the waters shimmering in yellow every night. Here, a closer look might tell you more about this gorgeous countryside town.
It’s a thin probability that you’d be able to find direct international flights to DaNang (except for a few South-East countries), but you can always travel from Hanoi or Saigon. The Visa for Vietnam is pretty much a cakewalk since many nationals from across the globe can get a VISA on arrival, and the handful who aren’t can apply for it at their local embassies.
Vietnamese Dong is the generally accepted currency. The exchange at the airport might give you a slightly lower rate than what you can get at one of many exchanges in District 1 or 3, so decide accordingly.
For the record, 1 USD is approximately equal to 23,335 VND.
Best time to visit Vietnam
A coastline country, the weather is pretty much tropical, and rains are prominent during April-October in Vietnam. Luckily for you, the city has found a way around it with its poncho-style raincoats, iconic conical hats, umbrellas, and tin shades along the streets. The storms are quick phased and don’t last too long. So you can enjoy Vietnam even during the wet season. Walk-out in your comfy flip-flops.
Winters are for festivals, like the rest of the world, Vietnam has a lot of winter festivals, and it rains way too less during November-March, so it’s mostly pleasant sunshine and festive than ever.
How to get to Hoi An:
Hoi An, itself doesn’t have an airport, but the closest city of Danang, which is 32 km to the north, is well connected by flights to-fro Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Huye. Popular local flights are Vietjet and Vietnam Airlines, and they even operate daily flights to Danang. Some international flights from Singapore, Bangkok, and HongKong also connect directly from Danang.
From Danang, you can choose a Grab Taxi (on-demand through the popular mobile application), but surge prices make it more expensive when flights arrive. A better option would be to pre-book an airport taxi.
Vietnamese train journeys are very much equal to sticking your eyes to train windows. It’s like a live show that pretty much has all the drama that you wouldn’t have imagined with mountains, farms, and beautiful valleys becoming a typical sight.
The train connectivity from Hanoi-Danang-Ho Chi Minh City is pretty much up to the mark. Tickets need to be booked in advance; otherwise, last moment tickets would be more expensive than flights (which we had to experience). Trains are quite comfortable, and there are six-seater and four-seater train compartments. You can choose between a hard or a soft bed. For longer durations, soft beds are clearly a better option.
Sleeper buses in Vietnam have solved the problem of traveling by a great deal. These buses are usually air-conditioned sleeper buses that run overnight from Hoi An to different cities across Vietnam. Once you enter the buses, you are provided with a bag to keep your shoes. With their double-decker recliner seats, they sure are comfy, but if you’re anyone taller than 5’8″ feet (1.72 meters), you will struggle to adjust to the ceiling.
Since Jai is 1.85 meters tall, it was a bit uncomfortable for him to travel the long distance between Hanoi and Hoi An.
On our journey later from Phong Nha to Tam Coc, however, we found that bus to be bigger and cleaner. Also, it seems like the lower berths had more space than the upper ones. The seats at the back end of the bus are more suitable and comfortable if you are taller than 1.8 meters.
Getting around in Hoi An
We loved Hoi An, and a lot of that comes from it’s neat, cobblestone paved roads and alleys. It’s a treasure to explore the city streets and go to places in the absence of any motorbikes or cars. The old town is a vehicle-free zone for most of the day time. Here’s how you can go around in Hoi An:
Our personal favorite, this small town is best explored on foot. The old city, especially the river banks, is a visual experience in itself when you walk there in the wee hours of the morning. In the night, when lanterns glitter throughout the town, it’s a dream to watch the lanterns whistling through the air, hanging above the road, and glowing almost everything that surrounds them. Also, even if you do take a taxi, in the end, you’ll have to reach certain city areas in downtown by walking.
You can rent a bicycle to ride to the beach or go around the town’s old quarters. All motor vehicles are prohibited in the old town to maintain its original charm. Chances are, if you are staying at a hostel or a homestay, your host could offer you a bicycle on a very nominal charge, sometimes even free.
Taxi or Motorbike Taxi
At the edge of the old city, where no vehicle zone ends, you will find taxi stands with metered taxi drivers. They sometimes refuse to go small distances or when there’s a lot of traffic.
While we stayed, there was probably only one Grab car in Hoi An, and we met the same driver a couple of times. The taxi or motor taxis would drop you at the edge of the city, and then you can walk.
If you like being ‘the tourist’ on your travels, this hands down could be one way to explore HoiAn like a tourist would do. The cycle rickshaws have a local driver pedaling the cart ahead of him. Many tourists opt for it, though this way of traveling is not something we would promote!
It’s amazing to sail across the city’s central river and watch the myriad of beautiful houses, bars, lounges, and tailor shops from the waters. It’s a bigger picture of the entire town.
Bike rental in Hoi An
Though walking is the best way to explore the Hoi An Old Town, if you want to explore the beaches, bike rental is a good option. There are many bike rental places in Hoi An, but we found Mr. Bom bike and cycle rentals pretty good. The bikes were new and properly maintained. We rented one scooter for 200000 VND for two days (less than 5 USD per night). And on top of everything, the owner is a friendly guy.
Things to do in Hoi An
Zooming in to the Lantern Festival
Red, yellow, white, you name it, and that colored lantern would be hanging above you once on a special fortnight. The city is beaming with lanterns and lampshades every night, but what’s special about this once on every full moon night is that on this day, enticing and delightful take over the river stream. The locals release thousands of lanterns into the water, and it’s a dreamy thing to witness that happening.
Boat rides post-sunset
How romantic is it? Your very own midwest dream of a river-run city, we take great joy in saying that this is little Venice in Vietnam. Laidback on a boat on a Sunday evening, setting sun and colorful clouds, fresh air, and bokeh of lanterns on land, did we just make your vacation sound unrealistic? It is very realistic in Hoi An.
A night walk to the Japanese Bridge
An icon of Hoi An, this little piece of architecture, stayed years after the Japanese left. It’s stayed so deep, today Hanoi is symbolized by this iconic bridge. We can’t pinpoint what exactly is so calming about the bridge, but it sure is worth an accurate postcard material, so bring your lens along. If you’re walking up to, you’re walking through the old town, and probably also seeing how the few locals who live in mustard yellow French cottages, have blended with time, yet remained so simple. In the night, when the bridge lights up with lamps and lanterns, a mirror image in the water makes for a spectacle from a good distance.
Rub your eyes once more at Rehahn’s art gallery
Renowned by the world through his works of outstanding fine art photography, this artist has a precious heritage art gallery in Hoi An that displays the finest of his works, prints, photographs which you too can buy. His kaleidoscope has zoomed our perspective of SouthEast Asia by many folds, and if you appreciate art, probably you would never want to leave this place. Give it a go!
A day on the beach? Cham Islands, it is!
A cluster of 8 islands off the mainland shores, the Cham Islands are about 18 KMs into the sea. Take a ferry or jetty, and you are here in less than an hour. Tropical, humid, and plain gorgeous, these islands are a complete reverse take on your visit to Hoi An, nothing artificial, no heritage, just nature playing cheeky tricks with earth! You can lie on the sunbeds with a refreshing drink, or go for a deep dive into the ocean. The corals in the sea are phenomenally intriguing and enticing, plus you can even go for a kayak in the blue-ocean waters!
One on one with the mountains at the My Son Sanctuary
This sanctuary gives refuge to one of the oldest civilizations, the Champas, and its a close-view of the magnificent mountains of Vietnam.
The thick forests of Vietnam are as much of a beauty as the colorful, vibrant cities are, you’d have an excellent time trekking on popular trails.
The famous personalized suits and costumes of Vietnam: There is one thing you’d find very charming, the hundreds of tailor shops you’d see in Hoi An, these are not random tailors, they are known for their exceptional skill of getting you a custom-personalized mirror copy of any jacket, any suit, or any costume you want. It’s really intriguing to see how cheap you can get a personalized piece made just to your measurements.
Places to stay in HoiAn
Hoi An has a wide variety of choices to stay, from homestays to backpacker hostels, from river view resorts to boutique stays. Here are some of our recommendations:
Nhu Y Homestay
HoiAn for us was a great stay at Suong’s (our host) beautiful local homestay. Honestly, before staying here, we’d given a hostel and a guest house a try, but the kind of fun we had at this homestay surpassed all the days we spent when we were not staying here.
A teacher by profession, Suong spoke fluent English, so we could finally share and talk with a local, but what we loved was the warmth she had all along. Her cousin, who had helped her with the house chores, was not here because of the Tet holidays (New Year), but even in her absence, she did everything to keep the place in perfect shape.
It was a fairly new built home with sparkling clean rooms and lobbies and a fully equipped kitchen. It’s located at a 10 minutes walk from the river, and she even maintained a lovely terrace.
Upon learning that we were vegetarians, she invited us over for dinner, and she cooked for us and what a fulfilling meal that was. She even gave us bikes for free, which were in good shape, actually best we got anywhere in Vietnam and helped us book our Taxi to Danang as well.
Super original, super raw, this homestay is located on a backstreet midway between Hoi An Old City and An Bang beach. Cut off from the busy Hoi An Old city center in its very presence, dense trees on either side of the road, it’s still very much close (just about 10 minutes of a bike ride) to the river. The owner can arrange for the bikes if you ask them to.
Flame Flowers Homestay
Boasting of a beautiful front door garden and courtyard, this homestay is an excellent choice if you love spending hours altogether amidst flower beds. The rooms are spacious, and some even have a lovely balcony and terrace.
They even have an in-house restaurant that offers really amazing choices, so this one’s pretty much a decent option to stay.
Anantara Hoi An Resort
Palm trees, riverside property with a heart-throbbing view, the Anantara Resort in Hoi An is for those who want to give themselves a retreat! Tasty food at the garden resort and for when you want to spend some time at leisure, there are sunbeds by the swimming pool. The rooms, too, are not anything short than pure luxury.
After dinner, when the resort glows by the river, a stroll near the riverbanks is what you’d love the most.
Little Hoi An
A colorful, authentic Hoi An styled boutique hotel, it’s painted in a beautiful shade of mustard pretty much like the rest of the town, and the occasional fruits that bear out from the fresh gardens are a real treat too! The place has a fantastic chef as well, and the food is incredible. You can even enjoy relaxing a day at their exclusive spa.
In the vicinity is a small river bridge adorned with bulbs and lights in the night, which is a great plus to the riverside views that the balconies have to offer.
Hoi An Love.ly Hostel
Simple, modest, and warm, the Love.ly hostel gets its name from the friendly, smart, and warm host Ly. We had a great time here, and what we remember is that Thursday dinner night, which is a ritual every week at this place.
The rooms are clean, well ventilated and air-conditioned but we’d mostly stay in the common room since it’s such an enticing social vibe that this place carries. They even have privates on the top floor, only that you’d have to climb the stairs since they don’t have a lift.
Back Home Hostels
Very close to the old town, this is the place for outstanding breakfast buffets. For the money you pay, you get excellent value. Sparkling clean rooms, an in-house restaurant, and multiple daily activities are few things that this hostel has to offer, to find the fun out in everything in the downtown.
Best places to eat in Hoi An:
In HoiAn, hunting for cafes is something you’d love doing. When we talk about this fabulous coffee house in the downtown with a lovely garden and outdoor seating, we wonder how this gem is hidden in some random alley of town.
This cafe is also the first place where Jai tried the egg coffee for the first time, and how he gorged himself on it is another story altogether. We even tried the homemade toast, two of the flavors. One was the delicious avocado and tomato, and the showstopper has to be their banana and Nutella toast!
Hoi An wouldn’t have been the experience it was if we hadn’t eaten at this Greek Restaurant in the town. A very humble place with no huge banners or billboards, this Restaurant is located on the street and has a tiny entrance door.
While we were going through the menu at the door, a couple said, “Don’t think, just go inside. You will love this place”. And that’s how we ended up being a regular. The moment you enter, you feel welcome by its lovely interiors. The host is a super cool, friendly person who’d walk table to table and talk to people. His crafty, sharing attitude was such that he’d make this connect with every person walking in the Restaurant.
Plus, the food reaches the ‘heavenly- top-tier in our books’, particularly we loved the Pita-Falafel and Hummus platters, such a blast of flavors.
Salads and Souvlaki were great too, but what stole the show was the Banana-Chocolate Dessert, which everyone would get after their meal. (Yes, it’s on the house, and yes, it’s one of the things you’d go to Greek Mix for, again and again). Mix Greek was our go-to place for dinner during our stay in Hoi An.
Ba Dam Vegan Restaurant
An apt pick for brunch in Hoi An, Ba Dam is open only for breakfast and lunch. Their buffets are loaded with a choice of 5-6 veggies and the same number of mock meat options.
The best time to visit this Restaurant is between 11 and noon when the buffet is served with a complete menu.
Are you craving a fulfilling meal? Go there!
Phi Banh Mi
Bahn Mi or the popular crunchy subway-alternative of Vietnam take their best shape and taste in HoiAn.
Authentically, it’s a crunchy loaf of bread topped with chilly sauces, loads of veggies matched up with tofu/meat, and toasted till perfection.
Phi Banh Mi bakes their own bread, even the chilly sauce they use is homemade (it takes as much as two months to acquire the sharp, balanced taste), the taste is so perfect, we ended up going here for tasty Sandwiches multiple times a week.
Madam Khanh – The Banh Mi Queen
This humble cafe is hands down the best Banh Mi in town. The flavor is unique and fresh ingredients give Madam Khanh a signature style that no one has managed to match up with (at least anywhere else we went for a Banh Mi sandwich).
Hoi An Roastery
A famous brand in Hoi An, this roastery has about seven outlets in HoiAn itself selling premium quality home-grown and roasted coffee beans. The strong and aromatic coffee with lovely courtyards and warm interiors, comfortable seatings, and caring staff, are few of the top things about this cafe chain. Bring your book and enjoy a lovely afternoon at this place.
All their cafes are beautiful with old-style architecture and an organic garden. Plus, a sister brand in the name of Coco Box sells fresh jams, aroma oils, and honey for you to take along the ride.
Things to Buy
Hoi An is the city that has a lot to offer, if only you decide what to take along. Some of the souvenirs that you can take along on your journey away from this town would be:
Frozen stills of the city
Rehahn’s gallery has the coolest (and the most premium) prints of postcards, merchandise, and anything that can be a screen. There is this attachment between ink and paper, an attachment through which the moment breathes until the art piece perishes.
Freshly picked up roasted coffee beans
One of the largest exporters of tea and coffee, the Vietnamese have perfected themselves at making unmatchable, flavorful cups of caffeine. Wanna grab some for an evening back at home? Choose from the multiple coffee stores and roasteries that you have in HoiAn.
Fit into the best of your styles
Reasonably priced, excellent valued replicas and personalized suits are a thing in this country. Won’t you want to save yourself a good grand on that Gucci jacket you wanted to buy? Yes, you can get that and more in the tailor-shops of Hoi An.
Will that fine ceramic goes well with your wallpaper?
Out there in HoiAn, is a ceramic museum and a particular market dedicated to pottery and ceramic art pieces. They are good at making these clay pieces so beautiful, and it’s a brilliant art form. One day you’ll be watching a decorative plate of ceramic hanging on your living room wall and cherish those incredible times you had in HoiAn.
Cut yourself away from the 21st century and drown into HoiAn’s incredible subtleness and peace. Go for a bicycle ride around this little, old, hamlet town when the rest of the world is all set to gear up its speeds further.