One of the beautiful gates in Hoi An

What To Do in Hoi An: A Complete Guide For First Time Visitors

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Hoi An was a total surprise to us. Yes, it is constantly advertised in blogs and social media as one of the must-visit sites in Vietnam, but it ended up being so much more than just a pretty town. Maybe it was the blend of architectural influences from the Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese, or those charming bright yellow homes, or maybe it was the friendliness of the people. In Hoi An, we felt relaxed, welcomed, and fully able to immerse in the beautiful Vietnamese culture. If you are wondering what to do in Hoi An, as well as some of the most special experiences that made our stay so memorable, then read on as this guide is perfect for you!

People watching in Hoi An

How many days in Hoi An?

To properly experience Hoi An, we feel a minimum of 3 days is necessary. There are tons of activities in Hoi an and also many interesting day trips out of Hoi an. Even properly exploring the Ancient town for us requires 2 days since you want to experience it both during sunset and early morning. As you will see below, reaching Hoi An is also not the most convenient, so we feel it merits dedicating at least 3 days to enjoy it properly. We personally ended up spending 5 days in Hoi An and could’ve easily stayed longer!

sitting at the gates of Hoi An

How to get to Hoi An?

Getting to Hoi An requires two steps: first reaching Da Nang city by train or flight, and then taking a separate bus/taxi transport for 45 minutes to Hoi An. 

The reason for this is that Hoi An is a small town and does not have its own airport or train station. Da Nang is the nearest town to Hoi An and has an international airport so if you are coming from one of the other South East Asia countries, there may be a direct flight. 

Map of transportation to get to Hoi An

To reach Da Nang, the two most convenient options are by flight or train.

Flight to Da Nang

There are multiple flights available per day and takes only 1.5 hours from Saigon or Hanoi. Flight prices with Vietnam Airlines and Vietjet are also quite cheap, usually ranging from 40$-70$ per ticket. However, when considering this price, make sure to also factor in the additional cost of bringing check-in luggage on the flight.

Train to Da Nang

Alternatively, the train network is excellent in Vietnam. You have the choice of doing an overnight ride in an air-conditioned sleeper cabin or you can opt for the seated cabin option. We took the sleeper cabin which comprised of a 2-level bunk bed on each side and it was quite comfortable.

riding the sleeper train to Da Nang in Vietnam

They provide a blanket and a pillow. The train is quite rocky and noisy so it won’t be your best sleep but it is comfortable enough. If you are coming from the main cities of Saigon or Hanoi, the train to Da Nang will take between 15-20 hours.

The standard train company is Vietnam Railways. A cabin seat will cost around 25$ per person whereas a sleeper bed around 45$. If you want more comfort and luxury, there is also Violette Trains, Damitrans Express, Lotus Train, or Laman Express. Those ticket prices tend to be closer to 70$.

Da Nang to Hoi An transport

Once arrived in Da Nang, you can take a shared shuttle bus or book a private taxi/grab to get to Hoi An. The ride takes about 45 minutes and should cost approximately 15$ per car. We prefer taking private transport since it is quicker and will bring you directly to your hotel. 

Shared shuttle bus: brings you from Da Nang airport to your hotel in Hoi An. It costs around 5.5$ per person.

🚌 Shared shuttle bus transport from Da Nang to Hoi An

What to do in Hoi An: 13 unforgettable activities

Wondering what to do in Hoi An? Hoi An is filled with incredible activities ranging from local cultural experiences to adventurous day trips! check out below for our 13 unforgettable activities and experiences. 

1) Visit the Hoi An Ancient Town

Visiting the Ancient town of Hoi An is like stepping back in time, with its well-preserved architecture, lantern-lit streets, and rich cultural heritage. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is special for its charming blend of Japanese, Chinese, and French influences.

There is an undeniable charm walking down the narrow streets, surrounded by the beautiful historic yellow-painted buildings, where you can explore quaint shops and enjoy the local street food.

watching people go by is one of our favourite things to do in Hoi An

A perfect way to admire the town, beyond exploring its many well-preserved historic sites, is to sit on a second-floor balcony in one of the cultural coffee/tea houses and watch as the town lights up at night.

We recommend that you visit the Ancient town during different hours of the day as the experience will be completely different. Also, the Ancient town gets quite crowded so ideally you should avoid mid-day.

2) Walk along the canal at night and do the small canoe boats

One of the most beautiful parts of Hoi An is the canal at night. After the sun sets, the whole town is lit with colourful lanterns and the canal is filled with small canoe boats where passengers can set off floating candles.

lanterns and boats going by at night in Hoi An

The canal area is a hub of activity, with a lively night market, waterfront cafes and restaurants that offer a unique glimpse into the town’s rich cultural heritage. The night market sells a variety of food ranging from grilled skewers, mango cakes, seafood pancakes, to souvenir items.

Be on the lookout for this Mochi-like dessert filled with sugary peanuts inside. We usually saw them being sold on the street-side close to the Old Japanese Bridge. It was so good that I had to go back 3 days in a row to get more!

Our favourite mochi like dessert in Hoi An.
Amazing Mochi-like dessert filled with sugary peanuts!

If you want to ride the small canoe boats, it usually costs around 150K VND for a boat that can fit up to 4-5 people. The ride lasts around 20 minutes and you can also release candle lanterns into the canal for 10k VND.

In the end, we didn’t end up doing the lanterns since it causes a lot of pollution in the river and we saw the remnants of tons of lanterns littered on the banks.      

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3) Eat the best Banh Mi in Vietnam

Hoi An is home to one of the best Banh Mis in Vietnam. We travelled over a month in Vietnam and ate countless Banh Mis, but the one that stood out the most to us was the one we found in Hoi An. Head over to Banh Mi Phuong 2 near the central market where you’ll find a small food stand with only 2-3 tables and chairs.

Wondering what to do in Hoi An? This is the best Bahn Mi you can find!
Banh Mi Heo Quay = best we’ve ever had!

Although they have several options of Banh Mis, ask her to make the Banh Mi Heo Quay (pronounced ‘Hew Kwai’), which is with roasted crispy pork. The combination of crispiness, with the pork paste, and their homemade spicy sauce is to die for.

There is also a Banh Mi Phuong 1 which is their full restaurant branch, however you are a lot more likely to encounter a lineup there. 

A Banh Mi costs only 20k-30k VND and is the perfect snack to have after shopping in the central market.

4) Do a cooking class or Food tour

I always believe that one of the best way to connect and learn about a culture is through their cuisine. Vietnam has some of the tastiest food we’ve ever had all across Asia and to best experience it, we recommend joining a cooking class or food tour.

What we enjoy a lot about cooking classes is that you not only learn how to prepare the food, but also learn about each individual ingredient as well as where it comes from. At home, we love cooking, and it always fascinates us just how many unique ingredients there are that we don’t even know about. Both a food tour and cooking class will also allow you to discover many dishes that you would likely otherwise miss. 

Hoi An is home to some very special local delicacies that include white lotus, cao lau noodles, and Mi Quang noodles. Join in on this evening walking food tour to discover many of those local delicacies.

If you are more interested in a cooking class, this is one of the best tours we found that includes shopping at the market, a coconut boat ride, a buffalo cart ride to the farm, a foot massage, and finally the cooking experience of 4 dishes. Check out the Sabirama cooking class in Hoi An.

Alternatively, check out this 4 course cooking class that includes the bamboo basket boat ride, shopping at the market, experiencing the traditional net fishing for crab, before the meal preparation. 

🍲 4 Course Hoi An cooking class + Bamboo basket ride + shopping at the market + traditional net fishing for crab + cooking!

5) Day trip to Marble Mountains

Marble Mountain, located a 30-minute drive from Hoi An, is a must-see spot that combines natural beauty with cultural richness.

Marble Mountain is a cluster of five massive limestone and marble hills that were named after the five elements: Water, Wood, Fire, Metal, and Earth. As you go up, you will also get the chance to climb into several spectacular caves to see the intricate carvings and statues depicting both the deities as well as figures from Hell. There is even a specific pathway up some steep winding stairs that represents your ascension to heaven.

Beyond the caves, there are multiple beautiful pagodas, gardens, and shrines and a beautiful summit point giving a panoramic view of the area.

Temple at Marble Mountain

How to reach Marble Mountain

You can travel to Marble Mountain independently by renting a motorbike or taxi, or you can join in on a tour. It is only a 30 minute drive to get there and the entrance ticket costs 40K VND. If you take the elevator up, it costs an additional 15K VND. There is also an exclusive cave that requires another ticket costing 20K VND. 

If you prefer to climb the stairs up the mountain rather than taking the elevator, then make sure to go to the Western Entrance.

Walking up marble mountain
There are a lot of steps to get to the top of Marble Mountain

Marble Mountain Tours

Since this is a very culturally important site, we would recommend going on a guided tour. This way, you can discover the stories behind each cave and statue and understand the significance of the various pathways/chambers. Check out these great tour options departing from Hoi An.

6) Day trip to the beach

From Hoi An, one of the best day trips you can do is going to the nearby beaches. There are several beach areas that you can visit and all are easily reachable from Hoi An. The most popular one that you will see mentioned in town is An Bang beach. The second frequently visited option is Cua Dai beach. For a section of the beach that is quieter and with less crowds, you can go to Tan Thanh Beach.

Parking was free there but at the more popular beaches, they may charge 10k VND for parking. 

Once there, you can rent a beach chair with umbrella cover to enjoy for a couple of hours. Most restaurants will allow you to use their chair for free if you order a drink or food. Otherwise, renting a beach chair costs around 30K VND. 

The beach has a lot of activities including windsurfing, kite surfing, and banana boat. The waves can be quite rough so it not exactly the type of beach to just relax in the water. 

To reach the beach, you can whether hire a Grab car or rent a motorbike. The drive takes only about 10-15 minutes and you will be passing through some beautiful rice terraces along the way. 

7) Day trip to Ba Na Hills or Mỹ Sơn Sanctuary

Ba Na Hills

Nestled in the lush mountains of central Vietnam, Ba Na Hills offers a whimsical escape from the bustling city of Da Nang. This enchanting resort is a blend of French colonial architecture and vibrant Vietnamese culture, featuring the iconic Golden Bridge held up by giant stone hands.

Golden hand bridge at Bana Hills

Visitors can ride the world’s longest non-stop cable car to the summit, where you can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding misty forests and winding rivers. Once at the top, you can also ride SunWorld’s Alpine coaster where you’ll zoom through twists and turns high above the mountainous landscapes. Ba Na Hills makes for a perfect day trip especially if you are travelling with children.

Mỹ Sơn Sanctuary

Alternatively, if you are seeking a more culturally and historically significant experience, then we would recommend visiting Mỹ Sơn Sanctuary. This is a UNESCO Heritage archeological site that was once an important religious centre for the Champa Kingdom.

My son Sanctuary near Hoi An

The structures feature complex Hindu-style carvings and stoneworks that resonate the feeling of a mini Angkor Wat. The site is not very big so it can be easily visited on a half-day tour. Check out this My Son Sanctuary tour that includes a performance from traditional Cham dancers. 

🛕 Check out the My Son Sanctuary Tour

8) Watch a show at the Lune Art Centre or the Memories Land

Being from Quebec, Canada, where Cirque du Soleil was founded, going to see circus and acrobatic performances has always been something that intrigued me. So when we found out that Hoi An has their own unique and cultural twist to an acrobatics show, I was undoubtedly interested. The Hoi An Lune Art Centre is an iconic bamboo dome-shaped theatre where the famous Teh Dar show is performed. 

Teh Dar Show

Teh Dar tells the story of the exotic Vietnamese Tribal Culture through the combination of acrobatics, bamboo circus, and percussion instruments. Even though we don’t understand the Vietnamese language, we were still incredibly immersed in the story and felt mesmerized by the acts. Since the venue is quite small, don’t worry about getting the fanciest tickets as you will have a great view regardless. 

Hoi An Lune Art Centre

We ended up buying the yellow grade tickets (the cheapest, at 700k VND) and felt like we were still close to the action. You can book your tickets through GetYourGuide or directly from the Lune Art Centre. Ticket prices range from 700,000 VND in the yellow aah! [A] category, to 1,600,000 VND in the Purple wow! [W] category. 

The show performs from Tuesday to Thursday, and then Saturday and Sunday at 18h00.     

Hoi An Memories Show

Another special performance you can watch is the Hoi an Memories Show. This features over 500 actors and dancers in elaborate costumes and impressive lighting performing on a modern stage outdoors. The show combines traditional Vietnamese music, dance, and special lighting to depict the history and culture of Hoi An over 400 years.

The show is only a short walk from the Old Town of Hoi An and is available everyday other than Tuesdays.

9) Do a lantern making workshop

Instead of releasing lanterns into the canal at night and polluting the river, we recommend participating in a Lantern making workshop instead where you get to create and customize your own foldable lantern to bring home. You can choose from a wealth of different colourful silks before crafting the bamboo frame to create your lantern. 

lantern making workshop in Hoi An

Locals believe that the lantern will bring happiness, luck, and wealth, and also makes for a beautiful souvenir for your experience in Hoi An.

We didn’t even know that lantern-making was a thing here but stumbled across a beautiful shop displaying hundreds of lanterns and couldn’t help but step in to admire. The owner was very friendly and was proud to showcase his works.

This post is part of our series about Vietnam. If you want to learn more about Vietnam, planning your trip, and some of the best experiences there, check out the guides below:

10) Ride the coconut boats while discovering the countryside

One of the often recommended activities in Hoi An is to ride the coconut basket boats. You will have likely seen videos on instagram or Tiktok where a circular basket boat is tipping and spinning rapidly as the passengers scream in joy/fear. If that sounds like something for you, then this is one of the most highly recommended Basket Boat ride tours around Hoi An.

coconut boats in Hoi an

However, most of those basket boat tours ride along the same river so it can get very crowded at times. We personally prefer a more tranquil and off-the-beaten-path experience so we would instead recommend the excursion below.

If you want to do more than just ride the coconut basket boat, we highly recommend joining in on this Countryside bicycling tour where you discover the tranquil villages and rice fields around Hoi An. As you pedal along the Song Thu river delta, you will get to witness the authentic villages and hop between the islands by traditional ferry and floating bridges.

What to do in Hoi An? countryside tour with basket weaving and coconut boat

You can also learn about the process of weaving sleeping mats, making basket boats, and their local rice wine. Finally, you will also get to ride on the coconut basket boat. 

11) Rent an Ao Dai to do a photoshoot

What better way to immerse in the beautiful heritage Ancient town of Hoi An than putting on the beautiful cultural attire of the Ao Dai. Ao Dais date back to the 18th century and is a symbol of the Vietnamese national identity and pride. It is often worn during important cultural events, celebrations, and ceremonies.

Ao Dai in Hoi An

Visiting Vietnam during the Tết holiday (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) was a wonderful experience for us, as we frequently saw entire families adorned in their finest áo dài for photoshoots. The elegance and cultural significance of the áo dài made these moments even more special, and it was heartwarming to see everyone united and looking their best.

Beautiful yellow cafe in Hoi An

There are countless Ao Dai rental shops and tailors in Hoi An, and prices usually range between 10-20$. This depends on the quality of the material, complexity of the Ao Dai, and the reputation of the shop. If you want to avoid needing to haggle prices, then we recommend booking this 5 Star rated One Day Ao Dai Rental experience

12) Try their local delicacies

Other than in Saigon, it was in Hoi An that we found some of the best and tastiest street foods. Oftentimes, we would simply wander around the small streets and look for the local street food stands that had the most locals eating there. We avoided going to the fancy restaurants along the canal front as they overall appear to cater to a more Western palate. 

Hoi An is famous for many local specialties including bahn mi Heo Quay, white lotus, cao lau noodles, Mi Quang noodles, Con Ga (chicken fried rice), grilled pork wrapped in rice paper, and the mochi balls stuffed with sweet peanuts. Although you can find these dishes in other cities, they don’t taste as good as they do in Hoi An, where they were originally invented. 

Our favourites for sure were the Mi Quang noodles, Banh Mi Heo Quay, and the sweet peanut mochi balls! We recommend trying out the local restaurants between the Eastern end of the Old town, and our hotel at Triple Riverside Villa. We tried many of them and they were all delicious. It is also in a far quieter area so the experience was a lot more relaxing. 

13) Get some custom tailored clothing

Hoi An is renowned for its handicrafts, particularly custom-tailored clothing. The whole town is very artistic and their skills in crafting clothing are definitely a standout feature! Visit No 59 Fine Threads on the eastern edge of the old town, where Mai will help you create any outfit you can imagine.

custom clothing making in Hoi An

She offers a booklet filled with examples, including suits, dresses, and skirts, and can replicate any of them for you. If you have a specific design in mind, simply show her a picture, and she’ll strive to match it. I ended up picking a nice linen shirt from the magazine and then proceeded to get it customized to my liking. I chose the type of collar, the length, the fit, and even the type of buttons.

My wife liked different elements from two dresses she saw on Instagram and May was able to combine them into one dress. This is especially useful if you have an event coming up and know exactly what you want to make.

May’s English is excellent, and she typically completes items within 1-2 days. We went back 2-3 times to get some retouches and ensure everything was to our liking.

The area around her store features at least 50 other tailors, so you have plenty of options to choose from!

Where to stay in Hoi An?

After figuring out what to do in Hoi An, another essential logistical issue is where to stay. Although the town is not big, where you choose your hotel will determine how convenient and relaxing your stay it. Check below for our top recommendations:

How to get around Hoi An?

Due to its relatively small size, the best way to get around in Hoi An is by walking. In fact, many of the areas in Hoi An are closed off to cars and even motorbikes have difficulty navigating the narrow streets. This is especially the case in the Ancient Town which is only open to pedestrians and bicycles.

If you want a fun and relaxing way to see the town, you can ride in one of the Cyclos which is essentially a basket seat on wheels pushed by a bicycle behind. You will undoubtedly see them frequently in the Old town and hear the drivers yelling out ‘beep beep’!

cyclos in Hoi An

Another option is to ride a regular bicycle. Most hotels rent them out to you for free or a very low price. This is a fun way to see the town and you can even bike slightly outside of Hoi An to see the rice fields. 

Night view of Hoi an. What to do in Hoi An

If you will be getting further outside of Hoi An, you can rent a motorbike. The cost of rental is quite affordable at ~150,000 VND per day (5$). I would only recommend this option though if you are fairly comfortable driving on a scooter. There is a lack of traffic regulations in Vietnam and intersections are basically vehicles zigzagging by each other in all directions.

We rented a motorbike on two occasions to visit Marble Mountains and Tan Thanh beach.

If you are not comfortable riding a motorbike/scooter, you can always call a Grab car

Best time to visit Hoi An?

The best time to visit Hoi An is from February to April, when the weather is ideal with pleasant temperatures and low humidity. This period offers comfortable conditions for exploring the charming streets, historic sites, and mountain day trips without the extreme heat or heavy rainfall that characterizes other parts of the year. 

Garden at Marble Mountain

The rainy season from September to early January, especially October and November, are the wettest months. June to August brings the warmest temperatures, often reaching up to 38°C, which can make it less comfortable for sightseeing. 

Therefore, springtime (February-April), which coincides with the early dry season, remains the most favourable season for a visit.

Using WISE card in Vietnam

When taking cash out of an ATM while abroad, you will most likely be charged both a foreign exchange fee and a foreign transaction fee by that country’s ATM. With my Canadian card, this can easily be 3-4$ + 2.75% + a markup on the exchange rate charged by my bank, and then another 3-5$ charged by the foreign ATM.

Wise card

This can be really costly. For this reason, we recommend using WISE card which has only minimal fees and just about no foreign currency exchange markup. This helps me save at least 5-7$ every time I take out money from an ATM. 

Summary: What to do in Hoi An?

Hoi An was one of our favourite places during our month-long trip in Vietnam. It combined cultural immersion, history, beautiful beaches, great food, and some adventurous day trips to the surrounding attractions.

We stayed a total of 5 days there and could’ve easily stayed for longer. We hope this guide on the best things to do in Hoi An will help you with your planning. Following our stay in Hoi An, we headed north to explore the caves in Phong Nha National Park, and then headed further north to do the Ha Giang Loop. To get a comprehensive overview of all the best places to see in Vietnam, check out our guide on planning the ultimate 10 day itinerary in Vietnam!  

Beautiful architecture in Hoi An. What to do in Hoi An

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