After spending 5 nights in Hoi An over the TET holiday (Vietnamese New Year), I decided that this was a town I could visit over and over again! You could visit with as little as 2 or 3 nights, or extend further to really slow down and enjoy the historic streets and ALL the delicious food. With more days up your sleeve, you will also have the opportunity to fit in day trips to/from the countryside surrounds, which was a real highlight of our trip.
If you visit over the TET holiday the key is to book early! When looking at accommodation in the Hoi An area there is a plethora of all types of accommodation, stretching from the centre of old town all the way out to the coast. Having now seen the beach near Hoi An (Cua Dai) I can say with certainty that staying right near the old town is best. Maybe my expectations for beaches are unfairly skewed but Hoi An didn’t sell me on its proximity to the beach; its ALL about the french colonial architecture, the lanterns, the beautiful colours, the smells of the street-food and the overall buzz and atmosphere of the historic district.
We stayed in Maison Vy Hotel, a boutique hotel in a great location. Accommodation came equipped with an excellent daily breakfast, nice pool area, modern and spacious rooms, free afternoon snacks, and really friendly service. Although Maison Vy was not in the heart of old town it was an easy 10-15 minute walk away. The hotel also offers free bike usage, so you can always pedal into town if you don’t fancy the walk.
See / Do
Old Town (without the crowds): To avoid a lot of the ‘shuttled-in-via-bus’ tour groups, grab a bike and head out for an early morning exploration through old town. We got up at 7.30am and you would be amazed how peaceful it is at that hour. You can see locals setting up market stalls ready for the day’s trade, which makes it a photographers dream, especially in the morning light before the town is taken over by people!
Explore the countryside & My Son temples: We managed to find a cycle tour that combined riding through the surrounding rice fields & villages, with a tour of the ancient ruins of My Son. It was a really excellent day trip that I’d highly recommend; the Holy Moly Biking tour with Phat Tire Ventures tour company.
My Son is a series of temples and monuments dating back to the 4th century; remains from the Champa kingdom. The temples are nestled amongst lush jungle with the picturesque Cat’s Tooth Mountain forming the backdrop to the site. The temple is approximately 30km from Hoi An, and the bike tour takes you on a journey through lush rice fields, cute villages, and over gushing rivers along the way. Word of warning: it’s a BIG ride. We loved every minute of it, and there is opportunity for rest stops, but we also kept a pretty solid pace. A reasonable level of fitness is recommended to enjoy this experience. Also be prepared to have a sore butt the next day!
Passing through villages you will be greeted by “Hello”s and waving children. It really was a great way to experience the region. Our tour guide was excellent, stopping to explain the history or allowing us to go photo crazy on the beauty of the countryside.
The good news is, after a guided historic tour of the temples, you will be taken back to your hotel in an air conditioned car. Rest those legs (and even enjoy some siesta time!) as you head back to Hoi An.
Cooking classes: There is a lot of choice for cooking classes in Hoi An, and it was something we had wanted to experience whilst travelling in Vietnam. We ended up booking with My Grandma’s Home Cooking, a family cooking experience in a small village located down the river from Hoi An. You cook in pairs, preparing 4 dishes: Banh Xeo (crispy shrimp pancake), grilled pork skewers wrapped in rice paper, green papaya salad, and local fish in claypot. Great fun, tasty food, and a nice small group with only 6 people.
Market tour: This was included in our cooking class, but you can also arrange a walking tour of the Hoi An Central Markets, or take it all in on your own. A great way to see and learn about the local produce, and how the ingredients are used in Vietnamese cooking.
Vy’s Market: Luckily for us, our hotel gave us breakfast vouchers for this marketplace, due to having the same owners. It turned out to be a gem; set up to look like an indoor food hall, with the cleanliness and service of a restaurant. Each food item has it’s own “stall” where you can watch the meal being prepared from scratch.
We ordered local Vietnamese coffee (cà phê đá), prawn wanton soup, and fresh fruits. Arriving for breakfast you can watch the ladies getting set for the day: picking herbs or hand making various types of rice noodles. Absolutely delicious and a great experience! We noted that they also offer cooking classes on site.
Morning Glory Street Food Restaurant: A great dinner option as an alternative from street food. A really nice ambience with a huge selection of dishes (and wine!), at reasonable prices. Its hard not to go overboard on the ordering. Highlights included the banh xeo (SO damn good), the smoked aubergine with minced pork, white rose dumplings (banh vac), whole red snapper, and green beans. If you can, I’d squeeze in a creme caramel to finish!
The Tranh: A good value dining option along the river front. Recommendations include the chicken or beef pho, morning glory greens, which were washed down with ice cold Larue beers.
Banh Mi: A must-do whilst in Hoi An! A speciality dish of the city, there are two stalls which claim the title of ‘the best Banh Mi in Hoi An’. Naturally we decided to sample BOTH! In my opinion you can’t go wrong with either: Banh My Phuong or Madame Khanh the Banh Mi Queen. Both sandwiches were amazing and delicious, but both unique in their ingredients and preparation.
The Espresso Station: Hands down my favourite coffee in Hoi An! They do an excellent flat white or cappuccino, but my favourite was the speciality Cuban Cortado (a standard cortado / piccolo, with condensed milk substituting regular milk). YUM. Tucked down an alleyway, it is very much worth the effort to find this quaint little cafe.
Mia Coffee – another option for great coffee in old town. Especially liked the piccolos and iced Vietnamese coffee.
Hoi An is filled with many bar options, and we typically just strolled the old town streets, selecting a spot to stop for drinks based on the vibe (and the price of beers).
However, a must do: enjoy a sundowner on the river at sunset. There are a couple of moored boats along the riverbank that have been turned into floating bars. One in particular has a live-pianist playing background music. A great way to sit back and take it all in, whilst sipping on an ice cold Larue.