The World Heritage trading port of Hoi An, in central Vietnam, is many a traveller’s favourite haunt – and it’s not difficult to see why. The beautifully preserved, 15th-century architecture, the bustling waterfront, the high-quality markets and the lovely surrounding countryside all conspire to make this one of Vietnam’s most captivating destinations.
The following is our pick of the top five things to do in Hoi An:
1. Visit the night market
Hoi An is famous for its monthly lantern festival (also known as the full moon festival or “Ancient Town Night”), during which the town switches off its lights, closes its streets to traffic and becomes filled with colourful lanterns. Many tourists plan their entire Vietnam holiday around the festival, which means that Hoi An is always full to bursting with visitors at the time of the full moon.
While the festival is most certainly impressive, you should most certainly not despair if your holiday dates don’t match up. Even when the festival is not taking place, Hoi An takes on a magical, party-like atmosphere by night – with buzzing night markets, street-side bars and restaurants packed with both locals and tourists. Don’t miss the incredibly intricate pop-up cards, the hand-made wooden toys, and (of course) the ubiquitous lanterns.
For a taste of Hoi An by night, have a look at this photoblog from my trip to Vietnam earlier this year.
2. Take a cookery class
Besides its lanterns, Hoi An is also famous for the high quality of its local cuisine. Thanks to this, there are now several local cookery schools where you can take a lesson in Vietnamese cooking. Our favourite classes begin with a visit to the local market (or organic farm) to pick out ingredients, proceed with a lovely boat ride along the river, and are held in a stunning setting out in the Hoi An countryside.
3. Get something tailor-made
It’s said that tailors outnumber other businesses two-to-one in Hoi An, and for anyone who’s wandered through the busy town centre, it’s a fact that’s easy to believe. This is a fantastic place to pick up a tailor-made suit, coat, jacket, dress – in fact, absolutely anything you like.
No commission is too unusual or complicated for a Hoi An tailor, so bring along a photo, leaf through the in-store catalogues, or even show them your own hand-drawn design. Then choose the perfect material, agree on a price, get measured, and wait to receive your perfect garment! Shop around to get the best price, and be sure to insist on a second fitting (at no extra cost).
Watch this space for our definitive guide on choosing the right tailor in Hoi An!
4. Go cycling in the countryside
Hoi An’s ancient town centre is its main attraction, but the downside of this popularity is that it can become oppressively crowded at times – particularly in the middle of the day. To escape the hustle and bustle, there’s no better way than to rent a bicycle and take a ride through the quieter outskirts and nearby countryside. We recommend taking the ferry across the river to Cam Kim Island, where dirt tracks wind past paddy fields and forests while the locals still make traditional basket boats by hand.
5. Take a night-time Vespa street food tour
Probably our favourite experience of all is an excellent evening street food tour of Hoi An run by our partners at Vespa Adventures. As part of the tour you’ll hop on the back of a vintage Vespa and zip around town, stopping to try the local delicacies at five different bars, taking a boat ride along the twinkling riverfront, making a pit stop at the night market, and enjoying plentiful included drinks.
The route and bars have been chosen for their excellent food and local flavour – they are certainly not your average tourist haunts! There’s simply no way that this tour can disappoint.
My Vespa street food tour in June was one of the best evenings I spent in Vietnam. Read my blog post here for more information and to find out how I fared!