Canary-yellow houses and old wooden buildings line a sleepy riverbank in the most beguiling city in Vietnam: Hoi An. A delightful blend of Japanese, Chinese and European influences, complimented with a favorable climate and a UNESCO designation have resulted in an extremely touristy yet wonderful ancient town. This Hoi An itinerary explains everything you need to enjoy the charming city.
Once the most important trading post in South East Asia, Hoi An suffered a downturn in prosperity when its Thu Bon river silted up. However, today we can be thankful for what must have felt like a disaster at the time.
Why? Because during the ‘American War’, Hoi An was left almost completely untouched due to its lack of logistical significance. Hoi An’s ancient town is the golden ticket but don’t miss the stunning green countryside where you can find farmers in conical hats tending to their rice paddies, as well as beaches where you can watch fishermen casting off from bamboo basket boats.
Read on to discover how to get to Hoi An, the best things to do in town, the top day trips and where to stay in this fascinating ancient city.
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Where Is Hoi An?
Look at a map of Vietnam and point your finger to the middle. Chances are Hoi An will be very close to your fingertip! The town is around 30km (18.5 miles) South of much larger city Da Nang. Hoi An sits enticingly on the coast of the South China Sea.
How To Get To Hoi An
Fly into Da Nang
The closest airport to Hoi An is Da Nang International, just 30km away. If you only have a short amount of time in Vietnam, flying into Da Nang is the quickest way to travel.
Traveling to Hoi An from further afield internationally would require a change either in Hanoi or HCMC. However, you can fly directly into Da Nang from many South East Asian countries.
Search Skyscanner for the best value flights and remember that flights around SE Asia are extremely good value!
See below for options from Da Nang to Hoi An.
Train to Da Nang
Train travel in Vietnam is cheap and allows you to see more of the countryside rather than flying over at 35,000 feet. Unfortunately, the downside to the train is that it takes much longer. Hoi An doesn’t have a train station so a change is required in Da Nang to one of the options listed below. Traveling from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City by train to Hoi An would take around 15-17 hours. If you take the train, consider a 1st class sleeper, rather than 2nd class seats!
How to get from Da Nang to Hoi An
- Private Car – Klook have an awesome US$12 deal on private transfers from Da Nang to Hoi An for up to 3 people in a vehicle. Alternatively, arrange with your accommodation in Hoi An to have a private car pick you up at the airport. Expect to pay around US$20 each way for a 45-60 minute journey.
- Airport shuttle – Pre-book the Hoi An Express airport shuttle with Get Your Guide for US$6 per person. Every hour between 5am and 11pm an air conditioned mini bus picks up at Da Nang airport and drops off at any hotel in Hoi An. All you have to do is lookout for your name on a board in Arrivals. Reviews are excellent and the price is awesome! Journey time is 45 minutes.
- Taxi – Flag a local taxi down at the airport. This can cost between US$15-20 but be careful of scammers who are prevalent on this route. Also, note the 45 minute journey time. This it not recommended.
- Bus – There’s a local yellow bus costing US$ 1.3 per person (US$ 3 with luggage). While the price is unbeatable, you will need to get a taxi to the bus stop around 3km away. Plus it’s the most uncomfortable and longest journey of all options at 1h 30m. Best for those on a very tight budget!
- Motorbike – Solo traveler with one backpack? Why not hire a Grab and jump on the back of a motorbike for around 1 hour to Hoi An? It would cost around US$ 6. Only for the adventurous!
The notorious sleeper bus in Vietnam is certainly an option to consider. Why? Because it offers you the only means of direct transport to Hoi An from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The journey would take 15-20 hours depending on many variables! But it’s even more convenient from places like Phong Nha.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re in Phong Nha with not much time left on your Vietnam visa but you really want to see Hoi An before you leave. This is what traveling to Hoi An NOT on a sleeper bus would mean:
Private transfer/local bus/taxi Phong Nha to Dong Hoi -> Train Dong Hoi to Da Nang -> private transfer/taxi/bus/motorbike Da Nang to Hoi An.
That just doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?! That’s where the sleeper bus comes into its own. One single means of transport takes you from Phong Nha to Hoi An in around 8 hours.
Hai Van Pass
For a truly memorable experience in Vietnam, we highly recommend driving over the Hai Van Pass on a motorbike. The pass was made famous by Top Gear in 2008 and has developed into one of the most exciting tourist activities in the country. Typically, the route is Hue-Da Nang-Hoi An or vice versa. We can say from experience there are some pretty awesome stop off points along the way.
Ask your hotel in Hue for recommendations of a motorbike tour. You can either go on the back of a bike or drive your own with guide, which is what we did. Alternatively, hire a motorbike and drive over yourself, just be sure to pin each of the popular stops off to your maps app before setting off!
You don’t have to go by motorbike if driving in Vietnam is a little daunting! There are plenty of tours by jeep or private car that are excellent value running the same route over the Hai Van Pass with stop offs at the major attractions. Here’s a private transfer from Hue to Hoi An by private car and a shared open top jeep tour!
Best Time to Visit Hoi An
Hoi An’s climate can be split into two distinct seasons. Dry season runs from March to September and wet season is from October to February. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- November to January are typically the coldest months in Hoi An, but relatively speaking, it’s not cold! Visiting in these months just means packing a couple of extra warmer layers in your backpack.
- February to April are the best months to visit if you struggle in high humidity. Temperatures will be comfortable and it will be dry.
- The hottest months are May to August. Perfect for the beach! Plus, it’s low season which means good value and no crowds. It’s also the best time for snorkeling and diving due to better visibility and warmer temperatures.
- September to November is when Hoi An experiences it’s highest rainfall of the year, often flooding the center of town. Also, there is typhoon risk around this time. We took the photo above of a photograph in a Hoi An restaurant, showing the town flooded in rainy season!
13 Amazing Things To Do On Your Hoi An Itinerary (PLUS our Secret #14!)
1. Design Your Own Tailor-made Suit / Dress
When in Rome, do as the Romans do – When in Hoi An, get a suit or dress tailor made. This is the place to unleash the creative side of your brain! Have you ever thought about how cool it would be to design your own clothes? Along with help from an expert tailor, here you can design and customize your own suit, dress, shirt, romper or anything else you desire!
You select material and color based on how much you’d like to spend. There are more tailors than you can shake a stick at in Hoi An, so shop around to find the perfect fit for your taste. But be warned, high quality clothing and personalized fitting equals not as cheap as you imagined. Although, it’s probably still far cheaper than the same deal at home!
This is something you really should try in Hoi An, it’s a rite of passage and the tailors are fantastic!
2. Marvel At The Gorgeous Japanese Bridge
The Japanese covered bridge is the symbol of Hoi An and was one of our favorite parts of this itinerary. Why? Well, just look at the stunning colors and design, particularly when the water in front is still and a beautiful reflection bounces back from the surface.
The best time to visit is early in the morning before anyone else in Hoi An is awake. There will be no one around and the water will be perfectly still. The bridge was opened in 1719 by Japanese living in Hoi An at the time, so that they could reach the Chinese quarter on the other side of the water.
3. Feast on Banh Mi
In Vietnam you simply have to eat as much Banh Mi as you can! It’s gold dust. We dare say Hoi An possibly takes top spot for the delicacy in Vietnam?! Light and fluffy French style baguettes with delicious fillings are perfect for eating anytime. But remember you can also take one away for when you head out on a day trip. There are almost too many Banh Mi places in Hoi An!
- The most popular place is Banh Mi Phuong because celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain featured it in his show called no reservations.
- Phi Banh Mi has extremely positive Tripadvisor reviews having only been in business a few years.
- The only place we had heard of before arriving is Madam Khanh, aka the Banh Mi Queen. Awesome name!
With so many excellent choices, you should try them all. Banh Mi is clearly the winner here! If you are interested in reading about the origins of Banh Mi, plus in depth reviews and information on each of the major players in Hoi An, check this excellent resource out.
4. Explore Hoi An Central Market
Hoi An’s central market is the perfect place to buy local produce, eat fresh food and people watch. It’s not a huge market, but it packs a punch. Take your negotiating skills up a notch. Hoi An receives more affluent tourism than other parts of Vietnam and they know it!
You will find everything from fresh fruit and vegetables, to local spices, to red and green chili’s. Look out for the local women who run many of the stalls with their traditional conical hats on.
5. Take a Boat Ride on Thu Bon River at Night
Thu Bon River runs like an artery through the heart of Hoi An. Close to the Bridge of Lights you will find hundreds of tiny wooden boats with local helmsmen taking tourists out onto the river.
This is the perfect romantic gesture for all you romantics! The best time to hop in a boat is around sunset before it gets too crowded later in the night. The UNESCO ancient town is strikingly alluring from the river as its yellow buildings illuminate under bright lanterns.
6. Explore Hoi An Stunning Ancient Town
Why is Hoi An so popular? The answer lies with the gorgeous two story architecture in its endlessly photogenic ancient town. We never realized how easy on the eye the color yellow seems to be. Almost every building in the antique town is painted yellow, decorated with wood and accessorized with glowing lanterns.
One of the best things to do in this Hoi An itinerary is to simply walk around its ancient town, taking in the beauty over and over again. Trust us, it doesn’t get old! During the day, you will find tourists hiding from the intense heat in wonderful coffee shops. At night, once the temperature cools a little, the old town comes alive with beautiful lit lanterns and amazing smells from the endless amount of restaurants. Hoi An truly thrives in the evening hours.
Fortunately, Hoi An was relatively untouched by the Vietnam/American war, which is why the ancient town’s influences from China, Japan and France remain so strongly today.
7. Cook up a Storm in a Class
Hoi An is known as Vietnam’s culinary capital. There are some truly incredible places to eat in town. Whether you’re craving Mexican, pizza or local Vietnamese food, you will not be disappointed!
You can find cooking classes all through Vietnam, they are extremely popular. However, Hoi An has some of the best options for taking a cooking class, and you’d be surprised at how affordable they can be. Here, you will have the chance to cook Cao lau – pork broth with yellow noodles and vegetables. The secret is in the water…!
Many restaurants in the ancient town advertise that they run cooking classes, so it can be as simple as turning up for dinner and booking a class the next day. Alternatively, you can book a cooking class in advance. There are special combo tours in Hoi An that include cooking classes with other activities, so be sure to check them out and see if you can land a double bonus!
8. Shop Hoi An’s Handmade Leather Merchandise
You will soon discover that Hoi An is overflowing with tailor’s. In fact, the ratio is 2:1 tailor’s to every other type of business in town! However, there are some excellent leather goods places to be found.
Handcrafted leather handbags for sale are dangerous for the efficiency of your Hoi An itinerary! You can tell the quality is better with some than others. It’s worth taking the time to inspect stitching and finishing of each item before buying.
We had NO room in our 40L Osprey Backpacks but Kristen couldn’t resist, so we had to throw away some travel worn clothes to make room!
9. Chill at An Bang Beach
Although the ancient town is where you fall in love with Hoi An, its beaches are an excellent way to take a day off sightseeing and relax with a cocktail. The most popular beach in town is called An Bang Beach. We recommend you cycle 5km (3 miles) through surrounding countryside to An Bang, like we did. Look for fishermen launching bamboo baskets out to Sea.
Just be aware that bicycles and motorbikes will need to be parked and in typical Vietnamese fashion you will have to pay for that privilege. It should cost 10,000 – 20,000 VND.
Manage your expectations, this is not a white sand turquoise water beach. But it’s still a great beach! Our advice is to walk a fair distance down the beach from its entrance before hiring sun loungers – they will be cheaper. If you need a day to unwind on a busy Vietnam itinerary, take the beach in Hoi An!
10. Photograph Hoi An’s Famous Lanterns at Night
Chances are high that you’ve seen the famous brightly colored lanterns of Hoi An and decided they were enough for you to book your travel tickets! They will not disappoint. Littered throughout the ancient town’s narrow roads, you will see hundreds of lanterns glowing in all colors of the rainbow.
Your challenge is to find the best photography spot in town. Once you have, let us know where you think it is! The best way to show your appreciation and support for these lanterns is to buy one, flat pack it and take it home.
You will find lanterns criss crossing overhead, in restaurants and coffee shops, pretty much in the whole area designated UNESCO heritage! The bright lights add energy to the peaceful and relaxing vibe in Hoi An, it definitely wouldn’t be the same without lanterns.
11. Sip on Hoi An’s Famous Iced Coffee
Wake up early, wander aimlessly around Hoi An ancient town, watching as business owners sweep their doorsteps and bicycles ‘bring bring’ their bells at you to pass. Keep walking until you find an enchanting coffee shop (there are many!) and order a ‘Ca Phe Sua Da‘, which translates as milk coffee with ice.
This is a Vietnamese specialty coffee containing a layer of sweetened condensed milk at the bottom with a large shot of black coffee and ice. And it’s blooming lovely! Or you could try egg coffee, Ca Phe Trung which is kind of like custard that tastes like egg and coffee.
If you only try one, make sure it’s Phin Coffee, near the Japanese bridge. We were hooked and we’re sure you will be too!
12. Discover the Countryside on Bicycle
Seriously, grab a bicycle and ride for hours around the tranquil deep green countryside of Hoi An. This is not to be underestimated. You will cycle along narrow roads cutting through dense rice fields and fishing lakes, past houses with farmers out working their land and even push yourself to explore all the small islands in the river if you have time!
The land around Hoi An is extremely safe to cycle around. It’s difficult to get lost and you will be grateful for the escape from the crowds back in town. There are dozens of tours running if you would prefer to see the countryside with a guide who can explain everything from a local’s perspective.
13. Wander the Night Market
If you cross the bridge of light and continue straight, you will find Hoi An night market plus tons of great places to eat, drink and dance. The night market is always bustling, full of vendors selling an array of clothes, souvenirs and local charms for tourists to take home as mementos.
This is the place to pick up a bargain, but be vigilant and check the quality of any goods you buy! If you’ve been to a night market you will know what to expect, but in Hoi An the atmosphere is just that little bit more chilled.
14. Take a Private Tour With a Local Vietnam War Veteran
And finally, onto our secret bonus and amazing thing to do that you must include in your Hoi An itinerary! We had no idea about this private tour, it’s not documented anywhere that we know of and is certainly not listed with any tour companies. It was by pure happenstance that we found it.
One evening we had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Phong during our dinner at one of the restaurants in the town. He asked us if we would like a private tour with him at his home in a village nearby. He then showed us some diaries of tourists who had previously taken his private tour. It seemed to look legit. So, we took a chance. And we will forever be glad we did.
Mr. Phong is an incredibly interesting man, a Vietnam war veteran who was imprisoned near Hue for over a year. On his private tour we learned more about Vietnam, culture, history and tourism than a year of traveling the country would have taught us. In order to keep his privacy, we ask you to please message us for more information on how you can find Mr. Phong. The time we spent with him is something we will never forget!
3 Best Hoi An Itinerary Day Trips
1. My Son Ruins
My Son ruins is a complex containing partially ruined Hindu temples similar (but on a smaller scale) to that of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Since 1999, My Son has been recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site. The complex includes over 70 abandoned temples, made of deep red colored bricks.
Many of the temples have degraded over time but there are still a small number remaining almost in complete form. This is a historically and culturally important place, once filled with worshipping kings of ancient times.
My Son is located 38km Southwest of Hoi An. If you feel up to it, hire a motorbike because it should take roughly 1 hour each way. But it would be much less effort and hassle to take an organized tour!
2. Cham Islands
Take a break from coffee and Banh Mi by taking a half day trip snorkeling and swimming on the Cham Islands, just off the coast from Hoi An. This is the perfect escape from unbearable summer temperatures. This is when visibility will also be at its best.
You don’t need any experience diving or snorkeling to enjoy this day trip. We recommend you pack some of your own food and drinks, plus remember that it’s not going to be a 5* luxury resort!
3. Golden Hand Bridge Sun World Ba Na Hills
If you’re interested in prime time instagram spots, you will have to leave Hoi An ancient town behind and head for the hills. The Ba Na Hills to be precise. A 150m long golden colored bridge is seemingly held aloft by two giant intricately sculptured hands. The bridge is nothing special, it’s the hands that give this place the wow factor and entice photographers.
Oh, and there’s an incredible view over the valleys, Da Nang and the South China Sea – but that’s a side note, right?!
To reach the bridge, you will need to take a cable car from Ba Na Hills Sun World dream springs station. However, this is no ordinary cable car. It’s the worlds longest non stop single track cable car!
Unless you feel confident to navigate 45km (28 miles) along the wild roads in Vietnam, a tour is likely to be your best option for visiting the golden bridge. Here are the best tour options from Get Your Guide and Klook, compare prices now!
Hoi An Itinerary Tour Options
With such great popularity comes great tour demand for holiday makers to Hoi An! We have already included some of the tours available in our list of the best things to do on your Hoi An itinerary, but we would recommend you compare prices for any tour you are interested in. That way you get the best value for money every time!
Interactive Map Hoi An Itinerary & Things To Do
Click/zoom/move around the interactive map of Hoi An above to orientate yourself with the city. We’ve included pins for the best things to do in Hoi An and each day trip location (Purple), transport hubs in Da Nang (Black) and all of our hotel recommendations in Hoi An (Green).
Where To Stay in Hoi An
Hoi An is one of Vietnam’s premier tourist destinations. Its beautiful UNESCO ancient town particularly attracts wealthy travelers. Therefore, with a healthy budget at your disposal you can stay at some incredible hotels.
However, it is the low to mid budget backpackers and travelers who will find that due to high competition in Hoi An, you can pick up a lovely hotel for a surprisingly light on the wallet price. Even in the cheaper price bracket, look for a hotel with a swimming pool.
Your three choices for staying in Hoi An are to stay close to the ancient town, in the countryside, or at the beach. Put your travel dates into the booking.com search engine below to find a hotel. Alternatively, check out each of the hotels we recommend for budget, mid range and luxury in Hoi An! All the hotels we recommend are close to the ancient town.
Tips For Your Hoi An Itinerary
- Currency in Vietnam is VND (Vietnamese Dong). US$ 1 = 23,000 VND | GBP 1 = 30,000 VND. Always try to carry a small amount of US dollars in case of emergency. There are plenty of ATM’s in town.
- Tourism in Hoi An is generally more advanced than other parts of Vietnam, meaning enormous options for excellent restaurants, lovely coffee shops and clothes shops.
- Remember at the beach you will pay to park your motorbike or bicycle, that’s standard practice in Vietnam, you’re not being scammed.
- There are hundreds of tour options that combine various things to do in Hoi An, be sure to do your research and find some killer combo’s! That includes day trips.
- Hoi An will be one of the more upscale destinations on your Vietnam Itinerary, enjoy the laid back atmosphere before moving on to more chaos!
- In the countryside, you may come across some locals with huge water buffalo and be offered the opportunity to sit on one. We’d encourage people not to pay for that photo.
- The Hai Van Pass by motorbike journey from Hue to Hoi An is genuinely awesome and we highly recommend everyone to take that opportunity!
We hope this Hoi An itinerary helps you plan your trip to this magical and historic city in Vietnam!
How much have you budgeted for your Vietnam trip? Take a look at our 1 month Vietnam expense report to get an idea of how much you will spend.
And finally, be sure to read our top 30 key things to know about Vietnam before you visit.
Please let us know if you have any questions or need help planning your trip, we will are more than happy to help!
Trivia: What does Hoi An translated to English mean?
Peaceful Meeting Place
Hoi An’s colorful history as a trading port tells us that the town was a meeting place between traders from all around the world in the 1700’s.
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