An ancient town embodied by colorful lanterns, adjacent to magnificent rice fields and boasting some of Vietnam’s best cuisine. It’s not hard to see why Hoi An is among the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam, and often claimed as a visitor’s favorite within the country.
It took me a minute to warm up to Hoi An. It was absolutely stunning, but I had completely underestimated just how many tourists would be packed into the Old Town. The tourist-catered center all felt a little inauthentic to me, and I feared that this ancient town’s mystique may be lost on me.
Luckily, first impressions don’t mean everything and by the time my five days in Hoi An were up, I found myself totally under its spell.
Where to Stay:
La Terrazza: Located an easy 15 minute walk outside of town (or 5 minute Moto ride), this family run guesthouse is set on an idyllic rice terrace, where you’re surrounded solely by lush green fields and roaming water buffalo.
One of the best decisions I made on this trip was to stay a little bit outside the main town. While beautiful, Hoi An is super touristy and crowded, so it was wonderful to be able to come home to this oasis. It’s run by Nicola, an Italian expat and his awesome Vietnamese wife, where they live with their two daughters, lovable dog, and a million kittens. It’s basically paradise.
Where to Eat:
Bale Well: This place still sticks out as perhaps one of my favorite meals from all of Vietnam. We unknowingly stumbled into this fixed-menu, garden restaurant. Without a single word, we were seated and immediately brought enormous plates of amazing DIY spring rolls and banh xeo.
Nu Eatery: I initially came here because it was tucked away from the center of town on a Saturday night, but this small-plate restaurant proved to be so delicious!
Central Market: A no frills, chaotic market with out-of-this-world pho and plenty of specialties from the area.
Bahn Mi Phuong: Bourdain got it right- this bahn mi was delicious, and still super cheap despite becoming an A-List Celebrity in the world of the Vietnamese sandwiches.
Faifo Coffee: Just like pretty much all of Vietnam, the coffee is amazing here- but the real sell is the beautiful rooftop view where you can take in this lit up village from a birds eye view.
Where to wander:
Rent a Scooter: The first (and best) thing I did after checking into my guesthouse, was rent a scooter. While walking through town is a must, zipping through rice terraces and getting lost in waves of green encompasses my fondest Hoi An moments.
See the Old Town: And do so in the morning, as well as night. Of course the evening is a must, as the lanterns glisten over the narrow river, creating a magical glow. However, I especially enjoyed waking up early and crisscrossing the narrow, fairytale-like streets of the old town before the crowds moved in.
Go to the Market: If you do manage to wake up early, the market is a fantastic way to start the day. It’s wonderfully chaotic, and makes for premium people watching.
Fill up your suitecase: Whether you’re having clothes made or window shopping, Hoi An is a shoppers paradise- if you can handle the aggressive waving and shouting from every store front.
Get out of town: Like I said above, the old town is beautiful but there is so much more to see in Hoi An. From small villages nearby to endless rice fields, it would be a huge pity to miss out on such majestic scenery.
Get even farther out of town: Hoi An is a great day trip base, particularly to My Son Ruins. While there are a number of buses you can hop on, we woke up at sunrise to ride our scooters there (it’s about a one hour ride) and beat the crowds. Our timing couldn’t have been better- we arrived just as the sunrise crowd was leaving, and left just as the second round of buses were arriving. Because My Son is quite small, I imagine it would be a much different experience to walk through with hundreds of other people, rather than the four of us that were there.
Have a Beach Day: An Bang beach is super close to town and an easy option for a few hours of soaking in the sun. There are also a ton of bars and restaurants to choose from- just be prepared to see super inflated tourist menu prices if you’re not Vietnamese.
Hoi An makes for a great stop along a tour of Vietnam, though with the old town being so catered to tourists, it can all feel a bit inauthentic. Luckily, it’s easy enough to venture outside the beautifully lit center and discover all this area really has to offer.