Hoi An's Ancient Town in 2 days
Hoi An's ancient town is one of the most charming and unique destinations in Vietnam.
It took us one evening to fall in love with Hoi An. One evening spent walking down the canals lit by the lights of a thousand lanterns, illuminating the ancient houses and the faces of the old ladies crouched on the pavement selling candles, their wrinkles a testament of an unforgettable history.
The walls of the Ancient Town are pale yellow, discoloured by the centuries and by black mould that almost decorates them, caused by the many floods that submerged the streets in the past.
Hoi An is a UNESCO Heritage site and one of Asia’s best-preserved example of a small-scale trading port active from the 15th to 19th centuries. It traded both with the countries of Southeast and East Asia and with the rest of the world. After its decline in the late 19th century, the town has been preserved as a testament to Vietnam’s history.
Its unique architecture is a mix of different cultures, from Chinese to Japanese with a few European influences.
Within the Ancient Town, there are more than a thousand timber frame buildings still being used as houses, shops, open markets and today many many restaurants and cafes. Due to its uniqueness and beauty, Hoi An is a very famous destination. Today it sees thousands of tourists from everywhere in the world.
When all the lights are lit in the evening, the atmosphere is truly magical. The canals fill up with small boats paddling around, with the lights and lanterns of restaurants glistening on the water in a picture perfect image.
HISTORY FOUND AROUND EVERY CORNER
What to do in Hoi An
Walk around the ancient city to admire the unique timber building, with inscriptions on the doors and remarkable designs and colours. The narrow streets are adorned with hanging lanterns and bursting with offers, from lovely cafes to restaurants, shops and boutiques. To enjoy the quieter streets, make sure to head out quite early in the morning. Stop at one of the cafes with seats outside to drink a delicious Vietnamese coffee (with egg or with condensed milk) and watch the local life come to life around you.
Visit the Japanese Covered Bridge, dating back to the 18th century. It is said to be built by the Japanese living in the town to reach the Chinese quarter across the water. It was built by Nguyen Phuc Chu Lord in 1719 who carved three Chinese symbols above the door in commemoration. You can also see the statues of two dogs and two monkeys, representing the year when the construction of the bridge started and ended.
We truly recommend doing a cooking class with Hoi An Eco Cooking Class, we loved every minute of it! Starting at 8 am they will come to pick you up at the hotel and, with a small group of ten people, you first visit the local market to learn about the main ingredients used in Vietnamese cuisine. Afterwards, you will paddle a little round-boat and ride across the river by Coconut Island to reach the open kitchen where the lesson takes place. Here you will spend two and a half hours cooking up a feast with the vigilant help and support of fantastic cooks and teachers. You will make rice paper rolls from scratch, steaming pho and many other traditional dishes. In the end, the reward is a lavish lunch of your own making! For vegetarians or vegans, they will make variations of all dishes to fit all your requirements.
Watch a theatre show at Lune Performing Center. This beautiful theatre, with its iconic moon-shaped roof inspired by oriental cultures that use the lunar calendar, hosts one of the most unique performances we have ever enjoyed. Palao is a Cham show, where actors dance and perform over live music, using impressive props such as gigantic terracotta bowls of different dimensions.
Enjoy a boat ride on the canal to have a view of the city from the water. At night it will be even more special when all the lanterns are lit up. You can easily find a boat by the river ready to drive you around at any time of the day.
Asja standing in a doorway.
Man sitting at a coffee shop.
Fisherman at the coconut islands.
Where to sleep in Hoi An
This lovely homestay has seven very spacious, comfortable and clean rooms adjacent to the owners’ house. It’s newly built and each room has a double bed, desk, TV and a big bathroom! It is run by the most welcoming and accommodating family we met in Vietnam. A breakfast of your choice is also included in the room rate. It is also very conveniently located, just a five-minute cycle to the centre of the old town.
This beautiful riverside hotel is a peaceful oasis, just off of the busy part of the city. The rooms are set within a lovely garden, with a pool and a restaurant facing the Thu Bon River. The decor is classic, mixing Asian style with French elegance. The rooms are filled with natural light, a comfortable bed, and an entrance lounge and balcony.
What we loved about Anantara is also the commitment towards sustainability. They focus on management waste by reducing, reusing and recycling solid waste which impacts landfills, and by cooperating with local waste management companies. They also have composting programmes, and offer products which are durable, repairable and able to be recycled. They also offer bicycles for all guests to use at no charge.
Where to eat in Hoi An
Rosie’s cafe is a peaceful cafe set in a quiet street, where you can find some of the best healthy food in Hoi An. We had a delicious veggie wrap and fresh juice and almost bought that inviting looking vegan cake (but didn’t, so if you do, let us know how it is!).
Nu Eatery $$
Our favourite meal in Hoi An (and possibly in Vietnam!) was at Nu Eatery. A small restaurant on two floors, decorated with vintage furniture, and a very relaxing atmosphere. The food was spectacular! Unique recipes and twists on more famous recipes prepared with fresh local ingredients.
A French touch in the heart of Hoi An’s ancient town. White Marble is a beautiful wine bar and restaurant, with a great wine selection at prices that are actually affordable (in the rest of Vietnam you will struggle to find a good wine that’s not super expensive). We loved sitting on the table outside watching the busy streets of the town in the evening while sipping on wine and nibbling on delicious peanuts.
Over tourism in Hoi An and what we can do
We were really surprised by the number of people walking around the small town, at times you had to push through people to walk over the bridges.
We want to highlight the importance of being a respectful visitor. This means not littering, carrying a water bottle or water purifier so you don’t have to buy and dispose of the countless plastic bottles. Saying no to straws. Saying no to plastic bags. Using a bicycle or walk around the city.