Just south of Da Nang lies a magical little town – Hoi An, enticing travelers from all around the world. It has become one of the most popular destinations in Vietnam, and a common mid-stop for those traveling from the north to the south or vice versa. To save you time scouring the net and getting conflicting advice, this guide has pulled together an overview of the Hoi An, also outline the best things you can do in the city.
History of Hoi An
Hoi An has an interesting history that can be traced back almost two millennia to the Sa Huynh peoples, before it served as an important port for the Champa Kingdom that extended over central and coastal Vietnam. The town grew in trade from there and by the 17th and 18thcentury, it had already become one of the most important Southeast Asian trading ports, harboring foreign traders, especially Japanese, Chinese and Dutch; partaking in all sorts of trades such as silk, china, pottery, and certain spices.
The culture and heritage evident in Hoi An are mostly remnants from the Cham people, however, it has also been majorly influenced by the Chinese, the Japanese and of course, the Vietnamese. Still to this day, few descendants of the initial foreign settlers remain. Their ancestors’ marks, however, are permanently etched into the city, history and culture, and are evidenced by contrasting yet perfectly-blended elements in the architecture seen all around. Pagodas, assembly halls, clan houses, shop houses, and tea houses line the ancient streets and most of these century-old gems have fared well in the years leading up to today. A casual stroll in town will allow you to witness their wonders and step back into a much simpler time.
In 1999, UNESCO formally recognized Hoi An Ancient Town as a World Heritage Site. This should come as no surprise – you will soon read and find out why.
When to visit Hoi An
Hoi An, just like the rest of Vietnam has its wet and dry seasons. When it comes to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, it doesn’t really matter during which season you visit. It is similar to Nha Trang and Da Nang – you will have plenty of activities to do during the wet season and dry season. Unfortunately, that is not the case for Hoi An.
Throughout the year, Hoi An has warm temperatures, averaging 29 degrees Celsius, with peak temperatures in June through August. November through January is much colder, but it is not the temperature that is bothersome during these months. It’s the rain. The rain lasts a long time, from September to January. Showers are heavy and constant, and unfortunately, the roads flood – often up to the knees, sometimes even to the head.
Typhoons are also not unheard of in this region, which can result in shops closing and transport within and out of the city to be temporarily halted. The only travel-related pro in this situation is that due to the sharp drop in tourists, you will find accommodation at cheaper rates than usual. Therefore, the best time to visit Hoi An would be during the dry season. The most pleasant temperatures and levels of humidity are during February through April. The beachside is perfect during this time.
Lesson to learn: Check the weather forecast before you book your tickets!
PS: Every 14th day of the lunar month, Hoi An becomes even more charming. The city celebrates the full moon festival and there are displays upon displays of traditional lanterns in the old town.
What to do in Hoi An
There are so many things to do in this tiny little port city. They will be as follows:
Ancient Town (exploring, shopping, getting an outfit tailored, indulging in delicious Central Vietnamese cuisine),
Tra Que Village (farming, fishing, visiting little villages, cooking classes),
An Bang/Cua Dai (beaching, watersports),
Outskirts of Hoi An (cycling your way to other villages).
Hoi An Ancient town
Historic buildings can be found all over Hoi An Old Town.
The ancient town of Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To walk within the old town area, it’s expected that all visitors carry an Ancient Town entrance ticket. This ticket allows you to explore Hoi An’s old town and its numerous well-maintained heritage buildings.
Where to Buy Hoi An Old Town Tickets
Old Town tickets can only be bought at specific ticket stalls, and not at individual heritage sightseeing places. There are 11 ticket stalls located around the outskirts of the old town’s designated walking area. Ticket stalls are generally small yellow huts so, unfortunately, they aren’t so easy to spot, as they blend in with all the other yellow buildings and don’t have any clear writing or signage to make them stand out (you may not even realise you’ve walked past one).
Locations of ticket stalls
- Nguyen Thi Minh Khai street and Hem 19 Hung Vuong street intersection, near Wellspring Cafe
- Cong Nu Ngoc Hoa street, across the intersection from Cabanon restaurant
- Duong Cao Hong Lanh street on An Hoi island, near Song Hoai Square Bridge
- Duong Cao Hong Lanh street on An Hoi island, near An Hoi bridge
- Phan Chu Trinh street and Hai Ba Trung street intersection
- Tran Phu street (northwest end of the street), south of Phan Chu Trinh street intersection
- Tran Phu street and Bach Dang street intersection, near the Japanese Bridge
- Tran Phu street and Le Loi street intersection
- Tran Phu street and Nguyen Hue street intersection
- Tran Phu street and Hoang Dieu street intersection (Tourist Information Centre)
- Bach Dang street and Hoang Van Thu street intersection
When you purchase a ticket, you should also receive a map indicating the location and sights around the Ancient Town district.
Ancient Town Designated Areas
The old town contains numerous well-maintained heritage buildings, artefacts, documents, artworks, and shrines, that have been preserved to their near original condition.
The old town area is the central hub of Hoi An and the location most tourists will visit. The streets are picturesque with their historic yellow and wood buildings, whimsical hanging lanterns, and delightful narrow streets, as well as the many shops selling handcrafted wares. There is also an amazing range of restaurants and bars to suit everyone’s tastes.
1. Old Houses
There a number of old houses in Hoi An, which are private family residences that have been well-preserved through the centuries and are now open to share with the public.
Trần Family’s Chapel
Address: 21 Le Loi – Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., daily
This is one of the oldest houses in Hoi An, built at the beginning of the 19th century by the Tran family. It was originally commissioned by a prominent mandarin Tran Tu Nhac to worship family ancestors and honour family traditions. The house, which was designed and built using traditional rules of Feng Shui, sits amongst a garden of ornamental plants, including fruit trees and flowers. The home contains relics and items of historical interest, such as an original sword and seal, and it remains in similar condition to two centuries ago.
Old House of Đức An
Address: 129 Tran Phu – Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., daily
The current owner is a direct descendant of the founding family, who has maintained the home in superb condition, keeping the original furnishings and antiques, but resisting the typical tourism approach of using the family home to sell souvenirs. The family has lived on the land for centuries, though the current structure was built in the 1850s. Early on, it was a prominent bookseller in the region, selling foreign philosophical texts, as well as local Vietnamese and Chinese literature. Later, it was used as a medicinal dispensary and a central meeting point for various political groups through the decades.
Nguyễn Tường Family’s Chapel
Address: 8 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai – Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily
This place of worship was built in 1806 and is a combination of Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese architectural styles. This chapel was commissioned by Nguyễn Tường Van, Headmaster of the Royal Army. The house is still maintained and managed by a descendant of Nguyễn Tường Van. It contains relics and historical items, is a home to a selection of rare books, and has souvenirs for sale.
Old House of Phùng Hưng
Address: 4 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai – Hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., daily
Built in 1780, the style is typical of a commercial house of the era when Hoi An was flourishing. The ground floor of the building used to be a shop space, trading in popular items such as silk, ceramics, and spices. The second floor of this building is still used as a space to worship ancestors. The building also holds many historical records documenting trade and business in the region throughout the decades.
Old House of Quân Thắng
Address: 77 Tran Phu – Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., daily
This private residence was home to well-to-do Captain Quân Thắng. This historical house was built over 150 years ago and has been extremely well preserved. Many of the wooden beams and furniture throughout the building display details of incredibly skilled wood carving. It exhibits traditional Chinese style architecture and decoration and is a fantastic example of how wealthy merchants lived in previous centuries.
Old House of Tấn Ký
Address: 101 Nguyen Thai Hoc – Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5:45 p.m., daily
This house is a great example of a typical merchant’s home in the 18th century and was one of the first three buildings to be certified as a national heritage building. The structure displays historical Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese styles of architecture, and has been well maintained over the centuries to preserve the original materials. There are four small areas in the house, including a traditional courtyard, which display many lovely antique items and furniture.
The museums are managed by the Center for Cultural Management and Preservation and each requires an Old Town Entrance ticket to visit. Hoi An has four museums that display a range of artefacts detailing the rich history of the region.
Hoi An Museum
Address: 10B Tran Hung Dao Street – Business hours: 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily
The Hoi An museum is home to artefacts from the past 2,000 years and is organised into three areas: history and culture, revolutionary history, and Hoi An’s ascent from hardship.
Museum of Trade Ceramics
Address: 80 Tran Phu St. – Business hours: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; closed on the 15th of every month
The Museum of Trade Ceramics displays a collection of antique ceramics dating from the 16th to 19th centuries which are housed in a restored wooden building dating back to 1858.
Museum of Folklore
Address: 33 Nguyen Thai Hoc St. – Business hours: 7:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily; closed on the 20th of every month
This museum is within a large two-storey historic house and displays artefacts about traditional folk arts, handicrafts, fishing, weaving, and silkworm farming practices. The entry ticket also includes a performance of traditional Vietnamese folk dance and music.
Museum of Sa Huỳnh Culture
Address: 149 Tran Phu – Business hours: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily; closed on the 10th of every month
This small museum provides a glimpse into the lives of the ancient Sa Huynh and Champa cultures. The museum exhibits a range of artefacts from 1000 B.C.E. to 300 A.C.E, including tools, jewellery, bowls, and weapons.
3. Temples & Pagodas
Quan Công Temple & Quan Am Pagoda
Address: 24 Tran Phu
Originally built in 1653, this temple honours Quan Cong, a high-profile mandarin of the Han Dynasty. The temple was built as a place of worship, where merchants could come and pay their respects to their ancestors, and pray for luck. The temple is home to two 10-foot high statues, one representing Quan Cong and his adopted son, as well as many other detailed statues and ancient artworks. The building is made of multiple rooms in traditional Chinese architectural style, has been kept in amazing condition over the centuries, and looks very much it would have originally looked.
4. Arts Centres
Hoi An Traditional Art Performance Theatre
Address: 39 Nguyen Thai Hoc – Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., daily – Showtimes: 10:15 a.m., 3:15 p.m., 4:15 p.m.
This small theatre holds live performances three times a day, showcasing a range of traditional folk dance and music. Your old town ticket allows you to attend one of the sessions using one of the five entries to sightseeing places. You watch the performances up close and enjoy traditional music while the performers reference various relics and legends of Hoi An.
If you enter from 66 Bach Dang, you will also have the opportunity to admire the handicrafts at the Timing Masks workshop, where traditional theatre masks are created and painted. You can try your hand at painting a mask for an extra fee.
Xứ Đàng Trong
Address: 9 Nguyen Thai Hoc
Although this venue is listed in the information brochure, it no longer provides a ticketed performance experience. The building itself is large and traditional Vietnamese-styled with dark wood decor. They sell designer wares and souvenirs, and for a fee, they conduct lantern making and mask painting workshops for those who may be interested. They also offer henna body art.
5. Historic Bridge
This bridge is one of the most popular attractions in Hoi An and is also known as Cau Chua Pagoda. Originally constructed in the 1590s, the bridge is a lovely example of traditional Japanese architecture, and was built to connect the Japanese and Chinese quarters of the city. The roof on the bridge was added so the structure could also be used as a shield from both sun and rain. There’s also a shrine inside the bridge dedicated to the god of weather, Tran Bo Bac De, where sailors, merchants, and locals, could come to worship against inclement weather and natural disasters.
6. Communal Houses
In previous centuries, communal houses were used in Hoi An as administrative centres and meeting places, as well as places of worship. Cultural activities were also held at communal houses, which sometimes included people from neighbouring villages, which made them important hubs of communication. The architecture and artefacts within the communal houses tell the story of cultural exchange and commercial business trading in the area. Hoi An has a number of communal houses, two of which have been classified as sightseeing places in the old town district.
Cẩm Phô Communal House / Cẩm Phô Temple
Address: 52 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai
Built over 200 years ago and restored in 1817 this communal house is built in the shape of a Chinese character. It has a large courtyard and magnificent Banyan tree and we found it to be humble yet interesting and much quieter than the other attractions.
Minh Hương Communal House / House of Tụy Tiên Đường
Address: 14 Tran Phu – Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Built by Chinese settlers in the late 18th century to worship ancestors who founded the Minh Huong village. This communal house has been restored five times to the present day. Chinese people would acquire Vietnamese citizenship in order to worship their heroic ancestors here.
7. Chinese Assembly Halls
When the Chinese migrated to Hoi An and other regions in Vietnam, they would build assembly halls as places to conduct business, socialise, and keep Chinese traditions alive. They usually followed similar architectural design and layout, including monumental gates, delightful gardens filled with ornamental flora, a large central hall, and an altar room honouring the particular gods and goddesses of that community. The buildings contain many antique items and are elaborately decorated with murals, statues and ornate artwork. There are four assembly halls, all located along Tran Phu street, in Hoi An old town, which are included as ticketed sightseeing places.
Quang Trieu (Cantonese) Assembly Hall
Address: 176 Tran Phu – Hours: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Built in 1885 by Cantonese merchants, this impressive ornate structure is brightly decorated and contains a peaceful courtyard, in stark contrast to the busy streets outside, and an impressive traditional dragon statue.
Phúc Kiến / Fukian / Fujian
Address: 46 Tran Phu – Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Constructed in 1757, this is one of Hoi An’s grandest and most famous assembly halls. Initially built for social reasons, it was later changed into a temple in honour of the Fujian goddess of the sea, Thien Hau, who protects sailors from danger.
Triều Châu / Chaozhou Assembly Hall
Address: 157 Tran Phu – Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
This decorative assembly hall honours a water god and was constructed in 1887. In contrast to the other halls in the old town – this one is suitably understated – but with some gems inside. The skill and craftsmanship of the woodwork is breathtaking and there’s a delightful miniature water garden tucked away that’s worth hunting down.
Hải Nam / Hainan Assembly Hall
Address: 10 Tran Phu – Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
This assembly hall was built in 1875 in honour of Chinese merchants who were mistaken for pirates and wrongfully killed; and, as a result, were granted deity status.
Tra Que vegetable village, about a 5-minute drive outside of the Ancient Town is an extremely tranquil organic vegetable village – the first of its kind in Vietnam. Here you will find rows and rows of colorful greens. All the vegetables and herbs in Hoi An cuisine are here. Farming and fishing are common activities for those visiting Tra Que. Travelers particularly enjoy cooking classes in Tra Que which combine visits to Hoi An Market, and then farming and fishing in the village. The produce and even fish caught will be then used in the meals you will prepare.
An Bang / Cua Dai Beach
6 kilometers away from Hoi An is the coastline where you can find beautiful beaches such as An Bang and Cua Dai. These beaches are perfect for sunbathing, dipping your toes in the sand or partaking in some watersports. Plenty of seaside bars are around for you to grab a cocktail and chill in a cabana. Sweet little Vietnamese ladies in conical hats with bamboo poles skillfully balanced on their shoulders will approach you and try to sell you little Vietnamese trinkets or seaside snacks.
Cham Island is also a close getaway, with even better beaches and awesome diving spots. You can make your time there into an overnight stay or a day trip.
On the outskirts
There are a few traditional villages on the outskirts of Hoi An that are worth a visit. The best way to see this is to rent a bicycle or even better, a motorcycle, and explore these yourselves. Plenty of tours in the city also include these outskirt villages, so it is completely up to you how you prefer to see them.
There are villages that specialize in a certain activity such as farming villages, pottery villages, carpentry villages, coconut tree villages, etc. Popular names are Thanh Ha Pottery Village, Kim Bong Carpentry Village, Tra Nhieu Fishing Village, and Duy Vinh Sleeping Mat Village. There are many others that do not have names, so just explore and don’t be afraid to say hi and make friends. Everybody is super welcoming and would love to share their talents and culture with you.