After travelling around Southeast Asia for over seven months, and spending a healthy amount of time across Vietnam, I’m often asked what my ‘favourite’ place is. Though each experience is different, Hoi An is perhaps my favourite ‘city’ in Vietnam. It offers the old world charm of an ancient town, amazing food, and rich cultural imagery within a stones throw of idyllic rice paddies, serene river banks, and stunning beaches. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the tailors! Hoi An has it all and is relatively easy to get to (the international airport is just a 45 minute drive). With so much to do it can be overwhelming for first time travellers looking to maximize their time, so here’s my Hoi An travel guide and my best attempt at the ideal three day Hoi An travel itinerary.
Day 1: The Hoi An Travel Classics
9am Getting There Quickly:
Arrive at Da Nang International Airport (DAD) and transit to Hoi An. Taxi will cost around 400-500k VND, or most hotels are happy to arrange private car pick up for you. It’s a pleasant, somewhat scenic drive along the coastal road of Da Nang where hotel construction abounds, followed by rice fields and rivers as you approach your destination. Motorbike rental is also an option but most travelers opt to begin their rental once they arrive in Hoi An itself.
10am Tailor Time:
First things first, Hoi An is known for its tailors. They are literally on every corner, touting custom apparel with turn around in a mere 24 hours. If you’re looking to have a custom suit made in Asia, this is perhaps your best bet. But don’t be foolish, you get what you pay for. A $75 men’s suit is likely too good to be true – fabric may fade or shrink and it’s certainly not 100% silk or fine cotton, regardless of what they claim. Tailors can walk you through catalogues of design ideas or easily work off of images you provide from the internet. Remember, you need time, you need to provide clear direction, and you need to be firm in what you want. The potential ‘stress’ of the custom clothes process isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. However, for those willing to put in some sweat equity, it’s an experience unto itself.
If getting something custom tailored isn’t on your wish list, grab a bike and meander the nearby rice fields. Crops are particularly stunning just before harvest, which luckily happens three times a year. Most accommodations provide basic single gear bikes free of charge. As long as there is a bell they are more than sufficient for exploration as the surrounding region is flat and an easy cycle, even in the afternoon heat. Exploring the little roads and river that runs south of Cửa Đại (the main road out of town) rewards you with scenic views, as well as frequent beer stops.
2pm Coffee Break:
The coffee culture within Vietnam is strong to say the least. The teas, coffee and serving methods of drinks tend to vary from North to South Vietnam. Within the old town you can take your pick of little java joints, all with strong wifi and even stronger coffee: An Gia Cottage (close to Cửa Đại Beach), Hoi An Roastery (three locations), CocoBox (for its delicious carrot cake) and last but not least, Reaching Out Teahouse. The Reaching Out Teahouse is a social enterprise, employing those with disabilities. Set in a magical quiet garden, guests are encouraged to enjoy their tea in silence and use a custom menu system to communicate with staff. A definite must for any Hoi An travel itinerary.
4:30pm A Stroll At Sunset:
Soak in all the sights Hoi An is known for by taking a walk through the ancient town at sunset. The city is abuzz at dusk, with the night market and boat rides along the river. Most restaurants offer happy hour specials, and if you’re lucky enough to grab a table on a patio along the river, you’ll be in for some great people watching. City bylaws ban motor vehicles on select roads at night, so rest assured it is exceedingly pedestrian friendly. Be warned, sunset is perhaps the perfect time of day for some photos of the city, but this is by no means a secret. Tourists come in droves so you’ll have to contend with crowds – but again, at least they’re not in cars. Cyclo tours around the ancient town are also on offer, but please please please, don’t be one of the iPad wielding tourists that uses them.
6pm Tasting the Local Cuisine:
So many great food options abound in Hoi An. For a complete foodie guide, check out our ‘Eating Your Way Though Hoi An with Vespa Adventures’ article here. Famous for it’s all you can eat menu for only 80-100k VND, Bale Well Restaurant is both authentic and mouthwatering. Other recommendations include Ms Ly’s Cafe (renowned Cao Lao noodle and pork dish). The Mango Mango, Morning Glory and Nữ Eatery round out the list of higher end dining options that merit the price. For those on a budget, you’re also able to get your fill of cheap eats at the night market along Nguyễn Hoàng Street, with plenty of street food vendors vying for your attention. If you’re the type of traveller that can be indecisive when it comes to new food, a food tour with Vespa Adventures takes all the planning and stress out of your night. Their ‘Streets & Eats of Hoi An‘ tour includes stops at over five famous and off the beaten track restaurants, unlimited alcoholic drinks, and, of course, your very own vespa scooter – complete with a dedicated driver to safely usher you around. It’s clear that my Hoi An travel experience involved a lot of great food.
After devouring the sights and tastes of this little city, rest up for your early start tomorrow!
Day 2: Camera & Sunblock Ready
5am An Early Start for Photography:
I hate large organized cookie cutter tours. The idea of being on a 50 seater bus followed by a buffet lunch makes my skin crawl. However, I love using tours and organized activities to get my bearings when visiting a new place. Small local tour operators can help you get away from the usual tourist haunts and open your eyes to the real Hoi An.
As an amateur photographer, when I heard about Hoi An Photo Tour I knew I had to sign up right away. For me, it’s the perfect intersection of small tour and personal interest. I suspect the same is true for a growing number of other adventurous travellers. Professional photographer and photography teacher, Etienne Bossot leads one day tours around Hoi An, as well as multi-day trips around Southeast Asia. The aggressive 4:45am start time was well worth it for the ‘Sunrise With The Fishermen’ tour, where you’ll visit the fishing port and a nearby village. Thanks to Etienne’s close relationship with the locals, you’ll learn more about this beautiful region and its people – not to mention your camera. Whether you’re coming as a newbie with an iPhone or a professional with multiple DSLR cameras in tow, the tour is personalized and memorable. Etienne “aims at providing the tools for travelers to learn how to capture amazing photographs during their travels in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.” He absolutely delivers. You’ll be dropped back at your accommodation by 10am, and I strongly recommend a cat nap.
12pm Tailor Time (Again):
After your nap, you’ll have the mental stamina to attend your first fitting at the tailor. In my recent visit to Kimmy Custom Tailor, after just one day they produced a women’s tuxedo suit and wool blazer that was eerily close to the target photos. Although it may seem “good” on the first try, it’s always best to assume two or three follow up visits to ensure you get “perfect”. Reputable vendors should not have any issues meeting three (or more) times to ensure the product meets your expectations. Be specific in your instructions and you’ll have a slick piece that makes you feel like a million bucks.
Kimmy and Be Be Tailor are perhaps the most revered and popular operations in town, along with A Dong Silk and Yaly Couture for slightly more avant-garde pieces. They are the only four with actual factory and full time staff versus others who outsource. They command high prices befitting of their quality fabric and strong reputations. At Kimmy, suits range from $175 – 275 USD depending on which of three tiers of fabric you choose, blazers $75-150 USD. You can attempt to negotiate if you’re buying multiple pieces or are a return customer, but don’t expect anything more than 15% off.
2pm Hit The Beach:
Finally, you’re ready to hit the beach, which is just 20 minutes east of town. Hoi An’s nearest beach, Cửa Đại has gotten some bad press, as it’s literally being washed away due to ocean currents and river erosion. This understandably creates massive construction issues for the nearby hotels which find themselves on the verge of physical collapse. However, for travellers in search of a great beach, the sun still shines, particularly on adjacent An Bang Beach. Multiple vendors are more than willing to rent loungers and umbrellas at reasonable prices. A favourite for beachfront dining in the area is without a doubt Soul Kitchen.
Day 3: Getting Your Literal Fill of Hoi An
8am Not Your Average Cooking Class
As I’ve mentioned, the food scene in Hoi An is phenomenal. Cooking classes here are incredibly popular. Several operators have various permutations that often involve an early morning visit to the fresh market in town, boat ride to the cooking class location, the class itself, and tours of the surrounding villages or farms. Half and full day programs cost on average $30-60 USD. We love My Grandma’s Home Cooking for it’s authentic experience far from the town. Yes, you even meet the 92 year old matriarch of the family who demonstrates various rice processing techniques for guests. The Red Bridge Cooking School also gets top marks for the unlimited alcoholic drinks and massage packages available to add on to your day.
4pm Suit Up One Last Time
If you’ve opted for a custom suit, you will need multiple fitting sessions. Take time in the evening to go back and ensure you’re in love with your creation. After all, as the designer, you have no one to blame but yourself if it doesn’t turn out as you had envisioned.
5pm Retail Therapy
This is your last chance to use those bartering skills for what you’ve had your eye on over the past two days. Leather bags, custom leather shoes, clothing, hand painted lanterns, handicrafts and yes, even tacky tourist tank tops await you. Prices are fairly similar across stores, but it pays to shop around and barter. While keeping in mind the mantra of ‘pay what you feel comfortable with and nothing more’, a 25% discount from the ‘opening price’ is the bare minimum you should expect.
I always find it best to hold out on major purchases until the end of my time in a new destination. The higher the price tag, the more important it is to choose things that really speak to you and you’ll appreciate in the long run. Not to mention what will literally fit in your luggage and not send you over your baggage weight allowance. It goes without saying, but shopping before instead of during a night of drinking is also a good idea if you want to avoid buyers remorse the next morning.
Finally, it’s time to cap off your Hoi An travels with a bang. You can easily fill your last night on the town with an abundance of drinks and delicious food. We’ve already been through the hit list, so here are a few bonus dining options for consideration: Just outside of town, Circle serves up mouthwatering burgers at 317 Cửa Đại. I’m partial to the adding the bacon avocado topping combo to the classic Juicy Lucy burger, which has cheese inserted into the centre of the burger itself. A little further down the road, at 232 Cửa Đại, the motto of Son Hoi An Restaurant is “slow food for slow life”. It wins hearts and stomachs alike.
More Hoi An Travel Ideas:
I could, and did, easily spend more than just three days in Hoi An. My sister has gotten into a pretty good beach-yoga-read-cycle-repeat groove during her multiple travels there. The point is that each person will find their own magic in Hoi An, and in an ideal travel world, they have enough time to explore the city more before moving on to the next destination. If you can stay for a fourth (or fifth) day, consider pursuing what you’re passionate about. The costs of these ideas range from free (therefore more money for beer!) to luxe.
River & Chill
The rivers that extend around Hoi An create idyllic views that merit a fair amount of mindless gazing. They are also the perfect backdrop for a growing number of new homestays and small hotel properties. Guests of Serene River Villa can enjoy the view of the river from their intimate pool. Or opt for something a bit more physical and actually use the property’s kayaks to explore the river. A good book. A cold beer. And the occasional traditional round boat floating by. What could be better? For a slightly more social scene still by the river, Hoi An Backpackers Hostel is halfway between the old town and beaches.
Did somebody say FREE? Hoi An Free Tour is run by volunteer students looking to practice their English skills. Lucky for you, they charge nothing for their time. However, guests will have to pay small fees for various local transport, food purchases, or optional community donations. Expect to shell out less than $14 USD per tour for all of these incidentals. Itineraries include exploration through Kim Bong Village, Tra Que Village, Cam Kim Island by bike, and a ‘cheap’ walking food tour. The organizers are friendly, but volunteers, so expect some delays in booking responses.
Pandanus Spa Hoi An ranks number one in the city. With reasonable prices, it often books up so be sure to make an appointment in advance. They also offer free transport to and from hotels in Hoi An. A few minutes away, White Rose Spa also delivers impressive massages in a clean, professional environment. Expect to pay 280k-350k VND for a 60min full body massage, reflexology treatment, or facial.
Exploring Mỹ Sơn Ruins
Extend your Hoi An travels by venturing about an hour to yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Departful contributor J.P. shares his half day adventure in Exploring Vietnam’s Ancient Temples at Mỹ Sơn. Pronounced my sun, the Hindu ruins actually predate Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temples, though they are much smaller in size. Combine the visit with a ride through various villages and rice fields en route and you’ve got a memorable half day trip.
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