What you need to know about Hoi An, Vietnam

7 November 2019

Here’s how to get the best out of one of south-east Asia’s prime destinations.

Despite the growing number of tourists flocking to this small Vietnamese town over the years, Hoi An remains one of Vietnam’s most beautiful locales with its charming streets, vibrant atmosphere, and beautifully preserved old town. Never been? Here's a brief rundown of what you need to know when visiting the city of lanterns.

It's a UNESCO World Heritage site

For centuries, coastal Hoi An served as an active trading port where all manner of material goods – silk, china, pottery and spices – were exchanged with traders from all over the world. It’s Ancient Town grew into a bustling confluence of Chinese, Japanese and European influences, and in 1999 it was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its cultural richness, helping to spread the word of Hoi An’s storybook charm.

With its brightly coloured buildings (yellow is a predominant shade) interspersed with lantern-lit alleyways and peaceful canals, Hoi An’s dreamy, old-world aesthetic is a major drawcard for many visitors and a welcome reprieve from the bustle of some of Vietnam’s busier cities, such as Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.

Hoi An's Japanese covered bridge dates back to 1719. Photo: Getty Images

Its markets are a must-visit

Featuring a vast array of fresh fish and produce alongside a fragrant selection of herbs and spices, Hoi An Central Market is a feast for the senses – perfect if you’re planning to cook up a Vietnamese feast. Hoi An is also renowned for its excellent tailoring and Central Market’s garment makers are some of the best, whipping up a dress, shirt, jacket or full suit usually within just a single day.

Closer to the centre of town is Hoi An’s photogenic Night Market overlooking Thu Bon River. Spend the evening shopping for local snacks, clothes, accessories and souvenirs under the market’s picturesque array of hanging lanterns. If you find yourself peckish in between browsing stalls, there are plenty of street food vendors to choose from as well – the coconut popsicle ice cream comes highly recommended.

Bright lanterns and scarves inside a market in Hoi An. Photo: Getty Images

It's full of delicious Vietnamese cuisine

Blending complex flavour combinations and fresh ingredients, you won’t find better Vietnamese food than in the heart of Hoi An. Locally-made banh mi (a sandwich made with French baguette, pate, meats and fresh herbs) is a must-try for anyone passing through Vietnam, and for the best of the best, you’ll have to stop by Banh Mi Phuong – a small street stall turned two-storey restaurant made famous by none other than Anthony Bourdain.

Other culinary highlights include pho (a steaming noodle soup dish), banh xoai (a glutinous rice cake shaped like a mango) and banh xeo (a crispy savoury pancake). For local specialities, opt for Hoi An’s delicate, translucent dumplings known as white rose, as well as pork noodles cao lau – a hearty dish topped with crackling, bean sprouts, lettuce and crispy deep-fried noodle squares.

Spring rolls and noodles for sale at a roadside stall. Photo: Getty Images

It’s perfect for hitting the beach

If you’re looking for the closest beach to town, grab a taxi or bike your way to Cua Dai, home to scenic views and dazzling sunsets. Despite coastal erosion making Cua Dai narrower and narrower, the beach still attracts a flurry of visitors on a daily basis with its good vibes and a handful of places to eat.

Alternatively, make your way through Hai Ba Trung Street towards An Bang, the most popular beach in Hoi An. Here, you can spend the day lounging on the beach’s soft sand and swimming in its cool waters (some cafes and restaurants will offer umbrellas and sunbeds in exchange for buying lunch). If you’re seeking a bit of adventure, parasailing and jet skiing are both popular activities to indulge in, while stargazing on the beach (thanks to minimal light pollution) is the perfect way to finish off the night in An Bang.

Jihee Junn

Jihee Junn is a staff writer at The Spinoff who loves to write about travel on the side. Her previous trips have taken her to Europe, the UK, Japan, and South Korea.