First Time in Hoi An – Hoi An Travel Guide 2023
Hoi An is a charming ancient town located on the central coast of Vietnam. With its well-preserved old quarters, traditional wooden houses, colorful lanterns, and laidback riverside setting, Hoi An offers visitors a glimpse into Vietnam’s past.
For first-time visitors, Hoi An can be an overwhelming but exciting destination. This comprehensive travel guide provides everything you need to know for planning your first trip to Hoi An, from visa requirements and weather information to recommendations on where to stay, what to do, and delicious local cuisine. Read on for tips to make the most of your time in this historic Vietnamese town.
Where is Hoi An, Vietnam?
Hoi An is located along the banks of the Thu Bon River in Vietnam’s Quang Nam province, in the country’s central coast region. It sits approximately 30 km south of Da Nang and around 125 km north of Nha Trang.
The ancient town is midway between two international airports – Da Nang International Airport, which is 35 km away, and Chu Lai International Airport, situated around 50 km south.
Hoi An was a major Southeast Asian trading port from the 15th to 19th centuries. Its proximity to the Thu Bon River and the South China Sea made it a popular stopover for foreign traders and merchants.
Today, it retains much of its old world charm, with many buildings relatively unchanged since the era of the spice trade. Its riverfront location adds romantic appeal, especially as traditional wooden boats drift by.
How to Apply for an E-visa to Vietnam
Unless you have a visa exemption, you will need a visa to enter Vietnam. The quickest and most convenient option is to apply online for an e-visa before you travel.
Here is a step-by-step guide for obtaining your Vietnam e-visa:
- Go to the official Vietnam e-visa website and complete the online application form. You will need to upload a scanned copy of your passport photo page.
- Pay the visa processing fee using a credit or debit card. Fees are around $25 USD.
- Wait for the approval letter, which is usually sent via email within 1-3 working days. Print a copy to bring with you.
- Upon arrival in Vietnam, proceed to the e-visa counter at the airport immigration desk. Present the approval letter, completed application form, passport, and passport photos. Your entry stamp will be issued.
An e-visa for Vietnam is valid for entry at 28 designated international airports and border gates. It allows either single entry or multiple entries into Vietnam over a 30 day validity period.
Be sure to apply at least 5 days prior to travel to allow time for processing. Having an e-visa avoids lengthy visa queue waits upon arrival.
How is Hoi An’s weather? When is the best time to visit Hoi An?
Hoi An enjoys a tropical climate with distinct wet and dry seasons. The best time to visit is during the dry season from February to August.
Dry Season (February to August)
The dry months from February to August are peak tourist season in Hoi An. Days are hot and sunny with temperatures averaging 28-33°C (82-91°F). Humidity is moderate and evenings are pleasantly cool.
February to April see blue skies and less rainfall. From May to July there are sunnier days and slightly warmer temperatures. This is an ideal time for hiking, cycling, and spending time at the beach.
Shoulder Seasons (September to November; December & January)
During the shoulder seasons, temperatures are a little cooler (December and January average 20-26°C/68-79°F). There’s increased risk of rain but fewer tourists, so hotel rates are often lower.
September to November has higher humidity and chances of storms. However, downpours are usually brief. The countryside is lush and green after the rains.
Wet Season (June to January)
Hoi An’s wet season spans from June to January, though August-November see the highest rainfall. During this time, expect hot and humid conditions with daily downpours. Flooding may occur. Attractions are less crowded but some services may be reduced.
Traveling to Hoi An
From Da Nang
The vast majority of visitors access Hoi An through Da Nang International Airport. The airport is just 3 km from Da Nang city center.
By taxi: Metered taxis from the airport to Hoi An cost around 500,000 VND (£16/US$20) and take 30-45 minutes. Agree on the fare beforehand to avoid overcharging. Ask your hotel to arrange an airport transfer if desired.
By shuttle bus: Shuttle buses leave regularly from the airport to Hoi An, priced around 100,000 VND (£3.25/$4). The journey takes 1 hour. Tickets can be booked via your hotel or travel agent.
By private car: Hiring a private car and driver for airport transfers allows door-to-door service. Rates are around 500,000 VND (£16/$20). Check with your accommodation for quotes.
From Other Destinations
Hoi An’s Da Nang International Airport receives domestic flights from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Nha Trang. There are also regional flights from Singapore, Seoul, Hong Kong, and more.
From Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, it takes 2 hours by plane versus 14-24 hours overland.
Flying is quicker and more comfortable than taking the train or bus from northern or southern Vietnam.
Where to Exchange Currency
The official currency of Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). Cash is preferred for most transactions in Hoi An, though credit cards are accepted at some hotels, restaurants, and shops.
Avoid exchanging money at the airport, as rates are very poor. There are several options for exchanging money in Hoi An:
- Most hotels and resorts have currency exchange services with decent rates. This is the most convenient option.
- Travel agencies and tour operator offices around town also offer currency exchange. Vietnam Backpacker Hostels change cash and traveler’s checks.
- There are ATMs scattered around the historic quarter. Major banks include Vietcombank, Agribank, and Sacombank. Check for transaction fees and withdrawal limits.
- Gold shops on Tran Phu Street will exchange currency at local rates but selection may be limited. Compare exchange rates before buying gold.
When out exploring, always have some small change for things like tuk-tuk rides, street food, and entrance fees. It’s also wise to carry a mix of small and large denomination bills.
Best Areas to Stay in Hoi An
Hoi An offers a wide array of accommodation options. The best areas to stay are in or near the atmospheric Ancient Town district along the river.
Staying in the historic Ancient Town area allows you to be right among the shops, restaurants, and attractions. Boutique hotels, family-run homestays, and rental apartments are available. It’s busy until late at night but very walkable.
- Immerse yourself in the charming historic Quarter
- Everything is accessible on foot
- Lively nightlife on your doorstep
- More touristy and crowded
- Higher prices than outskirts
- Rooms book up fast
An Hoi Peninsula
Just across the river, An Hoi Peninsula offers scenic river views and a more local vibe. This area has an excellent selection of mid-range hotels and resorts. It’s a 5 minute walk over the bridge to Ancient Town.
- Removed from tourist crowds
- Riverside scenery and peaceful atmosphere
- Affordable 3-4 star hotels
- Less restaurant and bar options
- Farther walk to central sights
Along the Beach
Resorts and hotels dot the coastline stretching northeast from Ancient Town. This area combines beach access with proximity to town. It’s great for cyclists. An Bang is the nicest beach.
- Centrally located between city and ocean
- Spacious rooms and pools at beachside resorts
- Live music at night in An Bang village
- Less culture and history
- Regulations limit coastal development
- Beach gets crowded on weekends
Best things to do in Hoi An
Hoi An offers a wonderful mix of cultural sights, natural beauty, and fun activities. Here are some must-do experiences for your first visit:
Explore the Old Town
Meander down the narrow lanes criss-crossing the Ancient Town quarter to discover shrines, temples, historic homes, and small museums. Highlights include the iconic Japanese Covered Bridge and the Assembly Hall of the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation.
Don’t miss the Central Market and the colorful array of lanterns lining the streets by the river. Visit by day and night for two different experiences.
Relax on An Bang Beach
An Bang is Hoi An’s nearest beach, located 3 km northeast of town. It has soft white sand, gentle waves, beachfront restaurants, and lounge chairs and umbrellas for rent.
Go for a refreshing swim, enjoy local seafood BBQ, or try fun watersports like stand-up paddleboarding. Catch a golden sunset then stay for the beachfront night market.
Take a Cooking Class
Take a half-day cooking class to learn how to prepare popular local dishes like fresh spring rolls, cao lau noodles, and shrimp wrapped in rice paper. Classes include a market tour to select ingredients.
The hands-on experience and secret family recipes let you recreate the cuisine back home. Morning classes also make a tasty alternative to breakfast at your hotel.
Get Custom Clothes Made
One of Hoi An’s traditional crafts is tailoring and dressmaking using high quality fabrics. The Old Town has hundreds of boutiques and tailor shops ready to create bespoke clothing for you in as little as 24 hours.
Get measured for suits, dresses, shoes, and accessories. Silk lantern making classes are also available if you have more time.
Cycle through Rural Villages
Experience a more authentic side of Vietnam by taking a bicycle ride through the countryside outside Hoi An. Ride past rice paddies, farms, pagodas, and rural villages. Many tours include stops at pottery workshops or herb nurseries along the way.
The rides provide gentle exercise and a glimpse into Vietnamese daily life beyond the tourist crowds. Half-day small group tours can be easily arranged.
Day Trips from Hoi An
Aside from all there is to see and do in Hoi An itself, the town makes an ideal base for taking memorable day trips into the surrounding region. Here are some top picks:
My Son Sanctuary
My Son was the most important spiritual and political center of the ancient Champa Kingdom. Located 45 km from Hoi An, this UNESCO World Heritage site contains ruins of Hindu temples and palaces dating back to the 7th to 13th centuries.
Tours range from half-day group trips to private excursions with a knowledgeable archaeologist guide. Wandering amid the atmospheric ruins is like stepping back in time.
Just south of Da Nang lies the Marble Mountains, named for the five limestone peaks dotted with Buddhist temples and shrines. There are natural caves to explore and panoramic views over the countryside from the summit.
Marble making and sculpture workshops can also be visited along the way. Most full day tours from Hoi An combine the Marble Mountains with other sights like China Beach or the Cham Museum.
Ba Na Hills Resort
For a scenic day in the mountains, visit Ba Na Hills Station resort perched 1,487 meters above sea level. Ride Vietnam’s longest and highest cable car up to the top to enjoy gardens, old French ruins, and walking trails.
Go for the views, mild weather, and opportunities for mountain biking, with the option to return to Hoi An in the evening. The resort area has restaurants, cafes, and family activities too.
Thanh Ha Pottery Village
Thanh Ha is small village 7 km outside Hoi An renowned for its 500 year tradition of pottery and tile making. Local artisans still use age-old techniques to produce everything from household ceramics to decorative wares.
Tours visit family pottery workshops where you can watch experts at work and try your hand at the wheel. It provides a fascinating glimpse into a generations-old craft.
Where to Eat in Hoi An
Visitors to Hoi An are spoiled for choice with a huge array of dining options ranging from street food stalls to fine dining. Here are some top picks for getting a taste of authentic Vietnamese cuisine:
Sample Hoi An’s unique dishes like cao lau – noodles mixed with pork, greens, and croutons in a rich broth. White rose dumplings are another specialty, as well as banhxeo (savory crepes).
For cheap, authentic local food check out Hoi An market. High end restaurants in the Old Town also serve local delicacies.
Head to An Bang Beach in the evenings to find locally run seafood BBQ restaurants. Pull up a mat and enjoy incredibly fresh grilled shrimp, squid, clams, crab, and fish.
BBQ accompanied by cold beers or coconuts is a fun, casual dining experience with views of the boats bobbing in the harbor.
For romantic waterfront meals, choose a restaurant along the Thu Bon River. Lanterns adorn the patios at these eateries, many housed in traditional old timber buildings.
Dine on Vietnamese fare or western comfort food while admiring Hoi An’s beautiful illuminated bridges. Book river cruise dinner tickets for a floating meal.
Cafes & Bakeries
Hoi An has amazing bakeries selling freshly baked breads, cakes, pastries and Vietnamese iced coffee. Try unique local sweet treats like banh vac (sesame balls) or fried doughnuts.
The West-meets-East influence is seen in croissants stuffed with pork and pate. Cafes offer shady patios for escaping the heat.
Take a half-day cooking class and learn to recreate Vietnamese dishes after visiting the central market. The hands-on lessons are fun and interactive plus you get an amazing multi-course meal.
Classes typically cover local specialties like fresh and fried spring rolls, banh xeo, Hoi An pancakes, and white rose dumplings. They run mornings or evenings.
Which Cafes to Visit in Hoi An
Hoi An has an array of cute cafes to stop in for a break from sightseeing. Here are a few favorites:
This peaceful canal-side cafe serves exquisite Vietnamese coffee, teas, smoothies, juices, and luscious cakes. Relax in the lush garden patio dotted with lanterns. They roast coffee beans on-site.
Cong Ca Phe
This funky retro-themed cafe chain celebrates Vietnam’s coffee culture. Try traditional drip coffee or unique concoctions like coconut coffee and passionfruit black tea. Outdoor seating offers great people-watching.
Mima has a bohemian vibe with hanging rattan chairs, rustic wood decor, and live acoustic music at night. Come for the chic ambiance, fair trade coffee, paninis, homemade cakes, and strong iced tea.
Bamboo Buddha Café
Run by deaf locals, this little cafe uses sign language to take orders. Proceeds help staff gain hospitality training. Enjoy healthy Vietnamese dishes, fresh juices, smoothies, and teas either indoors or streetside.
Rosie’s is an expat-run daytime cafe dishing up American and Euro breakfasts like fluffy pancakes, eggs benedict, bagels, and burritos alongside Vietnamese coffee. Their fruit-topped waffles are divine.
Points of Interest in Hoi An (Map)
This handy map outlines the major sights and landmarks to help you navigate your time in Hoi An:
1. Japanese Covered Bridge – Iconic 16th century bridge with a temple in the center. Great spot for photos.
2. Old House of Tan Ky – Well-preserved 18th century merchant home combining Vietnamese, Japanese, and Chinese styles.
3. Cantonese Assembly Hall – Elaborately decorated hall dedicated to early Chinese settlers.
4. Central Market – Under one roof you can shop for food, clothing, crafts, and souvenirs. Open daily.
5. An Bang Beach – Picturesque stretch of coast 3km from downtown. Relax or try fun watersports.
6. Cua Dai Beach – Palm-fringed beach 5km from Ancient Town. Offers resorts, seafood restaurants, and water activities.
7. My Son Sanctuary – Atmospheric cluster of partially ruined Hindu temples dating to the Champa Kingdom. A UNESCO site.
8. Tra Que Vegetable Village – See organic gardening and farming techniques still used in this local village.
9. Thanh Ha Pottery Village – Centuries-old pottery and tile making workshops located 7km from the city center.
How to Get Around in Hoi An
Hoi An’s compact Old Town is easily explored on foot. For going further afield, here are the best transport options:
Bicycle – Rent a bike to reach sites like An Bang Beach, Tra Que Village, and Cua Dai Beach. Cost is around 50,000 VND (£1.60/$2) per day.
Motorbike – For experienced riders, motorbikes rent for around 120,000 VND (£4/$5) a day or US$10 for 24 hours. Drive carefully.
Taxi – Metered taxis are affordable for short trips. Flag down a Mai Linh or Vinasun cab or ask your hotel to call one.
How Many Days to Stay / Hoi An Itinerary
Most travelers find 2 full days allows adequate time to see Hoi An’s highlights at a relaxed pace. With limited time, focus on the Old Town, An Bang Beach, and attractions in between like Tra Que Village. For a more comprehensive experience, 3-5 days are ideal:
Hoi An in 2 Days
- Wander around the Ancient Town’s lanes and markets
- Cross the Japanese Bridge
- Visit the iconic Chinese Assembly Hall
- Attend a lantern making class
- Dine at a restaurant along the river
- Take a sunrise photography walk
- Get custom clothing made in Old Town
- Cycle to Tra Que Vegetable Village
- Relax at An Bang Beach
- Eat at beachfront seafood BBQ restaurants
Hoi An in 3-5 Days
Day 1: Follow the 2 day itinerary
Day 2: Follow the 2 day itinerary
Day 3: Join a street food tour in the morning. In the afternoon, take a countryside cycling tour or cooking class. Go see cultural shows at night.
Day 4: Take a day trip to attractions like My Son Sanctuary, Marble Mountains or Ba Na Hills.
Day 5: Get up early to boat to a fishing village. Have more clothing tailored. Enjoy a spa treatment or laze on the beach.
Bonus Days: Consider side trips to Hue, Danang, or Cham Island for scuba diving. Relax at a nearby beach resort.
Hoi An Travel Tips
Follow these tips to make the most of your time in Hoi An:
- Get an e-visa in advance to avoid immigration delays
- Pack light, breathable fabrics. Hoi An is hot year-round
- Wear insect repellent – mosquitos come out at dusk
- Drive carefully on roads; traffic is chaotic
- Bargain when shopping in Old Town or markets
- Try street food tours to safely sample local specialties
- Carry small bills; merchants may not have change
- Visit museums and attractions early before crowds
- Respect local customs: dress modestly at temples
- Book accommodation and tours in advance
- Get up early to beat the heat and crowds
- Drink only bottled water and watch food hygiene
- BYO toilet paper/hand sanitizer as facilities are limited
With its storied history, preserved architecture, vibrant culture, and mouthwatering cuisine, Hoi An offers an incredible depth of experiences. Follow this first-timer’s travel guide to effortlessly plan your trip and make the most of your time in this captivating Vietnamese destination.
Allow at least two full days to see the highlights like the atmospheric Ancient Town, lovely An Bang beach, and fascinating rural villages. Stay in or near the historic center for accessibility. Learning local crafts and eating your way through the region promises fun immersion into Vietnamese traditions.
Beyond its old world charm, Hoi An serves as the perfect base to venture further afield. Nearby day trips provide glimpses into Vietnam’s ancient civilizations, natural beauty, and rural countryside. Return home with wonderful memories and eager plans to explore more of mesmerizing Vietnam.