A complete guide to Hội An
Hội An is undoubtedly the jewel of Vietnam, and it's no secret - its old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most popular spots in the entire country. I spent three nights here and despite the presence of many other tourists, I loved it.
The port was once a bustling epicentre of trade and now, centuries later, it is a well-preserved backwater with old merchant quarters, tea houses and temples to explore.
What to do
This small city packs a lot in its yellow walls; you could spend a week here and barely scratch the surface. One of the best things to do is wander the streets with no final destination in mind, walking down its inviting alleyways and across it's teak bridges.
Take a cooking class
As with restaurants, there are many cooking classes to choose from in Hội An. Among the most popular are Bay Mau, Green Bamboo and Thuan Tinh. The latter involves attending the market to buy ingredients, boarding a boat to a small island near the mouth of the river and preparing some of Vietnam's best known dishes (think spring rolls, pho and papaya salad). Cooking classes tend to cost between 350,000 - 550,000 VND / $15 -$23.
head to the Beach
An Bang is the most popular beach nearby and it is a short 5km cycle from the centre of Hội An. Many cafes and restaurants will allow you to leave your bike there for free in exchange for buying a drink or two. Cua Dai beach is severely eroded so most people head straight for An Bang.
Buy some jewellery
We fell in love with Lotus, a peaceful jewellery store that sells a range of high-quality pieces. Owned by Phil, an Australian, and his Vietnamese wife Mandy, Lotus promotes a relaxed shopping experience. There is no haggling, no pressure to buy, and certainly no one chasing you out of the door with a calculator!
My mother kindly bought me a pair of earrings in the shape of conical hats, and I wear them often now I'm back in London. For the quality of jewellery on sale, the prices are very reasonable.
Top tip: There are two branches of Lotus, one at 53A Tran Phu St (which is the larger of the two) and the other at 82 Le Loi Street. Find out more here.
Explore the Old Town's museums and temples
You can buy a ticket at designated booths for 120,000 VND / $5 to explore the sites of Hội An's old town. Valid for 10 days, it allows you to choose five heritage attractions out of 22 to explore. The museums are typically small, and quick basic tours operate at most of the old houses. When you purchase your ticket, you will receive a detailed map with the attractions listed - review them all and choose the ones that most interest you. We enjoyed the house of Tan Ky and Phuc Kien Assembly Hall.
Cycle the rice fields & stop at tRA QUE VEGETABLE VILLAGE
Hiring a bicycle is an easy and cost-efficient (around 20,000 VND / $1) way of exploring the countryside surrounding Hội An. It will take around 15 minutes to get to Tra Que Vegetable Village, a pretty plot of lush vegetables which are grown organically. It costs 20,000 VND to enter and explore on your own, and it's a nice way to break up a journey through the rice fields or to the beach.
Visit a tailor
There are literally hundreds of tailors in Hội An, offering you the chance to get a suit, dress or even handbag made for decent prices. We didn't get anything made ourselves, but spoke to enough people to get a few tips on how to go about it. Firstly, make sure you have a minimum of four days to allow time for readjustments. Next, think of a design, including details on the fabric, stitching, lining, etc. Talk to as many people as possible and read reviews online to find out which tailors may be best for you. On visiting these tailors, be prepared to bargain. Most people said that dresses start from around $50 and suits start from $75, although it seems to be the case that you get what you pay for.
Top tips: Take reviews and local recommendations with a pinch of salt. Many tailors offer a discount following a five-star TripAdvisor review and some hotels operate a commission scheme with certain tailors.
If you're unsure if a material is 100% silk, check with the fire test: real silk will burn but synthetic materials will melt.
Check your garments for flaws in the stitching before taking them away - any loose ends will need fixing if you want your clothes to last.
Go on a day trip
There are lots of day trips within a short distance of Hội An.One of the most popular includes a trip to the ruins of My Son, some of which date back to the 4th century. These temples are located in what was the political and religious heart of the Champa Kingdom. Most people visit on a tour (there are plenty of options to book a tour in Hội An) but it is also possible to visit independently.
Where to eat
To say that you'll be spoilt for choice when it comes to eateries in Hội An is an understatement. There are hundreds of restaurants to choose from, but the below knocked our socks off and consistently receive high praise from fellow travellers.
This restaurant was recommended to me by three different people on separate occasions in the UK, so I made a reservation as soon as I knew the dates I was going to be in Hội An (this is advised as it can get very busy). Specialising in fusion food that includes steamed buns (bánh bao kep) and cheesecake (bánh em pho mai) on the menu, it is seriously dreamy.
The interior is gorgeous, with duck egg blue walls and twee wooden chairs. It is situated down a small alleyway near the Japanese Bridge - we managed to get there without paying a fee to cross the bridge, but you may be required to pay.
Main meals are around 90,000 VND / $4.00, desserts around half that and a beers from 30,000 VND / $1.30.
Top tip: If you're heading to An Bang Beach, head to Nu Eatery's sister restaurant Sea Shell.
White rose (bánh bao vac) are a speciality of Hội An - little flowers of white dough typically filled with minced shrimp or pork. This is a signature dish at Miss Ly (70,000 VND / $3), who has been serving up white roses along with wontons and cao lau for over twenty years.
The vibrant atmosphere and quaint interior, with dark wood tables and antique paintings adorning the walls, makes it a charming place to lunch.
Expect to pay around 400,000 VND / $7 for two people.
Surprisingly, Hội An also does delicious Indian food. Ganesh specialises in North Indian curries and traditional tandoor oven naan bread, with a great atmosphere to boot. There's excellent vegetarian options and it won't break the bank either.
A meal for two (including poppadoms, curry, rice and naan) with beer / lassi should set you back around 400,000 VND / $17.
Top tip: There are branches of Ganesh in other areas of Vietnam, including Mũi Né, Nha Trang, Huế and Ho Chi Minh City.
Phi Bánh mì
This little place offers traditional Vietnamese pork rolls for 15,000 VND / $0.65. I had quite a lot of bánh mì during my month in the country and this has to be one of the best.
It's around a ten minute walk from the Old Town but totally worth it, plus you get to walk down some pretty side roads to get here.
The Thai Kitchen
Run by a husband and wife duo in a room at the front of their family home, Teo comes from Spain and manages front of house while Nid cooks up authentic Thai curries (around 120,000 VND / $5).
It had only recently opened when we visited, but it seems to be taking Hội An by storm now.
Reaching Out Tea House
This place is special: a beautiful cafe that encourages silence. I've written more about it here.
Other places to consider...
...include Morning Glory for dinner and Mango Mango for live music and cocktails. If you're mad for bánh mì, find Madam Khanh, also known as the Bánh Mì Queen!
Where to stay
Accommodation is slightly more expensive in Hội An than elsewhere in the country, but there are still great deals to be had. If you really want to splash the cash, consider a stay at a Lantana hotel (include Agoda link).
We stayed at... Golden Bell Hội Anboutique villa ($$) *link to agoda*
Situated a twenty minute walk to the Japanese Bridge, this hotel offers great value for money. The staff are superb, the rooms large and modern and there's a well-kept pool to dip your toes into.
Double rooms are around 575,000 VND / $25 per night, including breakfast.
WE ALSO RECOMMEND... Pham Gia Boutique Villa ($$)
This villa looks similar to Golden Bell, and is equally popular if review ratings are anything to go by. Rooms start from 750,000 VND / $25 including breakfast.
THE BACKPACKER FAVOURITE... Little Leo Homestay and Hostel ($)
Located in the Tan An district (a twenty minute walk from the Japanese Bridge) this hostel has dorm beds from 115,000 VND / $5 and double rooms from 300,000 VND / $13 per night. If you're on a budget, you could do far worse than Little Leo's.
The nearest airport is Da Nang, 30km away, with domestic as well as some international flights from Asia landing here. There are numerous taxis (around 450,000 VND / $20) and shuttle minibuses (around 500,000 VND / $7) that run to Hội An. These can be arranged with your accommodation, a travel agent or secured on arrival.
If you want to travel by train, you'll also be arriving in Da Nang. The Man in Seat 61 offers the best advice on travelling by train in Vietnam (and most other countries!). From the train station, you can either take a taxi or shuttle bus to Hội An, or the public bus. This leaves from around 150 metres left of 299 Le Duan Road, which was a Pizza Hut at the time of writing. Both buses 01 and 09 go to Hội An's bus station, and the advertised fare is 25,000 VND / $1, although you may have to barter for something close to this, being a foreigner. A motorcycle taxi (xe om) to the old town from Hội An bus station is around 15,000 VND / $0.65.
Buses run also run from Vietnam's key cities, and your accommodation will be the best source of information on frequency, timings and cost.