We stayed three nights in Hội An. Although we were not a big fan, it might be different for you. We saw many different types of travelers there and they seemed to be having a good time. This is a quick guide for whom Hoi An is worth visiting.
You should visit Hoi An if …
Hoi An is a very popular tourist destination for Asian and Western visitors. The reasons are plenty and every visitor might have a different one to go there. You should definitely visit Hoi An if…
… you are a fashionista
Hoi An is known for its numerous tailors, leather stores and shoe makers. If you want (and have the budget), you can get an entire wardrobe tailored overnight. For example, a fully tailored suit costs between 150€ and 300€. I talked to a girl who got a silk ballgown for 120€.
Although I was looking for a dress or skirt, I didn’t buy anything in the end. The mass of possibilities was just overwhelming. If you want to get something tailored, you should plan well what you want and what your budget is. You might find this guide helpful if you want to get something tailored in Hoi An.
… you are interested in Asian culture and history
The old town of Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage since 1999. Hoi An used to be an important trading port in Southeast Asia, trading with the Japanese, Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese and Indian from the 15th to the 18th century. The city lost influence as a trading port in the 19th century. Rather unaffected by wars and French colonization many buildings were preserved. If you want to know how an Asian port looked like 300 to 400 years ago, this is the place to be.
When entering the old quarter, you are kindly asked to buy an entrance ticket. It costs 120,000 Vietnamese đồng (≈5€) and is valid during your entire stay. With the ticket you can visit 5 out of 22 sights. We visited the Hoi An museum, a family chapel and an ancient house. During the visits we learned a bit about the history of the town and the architecture of the buildings. However, it wasn’t as much as I hoped for (even the museum). If you want to dive deeper into the history, you should probably book a tour guide.
… you are on your honeymoon and/or a romanticus
When we arrived at our AirBnb, the first thing our hosts asked whether we were on our honeymoon. At first, I thought that it was due to his cultural background (young couple traveling together). Later that evening when we were wandering around through the old quarter, we realized that Hoi An must be a popular honeymoon destination.
Once it gets dark hundreds of lanterns are lit and the old town sparkles in a hundred colors. We saw plenty of couples taking a boat to float over the river. It is supposed to bring good luck to light a candle and let it float on the river. We even saw a couple having their engagement pictures getting shot on one of these boats. At night Hoi An is definitely worth visiting if you are crazy in love or a Disney fan.
… you love nature and want to preserve it
Actually, you should leave Hoi An behind quickly and head to the An Nhien Farm near Triem Tay village. The farm is located on an island in the middle of the Thu Bồn River. The farm’s main goal is to preserve the island and the nearby village in a sustainable way. The farm serves as a community where tradition, knowledge and progress meet. The location of the farm and the village makes both especially vulnerable for flooding. By planting bamboo and other local plants, they try to tackle soil erosion.
We were lucky to be invited by founder Stoney to visit the farm and got the chance to talk to her about the project. They often have students or volunteers staying with them. So, if you are interested in environmental protection and want to learn more about it, just contact them. You might be lucky and they have a place to host you.
… you want to be an Instagram star
If you’re hunting the perfect Instagram photo, Hoi An will be your playground. Sorry if this sounds sarcastic, but we saw just too many Insta wannabes taking the perfectly fake selfie. Despite it being overcrowded Hoi An still has a beautiful scenery. Most houses are painted in this beautiful ocher-yellow tone. The yellow color should prevent the houses from overheating. As a nice side effect everything gets a goldish glow. They say that right after sunset it is especially beautiful (if you’re willing to get up at 5.30 in the morning…).
Not only for influencers, as well for (serious) photographers is Hoi An worth visiting. French photographer Réhahn has settled in Hoi An and shot many of his famous pictures here. You can visit a gallery with his works (that is the only thing we planned to do, but in the end didn’t make it unfortunately). You can get a first glimpse of his art here: 15 photos that will make you want to visit Hoi An
You shouldn’t visit Hoi An if …
I already admitted that Hoi An was not really what we expected. Hoi An might not be worth visiting for you if…
… you cannot stand mainstream tourists and pushy sales people
Being a world heritage unfortunately as well means that Hoi An is being commercialized to the max. Because we went off season, we were negatively surprised how overcrowded it still was. In the old town everything focuses on tourists. It made us wonder how much of the scenery is still real and how much was just made for tourists.
Another factor which made shopping for me so hard, were all those pushy sales people. It was impossible to stop at a shop and scan the products without almost being dragged into the shop. And once inside it was even harder to have a good look around. You can call me European, but I’ll leave a shop empty handed if someone tries to push me to buy something.
… you want to meet locals
This point is somehow related to the previous one. It felt like every single local had an interest in making money with us. This is especially annoying when you’re trying to enjoy your breakfast, but every five minutes someone else comes inside to convince you to go to their shop with you.
We found it incredibly hard to talk to locals, even at our AirBnb. Although it was called a homestay, it more felt like staying in a small hotel. Our hosts didn’t seem to understand that we’re trying to be travelers, not tourists. Every time we asked for recommendations, he tried to send us to another touristy restaurant. If your aim is to get to know Vietnamese life, Hoi An is not worth visiting (except the farm of course).
… you are on a tiny budget
Hoi An is full of tourists, and where are tourists, there is money. So, compared to other places in Vietnam (even Hanoi), we found Hoi An quite expensive. Especially in the old town, prices can be double what you’d usually pay. Our first breakfast turned out to be 293,000 đồng (≈ 11€) which is five times the amount we spent on a usual dinner.
It is not impossible to visit Hoi An on a budget, but you need to make smart choices. We survived on approximately 15€ per person per day (including accommodation). However, we consciously avoided expensive restaurants (except that one breakfast) or the spa. Although a 60-minute full body massage sounds tempting, you can get it at another place for half the price (approximately 200,000 đồng). For food you should avoid the old quarter and hotel areas and search for local places.
Places in Hoi An worth visiting
There are a few places in Hoi An which we enjoyed (mainly because you could hide from the crowds). These places in Hoi are worth a visit:
- Highway Coffee: When biking to old town, I saw a sign from the corner of my eye which I just couldn’t ignore: Highway Coffee. The owner is not only a funny, young dude. He as well invested a fortune in his barista equipment. Vietnamese coffee is very strong and, therefore, usually served very sweet. If you want to enjoy the taste of Vietnamese coffee beans but Italian style, the Highway Coffee is the place to be. He buys the beans from a local roastery and grinds the beans freshly right when you order.
- Cyclo’s Road: If you’re lucky, you can get one of the few tables at Cyclo’s Road. It is located just next to the river and the best place to watch people. (Game suggestion for the evening: The person who spots the biggest family wearing partner look, doesn’t need to pay the bill.) We liked it because it was different than the other places. Firstly, it was the only bar in the old town where they didn’t try to drag us in. Secondly, the bar owner just has a great sense of humor. You just can’t take him seriously. He doesn’t either.
- The Bird House: You might have seen in it on my Instagram profile. We spent an entire afternoon working at this lovely café. It is steps away from the famous Japanese bridge, but very peaceful and quiet. The prices are touristy, but the fresh juices and the coconut coffee were delicious.
While Hoi An was a bit disappointing to us, this does not necessarily mean that it will disappoint you. For many travelers Hoi an is worth visiting. It’s up to you to decide if you are one of the above traveler types. And in case you’re doubting, you only have one choice: Visit Hoi An and find out yourself!