The UNESCO listed world heritage town of Hoi An feels like a period film set. Its photogenic yellow walls and brown tiled rooftops catch the sunlight beautifully throughout the daytime, and at night the thousands of hanging lanterns cast a soft glow over streets. The ancient riverside town is more than just a pretty face though, it’s a treasure trove of delicious food, art, history and even fashion. There’s even two great beaches nearby, and a world famous drive just an hour away.
With so much to do, two days isn’t guaranteed to be enough time to do absolutely everything, you might have to prioritise a little, but here’s just about everything we can think of doing in that short time.
8am: Bicycle Exploration & and Banh My Time
Hoi An is one of the most bicycle friendly destinations in Vietnam, given that motorbikes and cars are not allowed to pass through the perimeters of the “Ancient Town” i.e. the UNESCO protected central tourist area. Luckily, bicycles are rented en masse for just a few dollars a day, usually five or less.
Given the searing heat in summer, and the frequent heavy rains during the wet season, the best times to cycle around are in the early morning and evening. We’re huge fans of wheeling around the Hoi An before the crowds arrive -- note that this is an incredibly popular place to visit, and since it’s small in size, it isn’t long getting very busy with foot traffic.
When it comes to breakfast, nothing beats the world famous Banh My baguette for convenience, and indeed taste if you head to the right spots. Banh My bread differs a little from region to region, and plenty of people maintain that Central Vietnam bakes the best bread. It’s a little doughier and more flavourful than its southern counterpart, and more flavourful, but still crumbles deliciously in the mouth.
The most famous, and deservedly so, Banh My spot in Hoi An in Banh My Phuong, which garnered worldwide attention when revered traveling cook Anthony Bourdain ate here. Again, we recommend beating the rush here as come mid morning, the queue stretches out the door and onto the street!
When you’re done munching, pedal around to take in some of Hoi An’s must see spots, like the picturesque Japanese Bridge, the old period houses of Tan Ky and Phung Hung, and even head around to the bustling and colourful Hoi An market.
10am: Get kitted out at the tailors
Hoi An is Vietnam’s most famous place for tailoring, and the town is chock full of them, most of whom are more than capable of making good quality tailored clothes, bags and shoes in 24 hours. Make sure and seek them out early, so you can come back for a fitting the next morning before picking up the finished product later in the day. It’s not just suits that Hoi An’s tailors can make, but leather products too. We’ve picked up fantastic, durable leather bags, boots and jackets before.
11am: Laze on An Bang Beach or...
The old town can get pretty crowded throughout the midday hours, so it’s a good time to head out to the white sands of An Bang beach. It’s about 30 minutes away by bicycle, or a quick jaunt in a taxi, and the beach has become a popular spot for great cafes and restaurants too.
If lazing on the beach or one of its many nearby restaurants and hang out spots, why not take a boat tour out to the peaceful Cham Islands, where traditional villages offer up an abundance of delicious seafood where you can kayak, snorkel or even dive down to the tropical coral reefs.
4pm: Rehahn’s Galleries
French expat photographer Rehahnn’s portraits of the Vietnamese people, particularly of ethnic minorities in, have grown in fame over the past decade, so much so that Hoi An is now home to not one but two of his galleries -- the Couleurs d’Asie Gallery and the Precious Heritage Gallery Museum. You’ll be struck by his vivid images, which help bring to life the stories of some of the country’s lesser known people.
530pm: Sunset River Cruise
Few places in Vietnam put on a sunset show quite like Hoi An. The yellows, reds and browns of the town’s buildings catch the light in dazzling fashion, and the noise seems to dull for just a while as people settle into the evening.
It’s a perfect time to take a stroll down to the river front in the old town, where there’s always someone offering to take you out for 30 minutes or so on their boat. It’ll cost you about 5 USD per person, even less if you head out on one of the slimline sampan boats, and short jaunt out on the river gives you the chance to view Hoi An from a whole new angle
630pm: Cao Lau and the Hoi An Night Market
It seems like every town in Vietnam has its own signature noodle or rice dish, and when it comes to Hoi An -- Cao Lau takes home the crown. For starters, it’s nothing like Pho, Bun Bo Hue, or Bun Thit Nuong!
Char Siu style pork and veg on a bed of rice noodles, with a strong umami taste -- this is comfort food at its finest -- closer to Ramen than Pho. In the right places even in Hoi An old town, Cao Lau sells for as little as $1.50.
The best places to try Cao Lau are on the night marker side of the river (that’ll be easy to spot come nightfall). And when you’re all filled up, walk the calories off with a stroll through the market. It’s famed for selling beautiful, ornate lanterns for around 10-20 USD, depending on the size.
TIP: People just love taking photos next to the lanterns, and while this is a lovely compliment to the merchants, some do expect some form of compensation for the favour. We’d recommend asking for permission to have your photo taken!
7am: Hai Van Pass Tour / My Son OR take a cooking course
Now here’s a hard choice to make! If adventure, and stunning views are your thing, you simply must book a tour over the Hai Van Pass, a sensational stretch of mountainous coastline between nearby Da Nang and Hue. You can of course ride it yourself by motorbike, but that comes with all kinds of risks.
Don’t worry, there are dozens of options for booking tours by car, bus, convertible or even on the back of a motorbike with an experience rider.
An alternative tour out of Hoi An is to My Son, a UNESCO world heritage site. My Son is a group of dilapidated Hindu temples, constructed between the 4th and 14th century, back when the ancient Champa kingdom reigned supreme in these parts. The temples are an intriguing example of craftsmanship, featuring ornate, intricate stonemasonry, statues and towers, all surrounded by the dense central Vietnamese jungle.
And finally, if you’re in no hurry to get out of Hoi An for the morning, this might be the ideal time to build your culinary skills by taking a Vietnamese cooking course. Now wouldn’t that be the perfect gift to take home with you? The know-how to make delicious Vietnamese cuisine for yourself and your friends!
6pm: Sundowners & Dinner
Since last night’s sunset was spent on the river (or was it!?), this evening’s has to be enjoyed from above Hoi An. We’d recommend sudown drinks in just about any place, and while Hoi An doesn’t have “Sky bars” (and thank goodness for that!), there are a litany of restaurants, bars and cafes with open rooftops where you can sip on a cold drink, eat until your heart’s content and watch as day turns into night.
P.S. Don’t forget to fetch your tailoring!