Hoi An is most known for its charming ancient town, which has been given Unesco heritage status, as a site of historical and cultural importance. The historic ancient town features buildings dating back from the 15th century through to the 19th century and they are incredibly well preserved. The old houses and buildings are simply charming and very photogenic, painted in a yellow-hue with wooden shutters and adorned with beautiful, colourful lanterns.
The ancient town is the main reason that Hoi An is one of the best places to visit in Vietnam. But, there’s more to see in Hoi An than just the ancient town. With rural countryside, rice fields, beaches and mountains, Hoi An is more than just a day trip. So, how long do you need in Hoi An? Personally, I think 3 days is a great amount of time to spend exploring Hoi An. This will give you enough time to soak up the atmosphere of the main town, as well as venture further afield.
With that in mind, I’m sharing my 3 day itinerary covering the best things to see and do in Hoi An, following my month-long trip to Vietnam in May 2022.
Contents / Itinerary overview:
Hoi An's charming Ancient town is a photographers dream!
Before we dive into the best things to do in Hoi An in 3 days, here's some advice for planning how to get there:
How to get to Hoi An?
When travelling to Hoi An, many of the buses and trains will drop off in Da Nang, which is 1 hour north of Hoi An. Da Nang is well connected with other large towns and cities in Vietnam, such as Hanoi, Nha Trang, Dalat and Hue. There's also an airport in Da Nang, so travelling from Ho Chi Minh City to Hoi An is also very quick and easy. and also has an airport. I always use 12go to book my transport in Asia, however it is worth checking with a local guide, or with your guesthouse to see if they know of a more local bus that will go directly to Hoi An.
We took the Futa overnight bus from Nha Trang to Da Nang, planning to jump off at Da Nang and get a taxi back to Hoi An, however the bus driver asked if we were going to Hoi An and told us that he would drop us off at a stopping point in Vĩnh Điện. From here, it would only be a 20 minute taxi ride to Hoi An, rather than 1 hour from Da Nang. I admit that we were a little sceptical at first - getting dropped off at the roadside at 5am, just hoping to find a taxi is a little unsettling! - but we were assured there would be taxis waiting, and luckily there were!
When it was time for us to leave Hoi An, our homestay booked us onto a local bus to Hue which left directly from Hoi An, so we didn't need to travel to Da Nang first, saving us both time and money.
Is Hoi An worth visiting?
For some, Hoi An is the highlight of their Vietnam trip, for others it’s over-rated. So, let’s set some expectations. Hoi An is very busy. It’s one of the most popular places to visit in Vietnam, so of course there are going to be other tourists there with you. But, as with all tourist hot spots, there’s a reason it’s so popular!
Personally, I loved Hoi An. It was one of my favourite places that we visited in Vietnam. It is a unique place and in my opinion, absolutely worth adding to your Vietnam itinerary.
The best of Hoi An, Vietnam: A 3 day itinerary
So now you know how to get to Hoi An, let’s look at some of the best things to see and do in Hoi An during your 3 days there.
Day 1 - Explore Hoi An’s Ancient town
On your first day in Hoi An, head straight to the ancient town and meander through the charming streets, admiring the decorated lanterns strung up between the beautiful historic buildings. Here's an itinerary for how to spend one day in Hoi An's ancient town:
1. Have breakfast in Hoi An old town
There is an abundance of charming cafes in Hoi An’s ancient town. Ranging from traditional Chinese-inspired tea rooms and rustic coffee houses to modern cafes. Set yourself up for the day with a delicious breakfast. Hoi An ancient town is also much quieter in the mornings, so on your way to breakfast, take this opportunity to wander around and get great photos with less crowds.
2. Explore Hoi An ancient town by bicycle or on foot
The best way to see the ancient town is by walking, however, cycling is also a great way to explore. Many of the home-stays in Hoi An have bicycles which you can borrow for free. Just be aware that the ancient town is not too big and you may find it tricky to cycle once the streets become busier throughout the day. There are also cyclo-rickshaws which you can hire to give you a ride around the ancient town if you prefer to just sit back, relax and take it all in!
As you walk around the historic town, there are some notable sites and buildings you will want to pay attention to, especially if you are wanting to take some photos of the town. Don’t miss these key sights and popular photo spots when visiting Hoi An’s ancient town:
The Japanese covered bridge
The Japanese covered bridge is one of the most iconic landmarks in Hoi An ancient town. Framed by vibrant yellow buildings on either side, the bridge is decorated with beautiful, intricate carvings and is a popular photo spot in Hoi An. The bridge dates back to the 16th century and was originally built to connect the Japanese and Chinese communities living on either side of the river.
Japanese covered bridge
Assembly Hall Of Fujian Chinese
The Fujian Assembly Hall is a place of worship, dedicated to a sea goddess. There are several buildings, paintings and attractions within the complex, but the most popular feature is the photogenic pink temple gate.
Old House of Tan Ky
The Old House of Tan Ky is one of Hoi An’s most popular and notable historic buildings. The house is an 18th century merchant's house which still has furniture and antiques inside. You can take a guided tour of the house if you’re interested in learning more about the history of the house and the family who lived there. Other notable houses in the ancient town are Quan Thang Ancient House and Duc An House
Cổng chùa Bà Mụ (The Temple gate)
This is another example of the stunning architecture in Hoi An’s ancient town. This temple gate features intricate carvings and sits behind a small lake, creating a beautiful reflection in the water. This is definitely one of the most beautiful photo spots in Hoi An.
The Temple Gate
3. Go Shopping in Hoi An’s ancient town
Hoi An is a fantastic place for picking up some quality, low cost items to take home or on your travels. In the ancient town, you will find lots of art galleries and boutique shops selling clothes, crafts, home ware, jewellery and souvenirs. There are also some great leather shops selling footwear, bags and belts.
4. Browse the Central market
After you’ve finished wandering around the ancient town, head to Hoi An's central market. The stalls in the central market predominantly sell fresh produce such as fish, fruit and vegetables, however you can also pick up some souvenirs here too.
5. Get something tailor made
Hoi An is famous for tailor shops, so if you want something tailor-made, here is the place to do it. Most of the tailor shops are just outside of the ancient town. Don’t be surprised if you are approached by shop owners promoting their services as you wander around town. Shop around, visit a few and ask to see the style book to see what they can do before you decide to buy. If you are in Hoi An for a few days and want something tailor made, it is best to go shopping on the first day as it will take a couple of days for the clothes to be made. Make sure that you agree on a day / time to collect the clothes and make any alterations needed. If you are only in Hoi An for one day, many tailors can also arrange to ship items home for you.
Although most of the tailor shops in Hoi An focus on suits and dresses, there are also shoemakers who can make sandals, shoes and boots to order too!
Shopping in Hoi An Ancient town
6. Finish the day with an evening stroll by the river
After your packed day of walking around Hoi An’s ancient town, head out for some dinner and a little stroll along the riverside, which comes alive at night!
On the river, small boats with colourful lanterns row up and down the river. The whole area is incredibly pretty as the lanterns shine brightly against the night sky. However, it is also very busy! As you walk alongside the river, every 2 steps you take, you are more than likely to be approached by someone asking if you want a ride on a boat (or a massage!)
It can be a bit overwhelming and a little frustrating as you cannot walk very far at all without being offered something. If it all gets a bit much, just head away from the river. As soon as you are a street or two away from the water it feels much calmer, quieter and more relaxed. It is also nice to wander the streets of the ancient town at night when the lanterns on the buildings are illuminated.
The main riverside path in Hoi An comes alive at night
Day 2 - Enjoy a ride on a basket boat and take a self-guided cycle tour
On your second day in Hoi An, venture out of the ancient town and explore the area around Cua Dai beach, as well as some of the suburbs and more rural areas of Hoi An.
7. Take a trip on Hoi An’s famous basket boat tour
A trip on a basket boat is one of the best things to do in Hoi An. (It is also sometimes called a coconut boat as coconuts are used to weave the boats into a basket shape). Usually your homestay can arrange a tour for you and this is often the cheaper option. Our tour was great - we were collected by the boat guide on her scooter and we followed her on our bicycles which we borrowed from the homestay. The cycle ride to the water was about 5km and it was a lovely ride outside of Hoi An.
The boat guide rowed us through the coconut trees, which was really picturesque and beautiful. You can even have a go at ‘fishing’ for crabs in the vines (I was useless - it’s much harder than it looks!). After a serene ride on the water, you arrive at the party! There are several entertainers who ‘dance’ in the boats, making them spin really fast to loud music. You can even have a go in one of the boats as they spin you around. The performances are only short, but it’s fun to watch - just make sure that you give a little tip afterwards.
Also on the water you can try your hand at casting a fishing net or be serenaded by ladies singing traditional Vietnamese songs.
The time you spend on the boat is between 30 - 50 minutes, depending on how busy it is and if you want to partake in any of the other activities on the water. The price of a tour can be around 500,000 vnd (£18) each, however our tour, arranged by our (amazing!) homestay - Onion Homestay, was only 250,000 vnd (£9) for BOTH of us. Yes, it was a lot more basic as we cycled there and made our own way back, but we actually had a great time doing this and it meant that we got to see more of Hoi An. The basket boat tour is definitely one of the more ‘touristy’ activities in Hoi An, but it is also one of the most fun and definitely worth it.
The Coconut basket boat tour is one of the best things to do in Hoi An
8. Cycle to Cua Dai beach
One of the best ways to explore Hoi An is by bicycle. From Hoi An ancient town, you can cycle to the coconut basket boat tour area, and then from there continue to Cua Dai Beach. This is the most popular beach close to Hoi An, stretching along the coast for several kilometres.
At the time of our visit in May 2022, the beach was under a lot of construction and it was not the most picturesque. Many of the bars and restaurants around the beach were very quiet or closed - an aftereffect of the pandemic. It was not the prettiest spot to relax, so we chose not to stay at the beach, however we did enjoy a well needed drink at a local cafe nearby.
Despite the construction work at the beach, the cycle ride between Hoi An and the beach is definitely worth doing. Cycling along the rural back roads, past rice fields and grazing buffalo is a great way to spend a couple of hours. There are many local cafes, coffee shops and Bahn Mi stalls to take a break too.
If you’re feeling energetic, once you’re back in Hoi An ancient town, follow the river into the centre and cross the bridge over to Cam Kim Island. There’s not much in the way of attractions and amenities here, but you will see lots of rural buildings, and rice fields.
The main attraction of Hoi An is the ancient town, however I would really recommend venturing out into the quieter, more local suburbs to get a feel for the ‘real’ Hoi An. You really don’t have to go far from the centre to get away from the tourists and see the more rural side of the town.
There's no better way to explore the rural side of Hoi An than by bicycle!
9. Head to Hoi An’s night market
One of the best things to do at night in Hoi An is to head to the night market. Cross the An Hoi Bridge over the river to the smaller island, where the night market runs down the main street. Here, you will find stalls selling jewellery, crafts and souvenirs, as well as local food and treats to sample.
There are also several photo spots which have been set up down this street. For a small charge of between 10,000 - 30,000 vnd (36p - £1.10), you can take your own photos in front of a backdrop of beautiful hanging lanterns.
The night market is not huge and once you have finished strolling around the stalls, wander alongside the river. This side of the river is quieter than the mainland and there are plenty of restaurants that face the water. I much preferred this side of the river in the evening, it felt less hectic and much more enjoyable.
Day 3 - Visit the Marble Mountains and ride a rowing boat on the river
For your third and final day in Hoi An, head towards Da Nang and go on a day trip to the Marble Mountains.
10. Visit the Marble Mountains
Start the morning of your third day with a trip out of Hoi An to the Marble Mountains. The Marble mountains in Da Nang are one of the most popular attractions outside of Hoi An. It is best to visit the mountains in the morning, before the heat of the day, as it does get very hot walking around and there’s quite a lot of steps! There are many organised trips you can take to the Marble Mountains, but in all honesty, you don’t need a tour guide to visit. If you are comfortable riding a scooter, then you can drive yourself, otherwise you can arrange for a taxi to take you. You need about 2 hours to explore the Marble Mountains and it’s just a 25 minute drive from Hoi An. Our homestay arranged a taxi to take us, wait and then bring us back. The cost of this was 500,000 vnd (£18).
The Marble Mountains consist of 5 limestone mountains, named after the 5 elements of nature: metal, wood, water, soil and fire. The mountains are a historic place of worship, although today the site has been developed into more of a tourist attraction.
Entrance to the Marble Mountains is usually 40,000 vnd per person (£1.45) plus 15,000 (50p) for the lift up the mountain, however at the time of our visit in May 2022, we paid 45,000 each for both the entrance and lift. (I’ve since read that the entrance fees have been waived for visitors throughout 2022, so I think it may depend on the day and who is at the ticket booth!)
The largest cave, and main attraction in the Marble Mountains, is the Huyen Khong cave. Apparently it was used as a secret base for the local revolutionary officers in the war time. The limestone cave is certainly very impressive. In the centre of the cave sits a large statue of Buddha and with small shrines carved out of the stone on either side. It feels very calm and tranquil inside this cave.
The Main cave of Huyen Khong in the Marble Mountains is really impressive
The second largest cave in the Marble Mountains is Hell cave, which is dedicated to Karma. This is definitely an unusual cave! Inside the Hell cave, there are various sculptures and carvings of devil-like creatures and gruesome characters!
The smaller caves in the complex are also nice to see, but not as impressive as the two largest. There’s also several tall pagodas, decorated with colourful carvings.
At the time of our visit in May 2022, there was some construction taking place and it appeared that a new pagoda was being built. The site is becoming more of a tourist attraction, so if you are coming to the Marble Mountains expecting it to be natural and untouched, you will be disappointed. However, the size of the caves is impressive (though it is no match for the incredible Paradise cave in Phong Nha!) and it is a great way to spend a couple of hours on a trip from Hoi An. I personally enjoyed the few hours we spent here.
After your morning at the Marble Mountains, enjoy a long lunch back in Hoi An and treat yourself to a well deserved gelato!
Hell Cave at the Marble Mountains is definitely an interesting cave!
11. Enjoy a ride on the river at night
One of the most popular things to do in Hoi An at night is to take a ride on a rowing boat along the river. There are many small rowing boats which can seat 1-4 people. If you are in a bigger group, there are some larger boats at the end of the river, close to the central market. Make sure that you negotiate the cost of the rowing boat and also the duration! Some boats will take you up and down the river for 30 minutes, whereas some journeys only last for 20, so make sure you know exactly what you are paying for. You will be asked to wear a life-jacket, and they are quite strict about this, so any photos you take will feature a rather fetching bright orange life vest!
As you might expect from any popular activity, it does get busy. Don’t expect to have a romantic, tranquil boat ride, but it is fun and one of the must-do activities when visiting Hoi An.
A ride on the small rowing boats is one of the best things to do at night in Hoi An
More day trips from Hoi An
If you have longer than 3 days to spend in Hoi An, or you have already seen enough of the ancient town and are looking for something else to do, here are some other great things to do on a day trip from Hoi An:
12. Visit My Son Sanctuary
My Son Sanctuary is one of the most important historical and cultural sites in Vietnam. A Unesco heritage site, it consists of the ruins of several Hindu temples, dating back to the 4th -14th century. My Son Sanctuary is 1 hour drive west of Hoi An, making it a great location for a day trip. To get there you can hire a driver for the day, join an organised tour, or if you are an experienced and confident rider, you can rent scooters and ride there.
13. Take a day trip to Cham Island
Cham Island is just 15km off the coast of Cua Dai beach in Hoi An and is known for its crystal clear waters and coral reefs. Snorkelling is one of the most popular things to do on Cham Island and there are several boat trips you can book which include snorkelling. If you prefer to explore at your own pace (and you’re an experienced rider), you can rent a scooter for a few hours to visit the various temples and markets around the island. Or simply find a spot on the beach and relax!
14. Go to the Ba Na Hills
The Ba Na hills are a mountain range, just west of Da Nang and just over an hour from Hoi An. Most visitors go to the Ba Na hills to visit the Sunworld theme park. There are various rides and attractions at the theme park, but the most famous are the golden gate bridge and cable car ride, both of which are said to offer panoramic views over the mountain range.
15. Ride the Hai Van Pass
Vietnam is known for being a country of winding roads with incredible views and the Hai Van pass between Da Nang and Hue is one of the most famous stretches of road in Vietnam for motorcyclists. The actual pass is only 21km, however many companies offer a tour where they will take you from Hoi An to Hue, incorporating the Hai Van pass into the journey. If you are planning to travel to Hue, or are heading north in Vietnam, this is a great way to complete the pass, enjoy a day out and also get transport to your next destination! If you are not a confident rider, you can be a passenger on the back of a guide’s bike instead and all your bags will be strapped on and taken with you. (If you are travelling south, you can also do this in reverse from Hue to Hoi An).
That wraps up my 3 day itinerary with some of the best things to do during your visit to Hoi An. I hope you enjoy your visit to this beautiful historic town, and if you are looking for somewhere a little more rural to visit after Hoi An, check out Trang An and Tam Coc in the beautiful region of Ninh Binh.
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