When I traveled to Hoi An this past February, having just come from Hanoi, there could not have been a more stark contrast between these two Vietnamese cities. While I felt delightfully incognito wandering the motorbike-filled city streets of Hanoi, Hoi An had the atmosphere of a tropical beach town. The first thing one notices when they arrive in Hoi An is the color – it’s vivid, and it’s everywhere. From brightly painted walls to their infamous glowing lanterns at night, Hoi An feels like a feast for the eyes and sense in an aesthetic way that Hanoi cannot complete with. While I still rank Hanoi at my number one destination for food in Vietnam, Hoi An quickly grew on me with its hidden coffee shops, stunning tropical resorts, and above all, that cao lầu and mì quảng.
As always, don’t forget to check out #caro_in_vietnam for a photo diary of my travels!
Where to Stay
Ancient House Village – My absolute favorite place that we stayed in Vietnam overall was Ancient House Village. This tiny yet luxurious resort feels like an oasis that we stumbled upon in the jungle, and the rooms were little bungalows amidst the lush green of the countryside. Their infinity pool overlooks the rice paddies and is the perfect place for a morning dip, or to cool off after a long day exploring the city. They offer a free yoga class in one of their airy spaces, a shuttle service to and from town, and bikes if you prefer that mode of transportation. Note that there are two Ancient House locations, and this is the one farther removed from Hoi An town center. This is the one you want to stay at.
Lasenta Boutique Hotel – The other hotel that I stayed at in Hoi An felt vastly different than Ancient House, but lovely in its own ways. Lasenta feels more like a true hotel, is closer to town and less remote, and offers a decadent breakfast that’s included with your stay. The rooftop infinity pool is the highlight, and they also offer both a shuttle and bikes into town.
Where to Eat
Ong Hai – If I had to tell you one place to eat in Hoi An, it would be Ong Hai. This tiny, borderline street food operation is a little open air shop where you’ll sit on plastic chairs and order two things: cao lầu and mì quảng. These are the local noodle dishes in Hoi An, and I loved this place so much that I went back twice (and could have gone daily, to be honest).
Morning Glory – I was wary of this restaurant, as it is more of a restaurant and is in Hoi An’s populous main area, but the food was truly delicious. You’ll have to put up with not so great service – they brought all of our food at once, both appetizers and entrees, so I recommend asking them to course it out if possible. Don’t miss the morning glory salad, and the minced pork with eggplant.
Bánh Canh Bà Quýt – This tiny street food stand is hidden down a back alley, and serves only bánh canh is specialty, another Hoi An noodle speciality. These noodles are very chewy, and I wasn’t as big of a fan of the texture, but it’s a good place to hit to try the local cuisine.
Banh Mi Queen – Skip the now-touristy Anthony Bourdain-recommended spot in favor of Banh Mi Queen – it’s truly incredible. I ordered one to share with my sister, then promptly ordered another. The spice is HOT but it is so ridiculously good. They also make freshly squeezed juices there, so don’t forget to order a watermelon or passionfruit juice on the side.
White Rose – Holy dumpling heaven. This is where you go to try the infamous for white rose dumplings, and man are they good. Go for breakfast when they open and get the “Vietnamese pizza” too. The icing on the cake is getting to watch the women in the back hand make the dumplings that you’re about to eat before your eyes.
Tra Que Vegetable Village – A little bit north of the city, this incredible organic farm is not to be missed. I recommend biking over there, exploring, and staying for lunch, where they serve everything that they grow themselves. Don’t miss the chia seed limeade and the veggie curry.
What to Drink
Mia Coffee – This little corner coffee shop has a lovely covered porch where you can sit for a quiet moment after shopping. Get the coconut affogato.
Mot Hoi An – Served out of a cauldron in the front of the shop, this is your afternoon pit stop for mot tea, a sweet, iced herbal tea that’s absolutely addictive.
Rosie Cafe – My favorite Hoi Ann coffee shop was Rosie, which is tucked away in a back alleyway and thus far from the wandering crowds. They have a delightful coconut coffee, and the space itself is fully of little corners for relaxing, reading, and having a quiet moment.
Reaching Out Teahouse – One of the most special places that I visited in all of Vietna was Reaching Out Teahouse. Their staff is deaf, and so there is no speaking here. You fill out a little card at your table with your requests and questions, and the ordering is conducted completely in silence. They also have an incredible selection of homemade cookies that you cannot miss – my favorites were the ginger, black sesame, and coconut. Sit in the back courtyard and stay awhile.
What to Do
Custom Clothing and Shoes – Hoi An is known as the town of tailoring, and many come to Hoi An to have clothes and shoes replicated or created from scratch. When wandering around old town, you’ll find store after store that beckons you in, and you’ll have your pick. I personally did not have any clothes or shoes made, but I know many who have come home with Reformation knock-offs and no one is the wiser.
March Gallery – This beautiful, local gallery was one of my favorite spots to pass through after coconut coffee at Mia.
Sunday in Hoi An – While this shop does feel a bit sceney and a little less authentic, it is nonetheless beautifully designed and fun to stop into. The combo of home goods, little extras, and women’s fashion and accessories is impeccably curated and could live in any major city.
Chula – This little clothing and accessory shop, owned by a Spanish couple, was another favorite place to stop in. There’s a bit of a boho vibe here, with lots of colorful patterns.
Explore old town – Hoi An’s ancient quarter is actually a Unesco World Heritage Site, filled with cobblestone streets, dangling hibiscus, and paper lanterns galore. Here are a few of the major landmarks that you’ll come across. Note that these tend to be prime tourist destinations, and I didn’t feel the need to go into each and every one. Wander the streets, see what looks appealing to you, and pop in!
- Phuc Kien Assembly Hall
- Japanese covered bridge
- Cantonese Assembly Hall
- Quan Cong Temple
- Hoi An Central Market
- Precious Heritage Art Gallery
- Old House of Tan Ky
- Sa Huynh Culture Museum
Chuc Thanh Pagoda – One of my favorite things that I did in Hoi An was visit this ancient pagoda, which is the oldest in Hoi An. The property was significantly more extensive that I anticipated, and although it’s about a 30 minute walk north of the ancient quarter, it is worth it for the peace and quiet and incredible architecture.
Hoi An Night Market – While Hoi An is certainly known for its night market, I personally found the experience to be touristy and skippable. If you must, do one wander through, see the bright lanterns, and then head elsewhere.