After spending the best week of my life exploring Son Doong (The World’s Largest Cave) I ventured southward towards Hoi An, Vietnam. It began with a Boomerang Bus trip to Hue City where I spent one night before jumping on a motorbike for a day of cruising which delivered me to Hoi An. I heard wonderful things about Hoi An before arriving and couldn’t wait to find out for myself. Friends from home told me it was a must see hidden gem. Friends in Korea informed me it was a tailoring capital of the world and new buddies in Vietnam told me I could be there in time for the full moon lantern festival!
The motorbike ride was an exhilarating experience that I highly recommend to any backpackers in Vietnam. From Hue to Hoi An or vice versa you can cheaply rent a motor bike with a group of backpackers and deliver it to the next hostel. For a few extra bucks they’ll ship your bags on the bus with less adventurous travelers. The trip south from Hue takes you over the Hai Van pass commanding a stunning view of the ocean with northern Vietnam above and Danang City to the south. (Danang City houses the closest airport to Hoi An & is only a $10 cab ride away).
Once you arrive in Hoi An you’ll be sure to enjoy a relaxing stay whether for few days or a weeks. I thought I’d only be there a few days and stayed all week! So, what is there to do in Hoi An?
1) Rent a bike. Many hostels have them and some even come free with the room. Biking is the best way to get around Hoi An; its a short ride to the beach from anywhere in town. You can bike through the rice paddies (or just follow the river parallel to them on your way to the beach).
2) Go see the Old Town. The old town has a bustling market and tons of street vendors. Its reminiscent of the French Colonial times while still maintaining authentic Vietnamese charm. You can find dozens of high end eateries sporting Western meals from $5-$15 or just grab a Vietnamese Sandwich from the vendor for $1. Best thing to do is use that bike to explore the old town too!
Shop in the Old Town for souvenirs! You’ll find handmade lanterns, delicate cards, paintings and more iconic knickknacks. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Old Town and visited everyday.
At night the restaurants along the river turn into party central as all the backpackers show up for the party. There are also family friendly Vietnamese street performances and a nightly lantern festival.
3) Lantern Festival! Hoi An is famous for its lanterns. There’s a lantern factory in town that hand makes them all and you can buy hanging ones as souvenirs or for $.50 you can purchase a floating lantern to light and drop into the river. This event seems to be nightly (at least in August) and a big tourist trap. I recommend buying from some of the vendors rather than just snapping pictures of them. They are dirt cheap and I always enjoy helping out the local economy.
If you’re interested you can cheaply rent a guided canoe to enjoy the festival from the less crowded river. The festival is marketed as a Full Moon Lantern Festival but it seems that the Full Moon part of it just makes the whole scene more crowded. I was there for a full week and the night of the Full Moon was too crowded to enjoy. I recommend visiting leading up to the Full Moon but enjoy a moonlit stroll along the beach instead of the bustling riverside.
4) Tailoring. Perhaps the most famous part of Hoi An is its worldrenown tailors. Whether you’re looking for leather, silk, cotton or any other material they’ve got it here and are master copiers. Show them a picture you found online and the next day you’ll have a replica sized better than what you’d find at the department store!
Haggle at your own risk! They’ll cut the price at the cost of materials & cutting corners on your goods. I bought 2 suits, some shirts and 2 pairs of shoes. The shoes I haggled on and needed to be resoled as soon as I got to Seoul. I went back for 2 fittings on each suit and was very happy with the quality. Prices vary greatly based on materials but expect to pay between $80-$200 per suit. A pair of custom Birkenstocks will run you $15 or you can spend up to $100 for some highly fashionable dress shoes.
5) Motorbiking to Marble Mountain From Hoi An you can rent a motorbike for the day and tool around the shore up towards Danang. Along the way stop at Marble Mountain and enjoy a short hike with a few small caves. If you aren’t up for Marble Mountain you can always just have a joy ride or head to the beach!
6) Cham Island.
You can join a SCUBA/Snorkeling tour to Cham Island. Most tours offer comparable prices and trips that give you 2 dive spots and a relaxing lunch on a private island. For any tours the best bet is to ask your hostel which group to go with. You’ll likely end up with a few fellow backpackers and its a more reliable than booking it on the street.
Where to stay: I recommend either a homestay or a hostel. Both options are inexpensive and enjoyable. If you head to Dong Kahn Hotel (DK’s house) they offer free bike rentals, an hour of free happy hour and cheap dorm beds ($10 when I was there but it seems prices have risen slightly). There are pricier hotels available closer to the beach, some even have their own private beaches but rest assured wherever you stay you’ll have an amazing time in Hoi An!