This one-time Vietnamese trading port is now an established stop on the tourist trail, thanks to its perfectly preserved buildings, some of which date back to the 15th century. It’s no wonder UNESCO declared the town a World Heritage Site back in 1999 – it’s packed full of charm and atmosphere. Silk lanterns light the narrow streets, which are dotted with historic pagodas, temples and meeting houses. But modern life is here, too, and along the riverfront you’ll see bars, restaurants and 5 star luxury hotels. Inland you’ll find bargain-priced shopping and authentic Vietnamese food, but really visitors are drawn here for its culture and beauty. For such an old town, it’s unusually intact, and offers an unrivalled insight into Vietnam’s heritage. Here are top five things you can do while you’re here:
Explore the Old Town
You can wander around the Old Town for free, but there’s a charge for going into its buildings. For around $5, you can buy a ticket that will get you into five attractions, including a museum, old house and theatre. Highlights include the Quong Cong Temple, built in 1653, and the Museum of History and Culture. Keep in mind that there’s a dress code – men must wear a shirt, while women should keep their arms and legs covered.
Take a cookery lesson
Fallen in love with Vietnamese food? If you have fantasies of whipping up your own spring rolls and steamed bun dumplings when you get home, then take a cookery lesson. One option is to simply ask the chef at your favourite restaurant if he’ll show you his techniques. Or try one of the established cooking schools, which are used to teaching Westerners. The oldest is Morning Glory, which has classes to suit all levels. Five-star resort The Nam Hai Hoi An, offers a unique hands-on culinary experience. Join its executive chef on a trip to Hoi An market, pick out ingredients at the resort’s own organic garden, and create a signature local dish at a stunning show kitchen. Private and group lessons are available.
Go diving or snorkelling on Cham Island
The dive centre in Hoi An Old City offers daily tours to nearby Cham Island. Out there, you can explore coral islands, wild-rock formations and reefs, home to lionfish, snapper and moray eel. The company has a reputation for being well-organised and good value, and the packages on offer include overnight trips.
Buy a made-to-measure outfit
Around the Old City you’ll find no end of tailors who can create a made-to-measure suit for a fraction of the price you’d pay back home. They’ll do it quickly, too – in less than 24 hours. Take your own pictures, or choose from one of the hundreds of magazine clippings you’ll find in the tailors’ own look books. They also have dozens of fabric options. Most hotels and tailors offer shipping, so it doesn’t matter if you get carried away and order a whole new wardrobe, either.
Go on a bicycle tour
Explore Hoi An and its surrounding countryside on a bike. There are organised tours, where in-the-know guides take you to off-radar beaches and villages. Here you can get an insight into real Vietnamese life, as well as taking in some jaw-dropping scenery as you travel along the rice paddies or cross the Song Thu river delta.