Hoi An Travel Guide: The Quaint Historic City for Budget Travelers
Out of the go-to Vietnam tourist destinations, Hoi An is one of the top three most visited places. And there’s no surprise why: the historic city center that hugs the river banks dons some of the most unique architecture around the country and offers a deluge of Instagrammable vistas on pretty much every corner. Though indeed very touristy, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in this cute seaside town – even on a tight budget. Take a look at our Hoi An travel guide to find the best picks for accommodation, budget-friendly activities, and eating out.
Getting around Hoi An: Easy Peasy
Hoi An is rather small, so you won’t break your wallet trying to pay for taxis, nor will have to walk for miles around downtown. Bicycles are often favored by travellers – as you won’t be exceeding 3-5 kilometer distances, and motorbikes cannot enter the historic city center after 6 pm. Pretty much all hostels and hotels will offer a bicycle rental – many for free, actually. Though I’d recommend test-driving your free bicycle before you set out. There’s a reason they’re free – they probably get a lot less TLC than bicycles you pay a small fee for.
Motorbikes are a good option if you’re lazy and don’t want to spend too much time in the blazing sun already on your way to the beach. Grab works well in Hoi An, too, if you prefer to be chauffeured around. However, if you’re staying in or hear the historic downtown, you’ll find walking from A to B the best way to get around.
Hoi An Hotels: Some of the best we’ve seen around Vietnam
Generally speaking, we found Vietnam to offer a bit more bang for your buck with accommodation, when compared to Thailand or various destinations around Sri Lanka or Myanmar. Especially when it comes to the beds. My oh my, how nice it was to sleep in actual mattresses – as opposed to the paper-thin slices of foam we have grown accustomed to in budget guesthouses. But alas, Hoi An hotels and guesthouses offer a fancy night’s sleep for little money.
Our Best Budget Stay to Date
You won’t find many high-rise hotels in Hoi An. Rather, the city’s architecture is conducive to cultivating that boutique hotel feeling that makes you feel just a bit more cozy. With the city center consisting of historic buildings and the immediate ‘outskirts’ sporting dozens of 2 or 3-story villas, you’ll find an immense number of small guesthouses and hotels. Each will have slightly varying amenities on offer.
We absolutely loved our stay in Silver Moon Villa. The newly-built 2-building villa has amazing beds (hello awesome mattress, an actual comforter, and fantastic pillows), aircon rooms, a pool, and very tasty breakfast included. Run by the friendly and helpful Moon and her family, Silver Moon Villa is sure to become a neighborhood favorite. It was pretty much our number 1 guesthouse during the Southeast Asia leg or our round-the-world trip. Motorbike rental on the spot is also possible, as are bicycles.
Other Wallet-Friendly Accommodation Options
We also spent a few nights in Sol de Villa homestay, which, while a bit cheaper similar than Silver Moon Villa (by 2 USD or so), also offered a slightly different standard. The breakfast was included here as well, and the bicycles were free to use. The caveat here is that free bikes are not that well mainained. Therefore, getting up a bit earlier and snatching up the good bikes is recommended.
If you prefer hostels, the Tribee Hostels, of which there are a couple around Hoi An, are favored among backpackers. Tribee Cham got good accolades from fellow travellers – perhaps partly due to the fact that they offer free beer daily during happy hour?
Hoi An Beaches: Swerve the touristy corners for a calmer experience
There are two major beaches immediately near the city: An Bang and Cua Dai. An Bang is the one closest to the city – in that it’s pretty much a straight shot from downtown, along a rice field-flanked road. It’s a nice beach and a perfect stop if you want to have a meal or a drink on the beach while here. Watch out for the parking mafia, though. When coming straight down and approaching the road, you’ll see people with whistles trying to flag you down, saying that you can’t take your bicycle or motorbike past that point. That is a lie. Any restaurant along the beach as parking for customers, so just take your bike directly to whichever restaurant or bar you want to go. On the other hand, the parking (even though just run by a random person who decided to set up shop there) is not expensive, and you’ll get the added benefit of someone watching your bike and helmets. Just be aware that not everything is as official as it seems, especially when there’s a random dude with a whistle trying to coax you into parking. We found this ‘scam’ one of the most annoying around Vietnam.
If you’re a beach bum, you’ll find An Bang to be a fine choice for lazying around and casual swimming. There are no high waves, and the sand is on the clean side – but the beach does tend to get crowded. If you prefer a calmer vibe, head down to Cua Dai beach. This was my preferred one of the two main Hoi An beaches, and one of the nicer beaches we’ve been to in Vietnam, as well.
The beachside restaurants here are fewer and further away from the surf. This means: more spacious beach and fewer people. Beachside public parking across from the Hoi An Beach Resort will set you back 5K, and there are some small stalls for snacks and drinks nearby. We chilled here for hours while sharing 500-meter beach radius with just about 10 people, and the water seemed to be clearer than at An Bang beach, too. People-watching is fun at around dusk when locals and Vietnamese tourists come out to swim or take selfies at the beach, whole families in tow.
Hoi An restaurants: Local cuisine and Vietnamese staples, combined
Hoi An is not just famous for its picturesque architecture and cute beaches. It also boasts some of the most delectable cuisine you can try out around Vietnam. It’s location in the middle of the country means you’ll find both southern and northern-style dishes, in addition to the regional specialties.
There are dozens of restaurants around the old city. But if you’re on a budget, head down to Nguyen Phuoc Chu street. You’ll find a series of small eateries lining the left side of the street, including the traveller-famous Mr. Son. Try a White Rose – delicate dumplings filled with meat and served with a tangy sauce – or Cau Lau – thick rice noodles served with pork, greens, and crackers.
Budget travellers will love Bamboo Chicken, located just off of the city center going towards Cua Dai beach. Their dishes are fair-priced and come with a free drink, plus their big bottles of Bia Saigon go for only 10,000 VND! The restaurant has a lot of local patrons, too, who come for the barbecue chicken. And if you’re in the mood for international cuising, Greek Souvlaki is a small shop downtown where you can get freshly-made pita, amazing hummus and pretty dang good souvlaki, of course. We were not disappointed.
Bahn Mi Queen is another go-to, famous for its sandwiches. Come early or at a random time between main meals, as it gets really crowded. Their fruit juices are very tasty, too. Keeping in line with the Vietnamese coffee culture we got to experience in Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll find dozens of cafes dotting the small alleys and riverbank roads in Hoi An.
What to do in Hoi An: Going Beyond the Hoi An Ancient Town
The obvious choice for visitors is sightseeing the Hoi An ancient town. With the profusion of Chinese diaspora architecture with local flare, it’s easy to get lost in the old city’s streets and alleyways. There are several prominent temples and traditional houses, as well as the heavily-visited Japanese-Styled Bridge.
If you want to visit the bridge, the temples, and the ancient houses, there’s a package heritage entrance fee you’ll have to pay. It costs 120,000 VND and lets you visit 5 sites of your choice. Tickets can be bought at various tourist info booths around town, and they will be checked at the site. On the bright side, if you don’t want to go inside the sites, there’s no need to buy a ticket. You can just walk around and take in the vibe of the town. The river offers not only picturesque views, but you can also hire a boat to take you up and down the water near old town. And if you’d like to contribute to said picturesque views, you can buy a lantern to set down to float on the water. Wait until sundown for the best photo ops.
Daytrips and Excursions
The nearby Cham Islands offer a good opportunity to trade the city for some seclusion and beach hopping. You can book a daytrip tour at pretty much any tour ticket counter, or through your hotel. Though we didn’t try it ourselves, this location supposedly offers decent diving as well.
The city of Da Nang is pretty close as well – just a half an hour ride from Hoi An. Check out the beaches there or browse the shops and cafes. It’s much busier than Hoi An, though. Not too far from Da Nang you’ll find the Golden Bridge. This recently-opened structure is part of the SunWorld Ba Na Hills theme park, set in the middle of the hills. The entry price there is quite steep, however. Since you can only access the bridge as part of the theme park, you’ll have to shell out the full 700,000 Dong (as of September 2018) entry. The park itself offers a selection of rides, trails, cable cars, and a replica of a “European” 18th century town – which is somehow the biggest attraction there. The bridge itself tends to be crowded, so it’s advised to go early in the morning. We ended up skipping this site because it seemed like too much of a hassle and too expensive. At the same time, several fellow travelers we met said that they loved it.
Getting out of Hoi An: Next Destinations
Hoi An is perfectly positioned no matter which part of Vietnam you want to explore. Take the long-distance buses to visit Da Lat, a backpackers’ favorite. You can also book a bus to the under-the-radar town of Quy Nhon and enjoy a place not yet overrun by tourists. If you’re up for a really long ride, the Hoi An-Ho Chi Minh City bus connection will provide you with plenty of time to kick back and relax on Vietnam’s notorious highways. Flying out of Da Nang is also an option. Depending on when you book, it might even be the same price or cheaper than a bus for domestic destinations. Regional flights are serviced out of Da Nang as well, so you can explore a host of other destinations around Southeast Asia. Need more inspiration on where to go? Then check out our other places we visited for comprehensive travel guides.