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With Chinese assembly halls, Japanese pagodas and balustrade-fronted French houses, Vietnam’s prettiest town is well worth exploring. There are lantern festivals, cookery courses, talented tailors and pristine beaches, so what are the best things to do in Hoi An?
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Best things to do in Hoi An
1. Reaching Out shop
Becky visited Hoi An as part of a round the world trip taking her to 20 countries. She now resides in the small group tours team in our Bristol office.
Ambling around the yellow streets of Hoi An, I stepped into part-shop, part-social enterprise ‘Reaching Out’ quite by accident, but I’m so glad I did! Beautiful quilt covers and textiles, art-prints, hand-painted pottery, and intricate pieces of jewellery cover every wall. After showing an interest in pretty much everything, I was invited to see the workshop where a busy group were handcrafting items. The shop was set up to give people with disabilities the opportunity to learn skills and gain meaningful employment, and they are more than happy to chat and give an insight into how they work.
You could easily lose a few hours seeing the workshop before whiling away the afternoon at their teahouse. Staff take the stress out of choosing a brew with their tea taster options, and team it with a handmade sugary sweet treat such as green tea coconut candy. Although I did indulge in a piece of jewellery, I wish I’d brought an extra suitcase to bring more things back!
2. Green Bamboo Cookery School
Ali, a senior travel consultant for trips to Japan, tried her hand at Vietnamese cooking on our Indochina Encompassed small group tour. She thinks her cookery course is one of the best things to do in Hoi An.
You might think that arriving in waterlogged Hoi An to find that the lantern festival had to be cancelled would have ruined my trip, but that couldn’t be further from the truth! Rain or no rain, I fell in love with this saffron city almost immediately and it remains my favourite place in Vietnam.
A major highlight was the class I took at the Green Bamboo cookery school – even gathering the ingredients from the market was an adventure. The busy stalls continued trading as usual after the heavy rain and Van, the energetic head of the school, expertly waded through the water to get the pick of unusual fruit and veg!
She had specifically asked us to each pick a different recipe, which could have been chaos. But as we huddled around a big table with our fresh ingredients, she somehow managed to split herself 12 ways to help us without the aid of a cookbook.
In the final part of the class we saw the method in her madness as we took turns trying each other’s dishes. Even now, her leaflet of recipes give me a taste of Hoi An at home.
3. Tailoring in the Old Quarter
PR and marketing assistant Claire first travelled to Hoi An in 2014 and counts it as one of her favourite places in Southeast Asia.
Getting something tailor-made is one of the best things to do in Hoi An, so it’s made it onto many a traveller’s bucket list – mine included!
There’s nothing quite like sketching out ideas on a scrap of paper, picking silk from a book of swatches and seeing your ideas transformed into bespoke pieces. It’s not just clothes either – on my last trip to Hoi An I came home with a gorgeous pair of red suede sandals which I still proudly dig out each summer and my boyfriend had a tailored suit.
Hoi An is home to some of the most skilled and affordable tailors in the world, and the streets of the Old Quarter are bursting at the seams with shops. With so many possibilities, it can be easy to get carried away and leave with a suitcase full of ill-fitting clothes that you’re almost guaranteed never to wear.
To stand the best chance of getting exactly what you want, my advice is to do your research, know what you’re happy to pay and exercise a modicum of restraint. Tailors in Hoi An outnumber other businesses two to one, so be sure to read reviews and follow personal recommendations. I had a great experience at Bebe Tailors, they even gave me a cake for my birthday!
4. Heaven & Earth Bicycle Tours
Group tours manager Elisa remembers Vietnam fondly, particularly her time on two wheels.
By the time I reached Hoi An I thought I was used to the eccentric scooters in Vietnam; I had seen a family with five children piled high as they puttered down city roads, giant crates carrying live pigs attached to the back and bicycle riders swallowed up by mountains of flowers.
But it still took me aback when a petite lady arrived at my hotel with countless bicycles loosely slung over her scooter.
A small group of us set off on the bikes with a tour guide towards the harbour. As we boarded a rickety boat with the locals, I turned around for a perfect view of Hoi An from across the water. Once safely on the other side, we rode leisurely through lush green countryside, and past interesting architecture, small farmhouses, rice paddies and towering palm trees; a very memorable way to spend a few hours. Ask your hotel to jot down their address in Vietnamese in case you can’t find your way back – the locals are happy to help, but often don’t speak English. Also, don’t forget to pack some water! All this pedalling is thirsty work.
5. My Son ruins
Senior travel consultant Charlotte has travelled extensively through Southeast Asia, so we trust her when she says My Son is one of the best things to do in Hoi An.
Although they’re only an hour from Hoi An, the My Son ruins, surrounded by countryside, are a world away from the arty riverside city. The temples were constructed between the 7th and 13th centuries by the Champa Kingdom and are now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site; visiting them is a great opportunity to soak up some history.
If you’re feeling a bit templed out, you might wonder why it’s worth the trip. But this site is particularly interesting for two reasons. Firstly, the temples are dedicated to Hinduism and the god Shiva; the majority of temples in Vietnam are of other religious origins such as Buddhism or Taoism, so they have very different styles.
Secondly, the area was heavily damaged during the Vietnam War. The effect this had on the ancient site is very interesting – what might look like a design feature e.g. a pond, is on closer inspection in fact a bomb crater. Look out for the small museum at the entrance for some of the best examples of Cham sculpture that have been removed for their own safety.
6. Cham Islands
PR and marketing manager James swapped the busy city for an island idyll.
When stepping off the boat to the Cham Islands, you’re greeted with the perfect subtropical picture: white sand, palm trees and thickly-forested mountains. Surprisingly this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is only a 2 hour rickety boat ride or 30 minutes in a speedboat from bustling Hoi An.
As a diver, I was keen to see what the islands offered, but while a dip beneath the water does reveal a decent amount of marine life, the empty undeveloped beaches are the real draw. If you can tear yourself away from stretching out on the sand, take some time to see the laid-back local life. The islands have been inhabited for over 2,500 years and were sacred to the Cham people, but there are now just two small fishing villages. For me, a dive, a dip in the sea and a fresh seafood barbeque is the perfect way to see a different side of Hoi An for the day.
With plenty of free time, take your pick of the best things to do in Hoi An on our Highlights of Vietnam small group tour.
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