Things to Do in Hoi An
History lovers flock to this 2,000-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site, where Hindu, Arab and Chinese influences are reflected in breathtaking architecture, eclectic food and rich culture.
Naturalists will appreciate the quiet beaches just a short bike ride from the city center, while wanderers will love the pedestrian-only streets of Ancient Town lined with quaint shops and bustling vendors.
Urban skyscrapers and big-city development have yet to touch this former shipping port, which means travelers can enjoy a taste of what Hoi An once was and what Vietnam used to be.
Tourists flock both day and night to this small bridge at the center of Hoi An, known as the Japanese Covered Bridge (Chua Cau), because of its picturesque beauty. As a result, attempting to cross the 12-meter structure will likely be faced with a labyrinth of kissing couples posing for photographs and backpackers loitering in its cool shade. Still detailed Japanese carvings, as well as monkey and dog statues—a nod to the years its construction began and finished—are worth the congestion and guaranteed headache of a trip to this Hoi An landmark.
The Cham Islands are a group of 8 small islands of Quang Nam that make up the Cu Lao Cham Marine Park and that are a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
This island offers visitors sandy beaches, rocky cliffs and crystal-clear waters. Hikers will appreciate the scenic views from forested trail heads and basic amenities of tropical campsites. Scuba divers will find coral, tiger shrimp and mollusk unique to this region, while lucky birders can peep Salanganes -- made famous in the country's bird's nest soup -- these islands are known for.
This 200-year-old Chinese trading house is a historic structure where contemporary travelers can bear witness ancient Vietnamese crafts. On-site artisans construct silk lanterns, practice traditional embroidery, throw terra cotta pottery and weave fabric. Guides explain techniques and offer insight into these traditional crafts. Visitors will find the prices fair and variety vast. Traditional shows are performed daily and these 45-minute events, which include music, dance and song, are worth sticking around for.
Cua Dai beach is a wide bay of palm-fringed coast 4km north-east of Hoi An. All glittering warm waters and white sand stretching for three kilometers, Cua Dai is a popular spot with both locals and travelers in the Quang Nam province. From Hoi An’s old town, Cua Dai Beach is a relaxing bike ride past rice paddies and Thu Bon riverbank. When you get to the water, you’ll see plenty of people enjoying jet-skiing, paragliding and kitesurfing.
Vietnamese for "big sea mouth," Cua Dai beach looks out to the Cham archipelago, and is home to some of Hoi An’s ritzier hotels like Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort. A popular late-night spot, Zero SeaMile beach club is particularly lively, especially at the weekend when it hosts its own beach parties. As Cua Dai Beach is part of the South China Sea, the waves don’t get too big, making it a good swimming spot that’s popular with local families, especially on weekends and local holidays.
More Things to Do in Hoi An
For centuries, assembly halls have been a place where migrant Chinese communities socialize and pass on the regional traditions of their home to future generations. With a population that’s over a quarter ethnic Chinese, Hoi An’s Cantonese Assembly Hall is one of five such hubs in town.
Founded in 1786, at the Cantonese Assembly Hall (Hoi Quen Quang Trieu), the colorful building materials you see today were first put together in China then shipped to Hoi An before being reassembled into the assembly hall, which has typical grand entrance gates that lead onto an ornamental garden, followed by a main hall and elaborate altar room.
Look out for the Cantonese Assembly Hall’s special flourishes, like the main altar dedicated to a red-faced Quan Cong, who symbolizes loyalty and righteousness. Also keep an eye out for the mosaic dragon statue by the entrance hall, and the even bigger dragon statue in the garden.
On the banks of the Thu Bon river in Hoi An’s old town, Central Market is a popular spot for travelers looking to experience Vietnamese culture at its liveliest. Occupying two narrow streets, the bazaar sells just about everything you can think of, from local handicrafts to spices to silk garments.
The food stalls are especially popular: each cook specializes in just one or two dishes like pho or banh khoai crepes, and the market is also well-known to those looking to get suited up by a tailor. You can find the tailors in the market’s east end. Prices are competitive and you can usually have your custom-designed suit or Vietnamese silk dress ready within 24 hours.
Look out for the fresh fish coming onto the dock for sale too. For the freshest catch, arrive for sunrise when it’s not yet too hot and the pace of Central Market isn't yet too frantic.
Hoi An is a popular spot for Vietnamese cooking classes, and Red Bridge Cooking School offers three different courses.
The most popular option is the half-day class: you’ll start off with a trip to Hoi An’s lively Central Market with your chef and teacher, who will give tips on how to pick the best herbs and ingredients. Then it’s time for a 4km boat ride along the Thu Bon river to the open-air Red Bridge Cooking School. Complimentary drinks and snacks are on-hand as you take your two-hour lesson and learn how to prepare local dishes. Ever wanted to learn how to make your own rose tomato? Here’s your chance. You’ll learn the art of Vietnamese plate decoration and food carving before sitting down to enjoy the meal you just created.
There is also a full-day deluxe cooking class: prepare dishes like beef pho and clay pot fish with dill (Cha Ca) as part of a four-course menu that you’ll learn to create over three hours of cooking.
In 1851, a renegade general of King Tu Duc’s Vietnamese empire plundered the ships of Chinese merchant sailors off the shores of Hoi An, killing over 100 men. In order to protect his back, the rogue general claimed the merchants were actually pirates -- it’s even rumored that he ordered the merchants’ boats be painted black so his case would be strengthened. When the truth came out that innocents were killed rather than pirates, as an apology King Tu Duc granted the Hainan Chinese community of Hoi An the money to build an assembly hall in memory of the merchants.
Built in 1875 near the Thu Bon River, Hainan is built in the typical style of Chinese assembly halls, with grand entry gates and an elegant courtyard full of ornamental trees. The main hall is dedicated to the merchants, and intricate dais contain plaques in their memory. A lacquered board at the entry hall also tells the innocent merchants’ story.
My Son Sanctuary is more than just the "beautiful mountain" its namesake describes. These Hindu ruins, which were constructed between the 4th and 13th centuries, pay homage to deities like Vishnu, Krishna and Shiva. Ancient and impressive towers and temples sit upon emerald hills in the Duy Xuyen District of the Quang Nam Province in central Vietnam. Visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage site can wander through eight groups of 71 structures, which some visitors say are less impressive than Cambodia's Siam Reap.
Still, what was once considered the homeland of the Cham people today remains an incredible example of Vietnam's indigenous culture.
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