Hoi An is a picture-perfect Vietnamese town, with crumbling mustard yellow buildings, street food vendors wearing conical hats on every corner and a riverfront that's lit by lanterns. It's touristy yes, what used to be local businesses and family homes are now boutique hotels and tailors (so many tailors), but it's still undeniably lovely. And you can get off the tourist trail; it just takes a bit of work.
Where to eat
We may have eaten the best food of our entire trip in Hoi An (I say may because our whole time in Vietnam was a whirlwind of incredible food). There are so many restaurants in this town, it's not possible to try them all in just one week, but here are a few we loved:
- Miss Ly: the menu here includes all of the area's specialities; it's a great place to try local food. Everything we ate was absolutely delicious, but the fish in banana leaf was our favourite. It gets busy, so make a reservation if you don't want to wait.
- Banh Mi Phuong: the best banh mi ever, I could eat this every day (fyi: banh mi is a small baguette stuffed with pate, herbs, pickles and your choice of meat). If you're into sandwiches, you will love this place.
- Minh Hien: a little out of the old town, this vegetarian spot is a nice place to have a healthy lunch, our favourite dish was the stir-fried pho noodles.
- Cocobox: a light and airy organic cafe that serves up delicious juices, salads and sandwiches. The doors open out on to the streets of the old town, perfect for people watching.
- Com Ga Ba Buoi: this family-run restaurant has been cooking up delicious chicken rice since the 1950s (like many restaurants in Vietnam, it only serves one thing) and it's a great place to go for a more local experience. Hoi An's version is quite different to the Hainanese chicken rice we've had elsewhere; peppermint, sliced onions and chilli jam give the dish some extra punch.
The best way to get off the beaten path in Hoi An is to explore the countryside by motorbike or bicycle. Just load up a map of the area on your phone (type "okay maps" into Google maps to save it offline) and head out. If a road looks interesting, take it. Our trips into the countryside didn't lead us to the temples or waterfalls that we had planned, but we did see beautiful mountains and rice paddies, a roadside cock fight, a basket full of piglets and so many smiling faces. Getting lost is the best bit.
Hoi An market
As usual, we clocked up a couple of hours at the local market. Like most markets, it's best to come here early (we went at 7am). The whole vibe changes later on in the day and there is much more focus on selling to tourists (i.e., there is a lot more hassle!).
Cam Kim island
A short ferry ride from Hoi An is Cam Kim, a rural island where you can see rice paddies, buffalos and fishermen. Again, a motorbike or bicycle is best to explore this area. To get to the island, catch a ferry from the riverfront. Locals are charged 2000 VND but 10,000 VND is considered a fair price for foreigners. It's also an extra 5000 VND for a motorbike. The roads on the island are in good condition and it's a fun place to explore and observe rural life. At the southeast of Cam Kim island, there's a bridge to a smaller island, where we found a colourful village full of smiling, waving children. It's the perfect balance to Hoi An's touristy vibe.
Where we stayed: Flower Garden Homestay is a nice, budget guesthouse in a family home a short walk from the old town.
For lots more off-the-beaten-path tips, check out my other posts on Vietnam.