Hoi An is one of central Vietnam’s warm, welcoming, and well-preserved Southeast-Asian trading port. Unlike much of the rest of the country, Hoi An is free of honking traffic and crippling pollution. With its 19th-century architecture, delicious street food and charming lunar lantern festivals, the city is a Vietnamese destination for everyone.
Because of its beauty, Hoi An has seen a huge wave in tourism over the recent years. For this reason, visitors should be conscious of western tour groups and flailing selfie sticks. If authenticity is a priority on your travels, here are some tips for experiencing Hoi An like a local.
1. Stay With a Vietnamese Family
There’s arguably no better way to learn how the locals live than by, well, living with the locals. Spend your nights chatting with a family who know Hoi An better than any guidebook. A quick search for homestays available in the city will land you with a few options. You’ll get tips on where to go, what to do, where not to go, and what not to do. If things turn out well, you’ll end up with a cross-continental penpal and potentially a home away from home!
2. Take a Bike Ride Through Nearby Farmlands
Supplying Hoi An with its wonderfully fresh produce is a large network of farms surrounding the city. Seeing as the town is surprisingly small, access to nearby rice fields, coconut farms, communal vegetable patches and fishing villages is relatively within reach.
Highly regarded as the best way to explore inner and outer Hoi An is renting a bike. Rent a bike and pick out some destinations on the map — but don’t plan too much, part of the fun in Hoi An is winging it, stumbling into unplanned situations and having spontaneous conversations with friendly locals.
Pro tip: locals have been known to dry their rice on any kind of dry surface they can find. If you come across a road that’s completely covered in a layer of drying rice, don’t panic! Just slowly ride over it.
3. Spend an Afternoon on the Beach
Locals overwhelmingly agree that the best beach to relax and enjoy a delicious plate of seafood is An Bang. Only 2.5 miles from the town center, An Bang is an excellent place to park yourself in the afternoon sun.
Be aware that around the parking lot there are plenty of crowds and western restaurants. In order to find your perfect slice of paradise, take the road behind the row of restaurants and head up or down the beach in either direction.
4. Eat Like a Local
There is a time and a place for a cheeseburger and your vacation in Vietnam is neither. One of the dishes only available in Hoi An is Cao Lau: a savory mix of noodles, fried wontons, barbecued pork, chili jam and fresh herbs.
The secret of this special dish is the process of steaming the noodles in water drawn from one of only five wells available in the Hoi An area. The steaming gives the noodles an especially chewy texture — if the noodles aren’t chewy, it’s not cao lau. Other must-try delicacies include banh mi, chicken rice, and che, a kind of sweet boba tea dessert drink.
5. Meander the Town
During the day, one of the best things to do in Hoi An is to walk around the local market. Although development in recent years has cleared away much of the market to make room for proper restaurants, many locals go to the town center to create a vibrant market scene. Our suggestion: taste the food first, asks what it is later.
The real beauty of Hoi An comes out as the sun goes down. Although the lantern tradition is one of Hoi An’s biggest tourist attractions, a visit to the town wouldn’t be complete without appreciating the ancient tradition. Around the canals, people float smaller lanterns on the water and make wishes for good luck. It’s a colorful display of Vietnamese culture that’s not to be missed.
Dillon is a travel-hungry outdoor enthusiast originally from Encinitas, California. He recently moved to Medellín to begin his next chapter as a content writer for AllTheRooms. Besides writing, Dillon enjoys live music, fútbol, cooking, and backpacking.