Vietnam’s ancient city of Hoi An is a seamless mix of traditional and modern Vietnam. A happy place, it is a quaint, colourful village nestled beside the Thu Bon River and surrounded by countryside. Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is thought of as one of Vietnam’s most beautiful cities. Today, a stroll past the ancient temples or a ride in a bamboo basket boat bookended the range of things to do in Hoi An.
A former trading port, home to nearly 800 historic buildings, Hoi An is a popular destination in its own right. It’s also a key day trip from Da Nang. While there are more than enough things to do in Hoi An to keep you busy, if you are arriving (in Da Nang) via cruise ship, you’ll want to visit a few fascinating destinations between Da Nang and Hoi An, plus a couple of quick photo stops in Da Nang before returning to your ship.
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First, check out these highlights of our Southeast Asia exploration
Things to do in Hoi An Vietnam
Basket boat in the countryside of Cam Thanh
Sometimes the “tourist trap” type commercial activities actually are the most fun. The bamboo basket boat, sometimes called the coconut basket boat, is one of these opportunities. Our guide brought us right to Cua Dai River in Cam Thanh, a countryside region just outside Hoi An. Here, we boarded our boat with a local who did the paddling.
Gliding down the river, we passed a floating fishing village before paddling through coconut palms. Next, we stopped to watch a traditional fisherman throw his net. Then, Jeff caught a crab whilst fishing with a line hanging from a bamboo stick. There were a few other fun surprises along the way (see the video).
Our local guide effortlessly moved the bamboo basket boat with only one paddle, a skill that is much harder than it looks. I failed when I tried to control our round boat.
Even if you don’t have a private guide, it’s easy to book your own eco-tour and basket boat ride, and it can include transportation from Hoi An and a meal.
Explore ancient Hoi An
Once a trading port for wood, gold, and silk, many of the structures dating back to the 15th-century still stand. Today, the ancient city is a colourful collection of mostly Chinese and Vietnamese architecture in a quaint riverside town that managed to avoid being bombed during the war.
Temples in Hoi An
There are 22 old temples in the ancient city of Hoi An. We walked by about eight of them as we strolled through the old town. There is a fee for entry to each of the temples that we saw, and there is a pass that can be purchased to get you into five temples, museums, or old houses.
Silkworms and custom tailors
Every stage of production takes place at Yaly Couture Tailor Shop. We observed the steps from silkworm through to fabric weaving. With 300 tailors on staff, they are one of the top places to order custom items in Hoi An.
Cho Hoi An Central Market
Food, tailored clothing, trinkets, and whatever else you need can be found at the Cho Hoi An Central Market. An indoor market, there were plenty of outdoor stalls leading up to the main building.
Japanese Covered Bridge
Hoi An’s most romantic photo spot, the Japanese Covered Bridge, houses a Taoist temple. Architecturally, it differs from other old town structures, as it has a distinctively Japanese character as well as ornate carvings including monkeys and dogs.
Other things to do in Hoi An
While our cruise allowed for many overnight, and even some three-day ports, unfortunately, Da Nang was not one of them. Therefore, we ran out of time long before we completed our list of things to do in Hoi An. Even with limited time, we are glad we made the short trip from Da Nang to Hoi An. Here are some of the things we saved for a future visit:
- Order tailor-made clothing: Talented Hoi An tailors can create custom dresses in a few hours, and suits in about 12 hours. If you don’t have enough time, have it shipped home. My neighbour did this, and it worked out fine.
- Take a cooking class: A Hoi An cooking class would have topped our list had we had more time, as we enjoy learning about a culture through food. We have taken cooking classes in Chile and in Singapore.
- Explore on a bicycle tour: Our shipboard friends did a Hoi An bicycle tour and loved it. Getting out into the countryside is a more traditional Vietnam experience. Cycle past rice fields, vegetable farms, and waterways. See locals building boats, fishing, weaving mats, and more as you get a glimpse into traditional Vietnam life.
- Enjoy a meal: We had a delicious lunch at Dao Tien River restaurant. Our top food recommendation was to try shrimp pancakes, but somehow we forgot and ordered differently.
Roadside images from Da Nang to Hoi An
One of the big advantages of having a private guide is the ability to add unscheduled photo stops at completely random points along the road.
Water buffalo smoking break
When I looked out the window and saw a man taking a smoking break on the back of his water buffalo, I knew instantly this was a once in a lifetime photo opportunity.
Key things to do in Da Nang Vietnam
For the most part, we drove directly from Da Nang to Hoi An, but we did make a few key stops.
My Khe Beach (China Beach)
My Khe beach is a 32 km (20-mile) stretch of gentle to moderate waves breaking against a picturesque white sand beach. It was once known as China Beach by the American troops that came here for relaxation during the Vietnam war.
From April to September when the summer heat tops 37°C, the beach is busy, yet there is space for everyone. Locals often swim before dawn and by 7 am, the women return home to cook while men go to work (according to our guide). It’s also a popular surfing beach.
Take the elevator or walk the 156 steps, either way you will want to get to the top of Thuy Son, commonly referred to as Marble Mountain. Here, you will find intricately decorated Buddhist temples, marble sculptures, caves, elaborate tunnels, and endless views of the city.
Shop for marble sculptures
At the base of Marble Mountain, the street is lined with shops featuring huge, hand-carved marble sculptures. The impressive craftsmanship makes the stop worthwhile, even if you have no intentions of making a purchase. However, as they will let you know, these masterpieces can be shipped all around the world for a surprisingly low fee. We opted to bring home a Buddha that stands only a few centimetres tall.
Massage at World Spa
With tired feet, the signs in Hoi An for a foot massage easily influenced me. Our guide told us that he knew a place far nicer than the backroom options along the road. World Spa was clean, professional, and left me with happy feet. I paid a bit more, and I am sure our guide got a kickback, but it was worth it.
I had hoped to be in Da Nang on a Saturday or Sunday night to see the light show at the Dragon Bridge. The highlight takes place at 9 pm when the dragon spits fire. Regardless, it was beautiful, and a perfect end of our day from Da Nang to Hoi An.
Getting from Da Nang to Hoi An
As we cruised into the port of Da Nang, we had a plan. Our goal was to negotiate and hire a private driver and guide at the port to take us from Da Nang to Hoi An. While this often works out well, this time the guide we negotiated with switched with another guide as we got in the car. While the replacement guide was okay, we felt a bit tricked.
In retrospect, this could have gone terribly wrong. This is why we normally read the reviews and hire a private guide from TourHQ. We have done this in many cities around the world where we wanted the value-added knowledge that comes with a great guide.
Another option is this top-rated small-group excursion from Viator that visited nearly all the places we recommend above. It starts and ends at Da Nang’s cruise port, provides an English speaking guide, and limits to 10 participants.
More on Da Nang and Hoi An
- The distance from Chan May Port in Da Nang to Hoi An is about 30 kilometres (18 miles), although it takes about 40 to 50 minutes by car. As you can see above, there are interesting things to see along the way.
- The population of Da Nang is 1.125 million people with 6.6 million visitors annually.
- Hoi An’s population is 120k, drawing 3.2 million annual visitors.
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