How to explore Hoi An’s Old Town

The Old Town of Hoi An is almost impossibly pretty and, as a result, attracts hordes of tourists. Follow our suggested tour of the city to discover its highlights and avoid the crowds
Hoi An old town. Photo: Shutterstock
Hoi An old town. Photo: Shutterstock

Hoi An retains its old-town atmosphere, yet has become one of Vietnam’s top tourism and shopping destinations, despite its diminutive size. Spend your days exploring old temples and ancient shop houses, and visiting the surrounding beaches and craft villages

Distance: 4km (2.5-mile) walk
Time: One busy day or two leisurely days with lots of shopping and café breaks
Start: Le Loi Street Ticket Office

End: Quan Thang House
Points to note: Hoi An is best reached by plane or train to nearby Da Nang, a journey included on Insight Guides' Vietnam and Cambodia by Rail trip. Hoi An is also one of the most popular, family-friendly destinations in Vietnam, which you discover on Insight Guides' Vietnam Family Adventure holiday. It is often quite busy with tourists, but rising very early is one good way to see it at its quietest; alternatively take a tour with a local expert on a holiday with Insight Guides. Hoi An is also one of the few wheelchair-friendly towns in the country.

About 25km (15 miles) southeast of Da Nang, the ancient town of Hoi An nestles on the banks of the Thu Bon River. Originally a seaport in the Champa Kingdom, by the 15th century it had become a coastal Vietnamese town under the Tran Dynasty. At the beginning of the 16th century, the Portuguese came to explore the coast of Hoi An. Then came the Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, British and French.

Hoi An appeared in Western travelogues in the 17th and 18th centuries as Faifo or Hai Po. For several centuries Hoi An was one of the most important trading ports in Southeast Asia. By the beginning of the 19th century the mouth of the Thu Bon silted up and another port was built at the mouth of the Han River. Thenceforth Da Nang replaced Hoi An as the centre of trade.

In the early 1980s, UNESCO and the Polish government funded a restoration programme to classify and safeguard Hoi An’s old quarters and historic monuments. Hoi An was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.

An admission ticket of VND120,000 (sold by various entry gate booths around the perimeter) gains you entry to five of the sites including four museums, four old houses, three assembly halls, the Handicraft Workshop (with traditional music concert), and the Japanese Bridge and the Quan Cong Temple. Most sites are open daily from 7am to 6pm and require an Old Town Ticket, unless otherwise noted.

The Assembly Hall of the Fujian chinese congregation. Photo: ShutterstockDon't miss visiting the Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese congregation while exploring Hoi An. Photo: Shutterstock

Day 1: The West Side and Japanese Quarter

Le Loi Street is centrally located and a good place to start your exploration. Heading south towards the river, buy your ticket at the ticket office on your right as you enter the Old Quarter. If you'd like a guided tour to follow the route below add it to your Luxury Vietnam holiday with Insight Guides.

Cantonese Assembly Hall and Sa Huynh Museum

Turn right on Tran Phu Street and head to the Cantonese Assembly Hall (Hoi Quan Quang Dong; 176 Tran Phu Street), founded in 1786. It’s a pleasant spot with an amusing fountain in the middle of the courtyard, composed of a twisted dragon set to devour a carp, and a turtle spying from behind. It’s all beautifully decorated in coloured ceramic tiles. Large red coils of incense hang from the ceilings, hung by numerous families as offerings.

Across the street, the Museum of Sa Huynh Culture (Bao Tang Van Hoa; 149 Tran Phu Street; daily 8am–5pm) has a nice collection of ancient pottery and jewellery from local excavations.

Japanese Covered Bridge

One of the most remarkable architectural pieces in town is the Japanese Covered Bridge (Cau Nhat Ban/Lai Vien Kieu). Built by the Japanese community in the 16th century, it links the Chinese and Japanese quarters, and Tran Phu Street with Nguyen Thi Minh Khai. The bridge’s curved shape and undulating green- and yellow-tiled roof give the impression of moving water. According to legend, a monster with his head in India, his tail in Japan and his heart in Hoi An was causing local calamities. The bridge was erected at the heart to kill this monster, known as ‘Cu’. Tradition also states that the bridge was started in the year of the monkey and finished in the year of the dog. Thus, a stone pair of each now stands at either end of the bridge as guardians.

Phung Hung and Tan Ky Houses

The Phung Hung House (Nha Co Phung Hung; 4R Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street; free), which has Japanese and Chinese architectural influences, is still family-owned after nearly 230 years. They give guided tours, a free tea service, have an embroidery shop in the back and a gift shop upstairs.

From here, turn back to the covered bridge and make your way to the right on Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, continuing until you reach the Tan Ky House (Nha Co Tan Ky; 101 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street; daily 8am–noon, 2–4.30pm). Typical of the old houses in Hoi An, it is a two-storey home built of finely decorated precious wood. An inner courtyard is open to the sky, with a veranda linking several living quarters. Although many of the old Hoi An homes have been restored over the years, they retain their original wooden framework, carved doors and windows, and sculpted stuccos, as well as very rare antiques from Vietnam, China, Japan and France. Likewise, one of the most remarkable features of these old homes is their amalgamation of these cultures within the architecture itself.

For lunch or dinner, head to Streets Restaurant Cafe (see below), a training restaurant for disadvantaged young people, on Le Loi Street at the north edge of the Old Town.

Hoi An street vendor. Photo: ShutterstockHoi An street vendors are a common sight around the Old Town. Photo: Shutterstock

Day 2: The East Side and French Quarter

Start from where the previous day’s tour finished off and walk west on Nguyen Thai Hoc Street.

The Museum of Folklore, Handicraft Workshop and Central Market

The Museum of Folklore in Hoi An (33 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street; tel: 051- 091 0948; daily 8am–5pm; free) is in an old house with a craft shop downstairs and an excellent museum upstairs, featuring exhibits of artisan tools, ancient crafts and local folklore.

The Hoi An Artcraft Manufacturing Workshop (‘Handicraft Workshop’, 9 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street) is located in a 200-year-old Chinese merchant shop. Lanterns and other souvenir crafts are made and sold in the back of the shop. The main draw is the traditional music and dance show at 10.15am and 3.15pm each day.

Continue east and make your way through the Central Market (Cho Hoi An; free), a great place to pick up snacks and fresh fruit and to find better bargains than in most street shops.

Assembly Halls and Quan Thang House

Turn left on Hoang Dieu Street, heading northwest. Then turn right on Nguyen Duy Hieu, heading northeast to the Chaozhou Chinese Assembly Hall (Hoi Quan Trieu Chau, opposite 157 Nguyen Duy Hieu Street; daily 8am– 5pm), built in 1776. The altars are some of the finest examples of wood-carving motifs in Hoi An. The roofs of the structure are decorated with elaborate miniature figures of soldiers, deities, dragons and mythical beasts, all composed of colourful ceramic tiles.

Backtracking on Nguyen Duy Hieu, consider a refreshment stop at Moon Restaurant, see below, before the street becomes Tran Phu. The Hainan Chinese Assembly Hall (Hai Nam Hoi Quan; 10 Tran Phu Street; daily 8am–5pm; free) was built in 1851 and is a memorial to 107 Chinese merchants who were murdered by a rogue commanding officer in Emperor Tu Duc’s navy. Ton That Thieu had looted the ships and claimed that pirates were responsible, but his crimes were later discovered and he was gruesomely executed along with his officers.

Continue on Tran Phu Street to the Fujian Chinese Assembly Hall (Hoi Quan Phuc Kien; across from 35 Tran Phu Street). The largest and most elaborate of the assembly halls in town, it was turned into a temple to Thien Hau and houses idols of numerous Chinese deities. Worshippers believe Thien Hau rescues sailors from sinking ships.

Finally, the Quan Thang House (77 Tran Phu Street) is more than 300 years old and has been in the current family for six generations. It is sparsely decorated with two family altars and a small courtyard.

Food and drink

Streets Restaurant Café

17 Le Loi Street
Tel: 05-103911948
Daily B, L & D

A training restaurant for disadvantaged youth, Streets is not only a place to give back, but also to try some very well prepared Hoi An classics. The service is excellent and it’s normally busy making for a good atmosphere. The sangria is recommended.

Moon Restaurant & Lounge

321 Nguyen Duy Hieu
Tel: 0510-324 1396
Daily B, L & D

Service is very friendly at this classical Vietnamese restaurant with a modern twist, set in an old French colonial building with wooden interiors and decorated with a gallery of paintings. It is certainly aimed at tourists, but this is a long-running outfit with good reason. It has a cosy atmosphere and a nice bar.

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