If you have ever done a Google search of “What to do in Hoi An” you probably came up with articles like: “best things to do in Hoi An” “25 best things to do in Hoi An” “20 things to do in Hoi An”. All the things you can probably do in Hoi An are well-covered on those websites.
However, in this article, we would like to share our favorite 5 things (it’s more like off-the-beaten-track experiences) that you should not miss when you’re in Hoi An. These five experiences are to make you have a better understanding of this beautiful city besides eating tasty street food & shopping.
So, let’s dive into the list.
1. Swimming with the locals at 5:00 in the morning
It sounds crazy at first, but trust me; it will surprise you to see how packed the beach is at 5:00 in the morning. There are some reasons why a sizable amount of Vietnamese love to go for a morning swim while others like to enjoy their cozy beds.
Older people sleep & wake up earlier than the younger ones. Our landlords, a 60-year-old couple, like to start their day at 4:00 in the morning. The man always goes to his favorite cafe for a game of Chinese Chess with his buddies while his wife cycles to the beach which is 20 minutes away to join her same-age companions and to enjoy the calm waves & first rays of sunshine. People who go to the beach early are more likely older people. That has been their daily habit since a young age, and nothing can stop them from going to the beach at 5:00 in the morning.
Vietnamese women seem to be obsessed with having white skin. Pale skin is affiliated with wealth, and tanned skin is a sign of poverty. Though they love the beach but choosing between the beach & the skin, the vote would go toward the latter. That left only 2 parts of the day when they can go to the beach: before the sun rises and after the sun sets.
There are a few more reasons, but with these two ones, I think it would be enough to convince you to wake up early at least one morning, go to the beach at 5:00 and immerse yourself into the beautiful sunrise, the waves and have fun with the locals and live in the cultural differences.
2. Kayaking in the mangrove palm forest
Many tourists, even locals, don’t really realize how beautiful the rivers in Hoi An are. There are so many things you can see from the kayaking perspective
The fishing net – the most the nets are lowered when the water level goes up to catch fish come in from the sea, each net is approx 200 square meters, by day they remain lifted out of the water to dry out, and it’s fun to move your kayak CAREFULLY under the nets.
The mangrove palm forest: these trees were brought from the Mekong Delta deep in the South of the country and were planted in Hoi An around 200 years ago to protect the land from sea erosion. You can find the tranquility while moving your kayaks slowly through the forests.
Going back to the 15th century when Hoi An was established first by the Portuguese as a trading hub between the East & the West, the rivers played an important role in all the trading activities. On a kayak, you can travel back in time to see Hoi An from the same perspective as those crew members did back to centuries ago.
Please check the tide in advance if you don’t want to get stuck and have to pull your kayaks out of the mud.
Our advice: only go into the mangrove forest when the tide is over 0.8m.
3. Photographing at Tra Que Herb Village in the morning
You probably think, so do I have to set up another wake-up call at the reception? You probably should, as I think it is the best place if you like to improve your travel photography skills.
Tra Que Herb Village has a history dating back 400 years, to the peak of Hoi An timeline. Nowadays, the farmers grow over 20 different vegetables & herbs organically; they use cow/buffaloes dungs and river seaweeds as fertilizers. That farming tradition creates an excellent reputation for the village.
Why morning? Because it’s the most active time of the farmers and because there will be no tourists around the village (except you) to witness these daily activities. How cool it is!
Vietnamese tend to start their working day as early as possible to avoid the heat of midday. People cut the herbs, putting on small baskets, then cycle to the local market to sell for their usual wholesale buyers. You will see people weeding, watering the plants, plowing the soils. What I really love about this place is the farmers are very warm and friendly in the morning as no tourists walk around, pointing, interrupting their work.
The morning golden hour, the friendly locals working on their plot of lands, fragrances from various types of herbs. We never realize how much time we spend here to take photos, and we’re sure you will be the same.
4. Drinking with the locals on an island in the evening
There’s a “kind of” culture in Vietnamese, named “Nhậu”. It means drinking & eating with friends. And I can not find a better place to “Nhau” in the evening then the small island overlooking the Ancient Town named Cam Nam.
There are a couple of eateries where they set up plastic low tables & chairs by the river, separate from the overcrowded Hoi An Old Town at night by the river.
The food that most restaurants are serving are mostly drunk food & BBQ. It’s your time to explore another aspect of Vietnam life: drinking culture & drunk food.
There are menus in English, but if you have no ideas what to order, try the BBQ pork belly & grilled fish. Not a good selection of alcohol options they have though, but with the river breeze, watching the lanterns and beautiful Ancient Town from the other side of the river. This experience will definitely make your night.
Find it HERE
5. Walking the Ancient Town before 8:00 in the morning
The Ancient Town is a UNESCO World Heritage sites. It’s the major reason tourists want to go to Hoi An in the first place. If you come to Hoi An with the high expectation of seeing a peaceful Hoi An that you often see on travel magazines, the overcrowded streets of Hoi An will definitely let you down.
Hoi An is busiest at night time when the streets are lit with lanterns, and tourists flock to the central Old Town for taking photos, having dinner, drinking. In our experience, Hoi An is the most beautiful, peaceful before 8:00 in the morning. This is the best way to avoid the mad crush of selfie-stick tourists who invade the Ancient Town after 8:00.
Hoi An is a great place to spend your time in Vietnam. It’s touristy, but there’s a great charm that awaits for you to discover.