Ancient Town, Hoi An is one of the top things to do in Vietnam. Whether you are backpacking in Vietnam or traveling with a friend, Hoi An is one of the best places to visit in Vietnam.
For long Vietnam had been under the influence of other nations, either by force or by mutual interest (e.g. Trade). French occupation of Vietnam and American invasion are well known, but do you Vietnam also had been influenced by Chinese and India? Ancient Town of Hoi An is clearly an example of a town under heavy Chinese influence. Traces of Hinduism which came to Vietnam through India can also be witnessed scattered through places in and around Hoi An Ancient Town. This is due to the face that in ancient times, Hoi An used to be a popular port city, with a thriving trade with many other neighboring nations.
Things to do in Hoi An Ancient Town
Wander around in the Hoi An Ancient Town
One of the best things to do in Hoi An is to take a walk in the iconic Ancient Town. Scattered all over the Ancient Town are the numerous heritage buildings from the French era, I bet you will love all that shades of saffron and oranges. And did I mention Hoi An’s Ancient Town is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site? While you are strolling through the streets take a look at the Japanese Covered Bridge which is considered the icon of the Hoi An city.
Take a walk along the Thu Bồn river in Hoi An Ancient Town
In the evening you must go on a stroll along the Thu Bồn river particularly near the Bridge of Lights (Cầu An Hội). You can also enjoy live music and performances in one of the restaurants/ cafes near the Bridge of Lights.
Walk around the Hoi An Ancient town at night
At night the temperature is much cooler. The town shuts early (at 21:30), but that should give you enough time to enjoy the live music around town and the beautiful lanterns that lit up the streets. Seriously, evening walk through Hoi An Ancient town is unmissable. And don’t miss out on taking a selfie against those trademark colorful lanterns. You’d find them aplenty on the other side of the river.
Grab a homemade beer – Bia hơi
Sit down and have the cheap homemade brewed drink of Hoi An, bia hơi. A glass of ‘fresh beer’ (as it is called in Hoi An) costs as little as 3000-5000 Dongs ($0.25 U.S.). Interestingly, in comparison, a 500 ml water bottle will cost you 7000 Dons in Hoi An. The alcohol content in bia hoi beer is only 3%, you will need a lot more if you intend to get little tipsy.
Hoi An Ancient Town Guide
There is no entrance fee to visit the Ancient Town but if you intend to see one of those old buildings from inside, you need to purchase a ticket. The Hoi An town ticket includes five vouchers that you can use to get into five attractions in Hoi An. Do note that there are at least a dozen attractions in Hoi An where the ticket is valid but you can get entry only to the five places. So, you need to make a choice where to go in Hoi An Ancient Town. But wait, that’s not it, you also have to choose among the options of museums, temples and like.
The entrance ticket is sold at the Hoi An Ancient Town entry points and costs 120,000 Dongs. Officially, the entrance ticket to Hoi An is valid only for 24 hours, but it is still accepted if you use it over the course of few days.
Here’s a brief list of places to visit in Hoi An Ancient Town: Museums, Old houses, assembly halls, the handicraft workshop (and the traditional music show) or the traditional theater, and either the Japanese Covered Bridge or the Quan Cong Temple.
Here’s a complete list of places to visit in Hoi An Ancient Town:
Old houses: Tan Ky, Phung Hung, Quan Thang
Assembly halls: Phuc Kien, Cantonese, Zhao Zhao
Bridge: Japanese Covered Bridge.
Museums: Museum of Trade Ceramics, Sa Huynh Cultural Museum; Museum of Folk Culture; Museum of Hoi An.
Traditional arts: Handicraft workshop – includes traditional music performance.
Communal houses: Cam Pho, Quan Cong, Minh Huong
Depending on your own preference I will suggest to create your own Hoi An Ancient Town itinerary by combining places to see from different category. Pick and choose an old house such as Tan Ky House, one assembly halls, visit a museum, check the handicraft shop, pass through the Japanese Bridge (no ticket required), and end your Hoi An Ancient Town trip by watching a music performance.
Japanese Covered Bridge and the Pagoda
Japanese Covered Bridge is the one of the top attractions of the Hanoi Town. The beautiful wooden bridge dates back to the last decade of 16th century and is one of the most visited landmark in the town. The Japanese bridge in Hoi An has a small pagoda (Chua Cau or Lai Vien Kieu) located toward the center. Both the Japanese bridge and the pagoda were built by the Japanese trader community. The shrine is dedicated to the Taoist deity of storms and weather, named Tran Vo Bac De.
Look carefully to spot the statue of a monkey and a dog at either end of the bridge. There is no ticket needed to cross the Japanese bridge (it’s a bridge after all) but if you have show one if you intend to see the Tran Vo Bac De shrine from inside of the Pagoda.
Hoi An Ancient Town Museums
The four museums in Hoi An Ancient Town include:
Museum of Trade Ceramics
This museum of Hoi An is my pick of the museum in Hoi An that you can enter with the ticket. On display in the museum are ceramic pottery which dates back from 9th to the 19th century. The exhibits are largely from China, Vietnam and Japan. Highlight of the Ceramic Museum are the pottery from Bao Tang Dynasty which dates way back to 7th-10th century.
The old timber wood building of Ceramics Museum has also a beautiful inner courtyard. You can climb up the stairs to the creaky wooden floor atop for a lovely view of the walking street. Located on 80 Tran Phu Street, The Museum of Trade Ceramics, remains open from 08:00 to 17:00 everyday.
Sa Huynh Culture Museum highlights the Sa Huỳnh culture which prevailed in the Hoi An area some 3000 years back. The museum has a collection of pottery originating from the 1st and 2nd centuries. The museum was established in the year 1994 and collection has kept on growing over the years. On display in the Sa Huynh Culture Museum are the collection from Cham culture, Bai Ong (an Island in Hoi an).
There are several artifacts that you can see in the Sa Huynh Culture Museum belonging to Cham people in Vietnam. The Cham artifacts include Jewelry, items of daily use, and work tools like axes. During your trip to the Sa Huynh Culture Museum you can also see objects used in funerary rituals such as jar burials. You will get familiar with burial customs of the Champa kingdom and their concepts of life and death.
Statues of Hindu Gods – including Shiva, Vishnu, Garuda and Apsara, from the Champa kingdom can also be found in the museum. The museum provides fascinating addition to your trip to another cultural heritage site near Hoi An – My Son. The museum is located on the Tran Phu Street and you can simply walk-in by showing your Hoi An Ancient Town ticket.
Hoi An Museum of History and Culture
The highlight of Hoi An Museum of History and Culture are the old photographs; the vintage black and white pictures of Hoi An area good enough to keep you busy for some time. In the Hoi An museum you will also find ceramics and pottery ranging from the times of Champa kingdom (7th-15th AD) to Da Viet (5th to 19th AD).
Visit to the Hoi An Museum of History and Culture is a must if you are looking to get a feel of how Hoi An evolved over the period of time. The museum remains open from 8 in the morning to 5 PM.
Museum of Folk Culture
Hoi An Museum of Folk Culture was started more recently, in the year 2005. The Museum of Folklore documents the daily lives of the Hoi An people. On display in the museums are objects depcing the life traditional Vietnames villages, folk arts, trademark Hoi An lanterns, silk items and the costumes that people in the villages once wore. There are life size models of some of the folk dance forms – Bai Choi, Ba Trao and Thien Cau.
Pay a visit to Hoi An Museum of Folk Culture if you are interested in seeing in details the local culture and the insights into the daily lives of Hoi An people.
Hoi An Old houses
Located by the river side and owned mostly by the wealthy merchant families, these old wooden houses still retain their old world charm. Interestingly, many of these houses are still inhabited by their owners.
Tan Ky House
Tan Ky house is the most visited of them all. You can still see the Japanese and Chinese influences on its architecture. The beautifully decorated house is about 200 years old. There are two storeys, while the ground floor is open to public, upper floor is private and is restricted to the owner only.
In the kitchen, which is just down the coutryard, has markers for the recent floods. The top one goes all the way upto the level of the first floor. Imagine protecting the heritage house in times of such a natural disaster.
Nguyen Thai Hoc Street. Tan Ky, meaning “Progress Shop”, was given to the house by the second generation to express the owner’s wish for a prosperous business. huge devastation of annual floods, seven generations of the family. well-preserved in Hoi An. floor covered with Bat Trang bricks. ironwood and peck-wood for inside. brings together furniture. Vietnamese, Japanese as well as Chinese elements. triple-beam structure (stands for heaven, earth and humans), the five round blocks (represent metal, wood, water, fire and earth – the five basic natural elements in Eastern philosophy) and several decorative carvings on the edge of the roof and furniture.
Phung Hung House
Phung Hung House was constructed in the year 1780 and was declared a “National Historical and Cultural Site” in year 1993. Phung Hung House was originally constructed as a shop for selling spices such as cinnamon and pepper, Hoi An silk, and glassware. A section of the ground floor is used a embroidery workshop.
The two storey house has wide facade, and 80 woodens cloumns supporting it. The base of the columns is lotus in shape, this is to avoid possible after affects of the flooding – sudden caving and moisture. The entrance hall of Phung Hung House is beautifully decorated with trademark Hoi An lanterns, along with wall hangings and traditional embroidery.
The upper floor is now exclusively used for the purpose of worshipping, Thien Hau, the Holy Mother and the family’s ancestors. Phung Hung House is located on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, very close to the Japanese Covered Bridge.
Quan Thang House
The Quan Thang House is belived to be 300 years old, although the exact period cannot be confirmed with certainty. The Old house of Hoi An is built in the architecture style of Hoa Ha province of China. Quan Thang House was built by a wealthy captain named Quan Thang. The Quan Thang house has a small courtyard in the center around which the rooms are built.
Highlight of Quan Thang House are the teak walls of the rooms which are decorated with beautiful carvings of peacocks and flowers. Interestingly, the current owners are still living here and the visit to The Quan Thang gives you a peek into the daily life of Hoi An family. Located on Tran Phu St, The Quan Thang House remains from 9:30 AM to 6 PM daily.
As the name suggests, assembly halls were built by wealthy traders for one and only one purpose, to socialise with their community. All of the assembly halls have a typical architecture which includes an ornate entrance gate, a vast coutryard, meeting rooms and a small pagoda towards the end of the complex. Of-course the whole area is richly decorated and in the courtyard you’ll see colorful dragon made with mosaic tiles standing by a beautiful fountain.
Phuc Kien (Fujian) Meeting Hall
Phuc Kien (Fujian) Meeting Hall also know as Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation is undoubtedly the most beautifully built assembly hall of them all, and of-course the the biggest assembly hall too.
The Assembly hall way built way back in 1690 and served as the meeting hall of the Fujian. Note that Fujian, a Chinese ethnic group, had the largest presence in Hoi An at that time. Thien Hau, the goddess of the sea, is the presiding deity of the temple. She was highly reverred by the merchants as Thien Hau is considered the protector of the sailors.
The stunning entrance gate was added much later in 1975. The entrance which consists of three arches is beautiful decorated with colorful tiles. As you walk through the courtyard and into the temple you will reach the chamber where statue of Thien Hau is kept.
On the right of the altar you will see there are 3 fairies, and 12 smaller figures of ba mu (or midwives). The midwives appear to be teaching the newborns essential like skills needed such as ingesting milk, smiling, crawling etc. Fresh fruit are presented as offerings by couples who come here seeking blessing and good luck. As always while entering the shrine dress respectfully.
The best time to visit Phuc Kien Meeting Hall, Hoi An is during the Chinese festival – 15th Jan, 16th Feb and 23rd March lunar year – when the hall is decorated in its full glory. A lot of tourists as well as Vietnamese, come here during the period.
Cantonese Assembly Hall
Cantonese Assembly Hall, also known as Quang Trieu, was built in the year 1885 by Chinese belonging to Cantonese province. Cantonese Assembly Hall features a serene courtyard, great for taking pictures. Cantonese Assembly Hall follows the typical assembly hall architecture complete with dragon statues colored in pastel colors.
At Cantonese Assembly Hall fishermen and traders used to congregate and conduct business activities. The entrance consists of triple arch and consists of the words “Quang Trieu Assembly Hall” engraved in Cantonese. Inside the hall you will find statues of Various Cantonese dieties as well as scene from the local life. Check out the well preserved lacquered board and the terra cotta seats.
The Cantonese Assembly Hall holds the Nguyen lieu Festival, which is celebrated on the 15th Jan of the lunch month.
The Zhao Zhao Assembly Hall
The Zhao Zhao Assembly Hall was established by the Chinese from Zhao Zhao descent (from Trieu Chau) in the year 1845. The temple inside the The Zhao Zhao Assembly Hall is dedicated to the God of Wind and Big Waves, reverred by the sailors and merchants alike.
Things to see in the Zhao Zhao assembly hall includes exhiquiste wooden carvings, beautiful ceramic reliefs, and the wooden altar in the prayer room decorated with designs from the Zhao Zhao folk legends.
Hoi An Handicraft Workshop
Irrespective of how many museums or old houses in Hoi An you decide to see, don’t forget to save one last ticket for the Hoi An Handicraft workshop. The workshop is located inside the Phi Yen old house on the Nguyen Thai Hoc Street.
Here in the workshop, everyday there is a folk music performances which lasts for about 20 minutes. The folk music performance timings are 10:15 and 15:15 daily, with Monday closed. The performance include folk singers and dancers performing in their traditional attire.
The 200-year old building houses a collection of metal, pottery, carpenter, lacquer, bamboo carvings, porcelain and soapstone, as well as larger terracotta pots and sculptures. Checkout the silverware shop toward the end for the beautifully crafted silver pieces.
On the backside, you will see the artisans working on their craft – ranging from lanterns, silk embroidery. You can quietly admire the collection and if you wish you can purchase something at a reasonable price. Remember some of the craft pieces take months to complete, which justifies the prices quoted in the Hoi An Handicraft Workshop.