This is the continuation of my 10 Places to Visit in Da Nang & Hoi An “Guide”. Find Part 1 HERE.
So I decided to divide my “guide” into 2 parts. I was afraid it was going to be too long and too overwhelming because I do have a tendency to be picture and word-heavy lol. If you’re coming over from part 1, hello again! you can skip right down to entry number 6 of the list. If not, you might want to check out the upper half of my “guide” first, as it also includes some FAQ’s that I anticipate. Most of part 1 has to do with the Da Nang side of this Da Nang & Hoi An “Guide”. Part 2 focuses more Hoi An.
If you’re wondering why I always put air quotes with the word “guide”, it’s because I don’t want people to get the wrong idea. I’m not being presumptuous here and trying to make myself look like an expert about Da Nang & Hoi An. The main purpose of this list is to act as my recommendations for anyone who may be interested in visiting these two cities in Central Vietnam. I personally enjoyed my trip there so much, and I only hope this list can be somewhat helpful in boosting enthusiasm. And frankly, I personally think this is a good set of places to visit for first-timers to Da Nang & Hoi An.
Table of Contents
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Places to Visit
- Food Trips
6. Hoi An Old Town
It’s easy to see why the Old Town (aka Ancient Town) is the most popular tourist spot in Hoi An. It has a way of transporting its visitors to an entirely different space and time with its atmospheric streets and alleyways. The Hoi An Old Town in its entirety is a complex of structures with various architectural influences, but rather than look visually jarring, one can witness a harmonious fusion of various cultures here. On a personal level, I absolutely adored all the yellow structures here because yellow is my favorite color!
Perhaps for most Asians, this UNESCO Heritage Site will feel somewhat familiar. Its overall look clearly has heavy Chinese and Japanese influences, particularly the pagodas/temples. This is unsurprising once one finds out that a lot of Chinese and Japanese traders called this place home at one point or another in the past. Hoi An had been a major Southeast Asian port of trade from the 15th to the late 19th century, and so a lot of foreign merchants settled within the area, creating communities and sharing their culture within Hoi An. Majority of these traders were from Japan and from Fujian, China in particular.
According to the UNESCO website, there are 1,107 timber frame buildings within the Old Town complex, and each of them have been well-preserved to resemble the original structures. The architecture is decidedly traditional, with structures lined up pretty much continuously from the beginning to the end of each block. The houses are built so closely together sometimes it’s hard to tell where one house ends and another begins.
Here in the Old Town is also where one can find the iconic Japanese Bridge, which appears at the back of the 20,000 VND. Similar to the Japanese Bridge, the dominant materials used for all of the structures in the Old Town are a combination of wood, brick, and tiles, making everything feel extra historic somehow.
It’s even more impressive to note that most of these old structures now house modern restaurants and cafes. Stepping into some of them, you cannot help but feel amazed at how different the inside looks and feels from the outside. There are of course houses that are traditional inside-out (like the Tan Ky Ancestral House), but there are also those that are decidedly modern with their interiors (like the Starbucks). The best thing to do would be to wander around and allow yourself to be delightfully surprised!
Speaking of the Tan Ky Ancestral House, we were able to visit this historic home while we were here. This 200-year old house is recognized as a National Treasure, but the upper floors are still being used as the residence of the descendants of the original owners.
The ground floor has been completely converted into a museum where people can visit and appreciate the master craftsmanship of the Kim Bong carpenters who built this house. There are also plenty of unique antiques on display, but we were told these are only a fraction of what the family used to own. When the Vietnam War broke out, the family was forced to flee their home in the night, but before that they were able to hide their treasures underground. Some of them were destroyed or stolen before any member of the family could return to retrieve them, and the ones on display are the remaining treasures that could be salvaged after the war.
The most important and meaningful treasure of this family is called the Confucius Cup, which I invite you to discover when you come and visit!
In the evening, Hoi An Old Town transforms into a glittering town of lanterns. Boats lazily cruise the small canal that opens to the Thu Bon River, usually with passengers who release lanterns into the water. There are significantly more people in the evening compared to the mornings, whether just exploring the streets or hanging out in the many cafes and restaurants in the area. The vibe is completely different, and while it’s arguable whether it’s “better”, I can tell you it’s certainly more atmospheric!
- Tourists are required to pay an entrance fee of 120,000 VND. It’s a small fee that goes a long way to fund the preservation and maintenance of the Old Town. The ticket also serves as a pass to enter any FIVE of the heritage buildings, performance halls, and museums located within the Old Town. You will be given a map with your ticket so you can choose which places you would like to visit, depending on your personal interest. I highly recommend using 1 of your 5 credits to watch a performance at the Hoi An Traditional Art Performance Theatre. They’re held 3 times a day.
- Hoi An Old Town tickets can only be purchased in designated ticket stalls that usually look like yellow huts. (See specific locations HERE.) Though the validity of the ticket on paper is 24 hours, they do not strictly enforce this. In our 3-day stay in Hoi An, we were only required to buy 1 ticket that we were able to use for every evening we visited the Old Town. They don’t post guards in every point of entry to the Old Town, but please remember this is still a tourist site. It needs help from its tourists to continue thriving, and buying a ticket is the least we can all do.
- Keep your ticket with you at all times. Just pop it in your bag so that at any point that anyone decides to check your ticket, you’ll have it in your person. To be fair, we were never hounded by any guards trying to constantly check our tickets while here.
- There are handicraft workshops hidden within some of the small alleyways in the Old Town. You might want to accidentally stumble upon some of them if you’re keen to take home some exquisitely made handcrafted goods, such as handmade gold-lined ceramic coffee phin. There are also a lot of tailoring shops along the main streets here where you can have Vietnamese-style clothes made by some of the best tailors in the world.
- Check out the exact location of the Hoi An Old Town HERE.
- For a more in-depth article about this location, check this one out by Hidden Hoi An.
7. My Son Sanctuary, Hoi An
An essential stop for any history aficionado, the My Son Sanctuary is quite possibly the best place to get a glimpse of the might and the grandeur of the Champa kingdom of the past.
The Champa were the major indigenous group of Central Vietnam from the 2nd century to around the 18th century, and for most of that time they built and developed this area into their religious center for Hindu worship. When the Champa were forced to disperse from Central Vietnam, My Son was left to fall into ruin until a group of Frenchmen stumbled upon the temple complex in 1889.
The My Son Sanctuary is a large network of temple ruins located in a verdant valley surrounded by hills. Over the years, plenty of efforts have been put into preserving the ruins of My Son, but it’s still sad to see that there are very few of them left standing. Archeologists have estimated that about 71 structures originally stood in this vast stretch of land, but majority were apparently obliterated within a single week of the Vietnam War. In fact, while exploring this area, it’s not unusual to pass by craters created by American bombs. The buildings that the bombs missed could not escape the forces of nature however.
I consider myself an imaginative person, but even I cannot fully fathom the scale and magnitude of My Son during its heyday. I’m fairly certain it was magnificent. This place reminds me quite a lot of the temples I saw in Cambodia.
Looking closely at what’s left, you can see the impressive detailing of some of the statues and wall carvings here. Our guide taught us how to spot where the modern restorations were made as they do not quite manage to copy the color of the original bricks. The darker, more vibrant colored bricks are usually the newer ones. The differences in materials, and even in the glue, make it easy to spot if you know what you’re looking for.
To this day, archeologists still do not fully understand the building techniques used by the Cham for these structures. For instance, they do not know exactly how the original parts look as if the bricks were seamlessly baked together, such that the inside almost looks like one smooth wall. What kind of glue did they even use? Archaeologists also do not know what tools were used to make such detailed carvings cut directly into the bricks.
All these unsolved mysteries make the history of My Son feel even more valuable somehow.
- Entrance fee for My Son Sanctuary is 150,000 VND. It includes buggy transfers to and from the main temple area, entry to all temples and museums, plus performances. My Son Sanctuary is open from 06:00 to 17:00.
- A show featuring traditional Cham music and dances is performed every 09:30, 10:30, and 14:30 at the public stage. The show lasts for 20 minutes.
- Check out the exact location of My Son Sanctuary HERE.
- For more in-depth articles about this location, check these ones out by Vietnam Drive and Vin Pearl.
8. Bay Mau Coconut Forest, Hoi An
Also known as the Cam Thanh Coconut Forest among locals, this forest got its name thanks to the palm trees that unexpectedly flourished in the area. About 200 years ago, migrants from the Southwest region of Vietnam brought and planted nipa palm seeds here, not knowing the salty water and rich soil would prove to be a magic combo. The nipa palms flourished and now cover an area of over 100 hectares!
The villagers living in this area clearly know how to make good use of the rich resources of the Bay May Coconut Forest. Not only do they use different parts of the trees to build their houses, they have also turned its waters into an eco-tourism attraction.
The highlight of the Bay Mau Coconut Forest experience is without a doubt the basket boat ride. Tourists have the option to pay an extra fee to go on a little cruise inside round boats that look like giant hollowed-out coconut husks. The small boats are good for 2 people, while the bigger boats are good for 4 people. A boatman will be in charge of ensuring your boat is heading in the right direction, because if you paddle it the wrong way you’ll just end up spinning endlessly!
The boat-ride begins through a narrow waterway flanked on both sides by thick nipa palms. Once you arrive at the open water “party area”, you will be met with a totally unexpected scene! Boatmen spinning like crazy inside their basket boats to the tune of PSY’s Gangnam Style! There are even performers on rafts either singing or dancing to Vietnamese tunes. The enthusiasm is absolutely contagious!
Apart from the entertainment, you can also get to see some of the fisherfolk in action. Most of the fishermen hanging around the area where the tourists are gathered are mostly just showing off or part of the tourist experience, but further down the river where the waters are deeper you can see actual fishermen going about their business. I thought it was nice just to get to observe them in silence while they candidly worked.
After you’ve had your fill of fun and music, you can transfer to a larger boat to be taken back to the city or wherever you prefer. It is quite shallow in the area where the basket boats are allowed with tourists inside, but once the water opens up to the Thu Bon River and Cua Dai Beach, it will be dangerous to be riding on such a small boat. You can make arrangements to ride a motor-boat back to Hoi An Old Town from here. We actually made a stop at the Kim Bong Carpentry Village before heading back to the Old Town.
- Entrance fee for the Coconut Forest is 30,000 VND. You will need to pay an additional 150,000 to 200,000 VND for the basket boat experience, plus tips for the boatmen.
- Check out the exact location of the Bay Mau Coconut Forest HERE.
- For a more in-depth article about this location, check this one out by Vietnam Discovery.
9. Hoi An Handicraft Villages
I have always regarded the Vietnamese as some of the most skilled craftsmen in the world, so any time I get a chance to visit handicraft villages here, I’m game. This time around, we visited Kim Bong Carpentry & Thanh Ha Pottery Villages.
From the Coconut Forest, we hopped onto a boat and jetted off to the Kim Bong Carpentry Village. Unfortunately, a lot of the workshops were closed at the time of our visit because it had flooded just days before. We were lucky to witness an artisan at work however, and I got to see how they incorporated pieces of seashells to their wooden pieces. I especially liked the coasters they had on display.
Of course these tiny things pale in comparison to the grander and larger-scale works some of the carpenters make. Apart from building wooden houses, the really talented carpenters even participate in national competitions where they carve out amazing showpieces. It is in these instances they get to display their eye for detail and skill for carving out intricate designs. There are also carpenters that specialize on making boats. We got to see some of them sitting by the shore in an unfinished state. I can’t even imagine how skilled you need to be to be able to make something so massive that is sturdy, safe to ride, and not to mention floats in open water.
According to our tourist guide, the number of people willing to continue this line of work are dwindling. Most of the descendants of talented carpenters now opt to live in the city and work in offices rather than hone their talents for carpentry. It makes me appreciate all the things I saw here even more.
I was especially appreciative when I found out that many of the carpenters from here regularly make trips to Hoi An Old Town to check up on the buildings there. To begin with, their predecessors from this same village were the ones who built those houses from scratch. It only makes sense that the current generation would continue to be in charge of maintaining them as part of the legacy of their village. I also think it’s quite clever that the government tapped them for this job rather than outsource. It ensures local carpenters will have a consistent source of livelihood!
Now, not to play favorites, but I actually ended up loving my experience at the Thanh Ha Pottery Village more because of the hands-on aspect. (I guess I understand that carpentry can be a more dangerous thing compared to pottery if you don’t know what you’re doing.) We visited this village on another occasion, but prior to arriving the rain was pouring so there weren’t many people around. The streets were empty as we walked around the village for a tiny bit before ending up in one of the family houses-slash-pottery workshops.
Now I know I said there was a hands-on aspect to our visit to the pottery village, but it’s not any sort of intensive pottery lesson if that’s what you’re thinking! The brief pottery-making session we had was mostly to allow visitors to experience the Vietnamese way of making pottery, wherein one person is pushing the potter’s wheel with a foot while the other is manipulating the clay. It was pretty informal, so I imagine people who would enjoy it the most are beginners and first-timers like myself. I honestly had a blast! Sadly, we could not take home the pieces we made lol.
Opposite to the Carpentry Village, I actually saw a lot of young people here in the Pottery Village. Our “teacher” herself is already the 6th generation artisan potter in her family, and that is honestly just so impressive to me. To have the talent, skill, and probably some sort of secret family technique passed on for generations! It’s the stuff of stories. I feel like this is a rare thing nowadays. To show our support, we purchased a handful of pieces from their family’s shop to take home.
- Entrance fee for the Thanh Ha Pottery Village is 35,000 VND. The ticket allows you entry to the village, plus a brief pottery-making class guided by one of its many artisan potters. This is really just a tiny contribution to the community more than anything else. They even give you a clay whistle in the shape of your Lunar Zodiac Sign as a gift.
- Entrance fee for the Kim Bong Carpentry Village is technically 35,000 VND as well, but it is not enforced as strictly.
- Check out the exact location of the Kim Bong Carpentry Village HERE and the Thanh Ha Pottery Village HERE.
- For a more in-depth article about Kim Bong Carpentry Village, check this one out by Vietnam Discovery. For a more in-depth article about Thanh Ha Pottery Village, check this one out by Hidden Hoi An.
10. Tra Que Vegetable Village, Hoi An
The Tra Que Vegetable Village is a famous countryside location known for their unique ways in growing vegetables and herbs enjoyed by nearby towns and cities. If you ask restaurant owners in Hoi An Old Town where they get their vegetables, the likely answer would be Tra Que. Vegetable growers here proudly tell visitors that they never use chemicals in growing their crops. The farming culture is an important one for Vietnam, especially because their cuisine always features a lot of fresh greens.
If you’ve ever been curious in any way about how Vietnam grows all the wonderful veggies they bring to the table at restaurants and eateries, I think Tra Que Vegetable Village is a wonderful place to get a glimpse.
In this area, the land is divided among several families, and some of them actually offer farm tours and cooking experiences that ensure a memorable visit. You can take your pick among the different packages offered here by different families. I can imagine that even kids would enjoy the farm experiences here!
We joined the Tra Que Water Wheel Family for our own farming experience, and we learned a lot while also having a lot of fun! Our guide Ting (pictured below with my family) was an absolute ball of energy, and she made our time here even more impactful with her banter and her sense of humor! The farming experience was most definitely unforgettable for me. From the first step of tilling the land, down to the last step of watering the seedlings, we actually got to try everything ourselves (with some supervision of course). After our “labor”, we were treated to a bit of relaxation by way of a short herbal massage.
As someone who likes to cook, I enjoyed the brief walk we had around the village to identify some of the plants, fruits, and veggies growing in the area. It was great preparation for the cooking part of our Water Wheel Experience. First, each of the members of my family got to learn how to make fresh rice paper, and then, we also got to learn how to make several dishes, including my new favorite Vietnamese dish called banh xeo.
Of course, we got to enjoy the fruits of labor afterwards as part of our lunch feast, along with more Vietnamese dishes cooked expertly by the Water Wheel family themselves.
This was one of my personal favorite moments during our entire trip. Once again, the hands-on aspect of it made it even more memorable. As we left the village, not only was my stomach full but my heart felt like it as well. I hope that more people will come here for a change of scenery. Located near Hoi An Old Town, it’s not at all difficult to make a stop at this Vegetable Village.
- Entrance fee for the Tra Que Vegetable Village is 35,000 VND. The fee for farming and cooking experiences vary from family to family, and whichever package you end up choosing. Our travel agent arranged our reservation with the Tra Que Water Wheel Family and it was a blast! You can check out specific details about their offerings HERE.
- Check out the exact location of the Tra Que Vegetable Village HERE.
- For a more in-depth article about this location, check this one out by Central Vietnam Guide.
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