Hoi An is loved for its charming architecture and small alleys filled with colorful lanterns. But the town is also a foodie paradise - endless specialty dishes, a vibrant coffee scene, craft beer bars, and fresh seafood on the beach. If you’ve only got a day, here’s how you can enjoy the best eats and the best coffee Hoi An has to offer. Just be warned, it's the type of place that seducing people into staying longer than planned.
7 a.m. - Breakfast at the guest house
Breakfast is the primer that sets the tone for the rest of the day. It should be filling, but not weigh you down. It should be energizing and balanced, not put you into a food coma. (I am looking at you, deliciously devious English breakfast.)
Fortunately, in Vietnam, breakfast can just as tantalizing as lunch and dinner. We stayed at the lovely Hoi An Estuary Villa (Facebook page) in An Bang. Every morning, we had our choice of nutritious and tasty breakfast options. If you’ve already tried Pho and Cao Lau, you will also want to give Mi Quang a try. This is a dish of grilled pork belly and pork floss on a bed of noodles and aromatic herbs in a delicate broth.
Breakfast is not complete without a cup of Vietnamese coffee, cà phê sữa. It’s a strong, bitter Robusta brew mixed with a healthy dollop of sweetened condensed milk. Be warned, the combination of high caffeine and sugar works like rocket fuel. Admittedly, you are unlikely to get a refined tasting brew outside of dedicated cafés. Even so, it will surely get your morning going.
9 a.m. - Cycle to Hoi An
Energised by the breakfast and coffee, it is time to start exploring Hoi An. The best way to get there from An Bang is by renting a bicycle. The town is only a 20-30 minutes leisurely ride away from An Bang. Thus, it is a comfortable and easy way to get into town. What’s more, it is certainly also much needed to get your blood sugar down after the cà phê sữa shock. Normally, the guesthouses in An Bang (and probably also Hoi An) provide their guests with basic but well maintained bicycles for free.
Besides, the ride from An Bang to Hoi An is pleasant and offers you a glimpse of Vietnam’s picturesque countryside. The route follows well maintained paths through idyllic, green rice paddies and past innocuous water buffaloes. Just don’t get too distracted by the lovely sight and fall into the ditch or it could be a rather muddled experience.
10 a.m. - Explore the central market
After reaching town, head straight to the central market, Chợ Hội An, where you can park your bicycle in front of the market or on a side street. If that fails, there is also paid parking in the street that leads to the market.
Despite being in the touristy area of town, the market is great because, it is still catering to normal people who want to do their daily shopping for groceries. Inside, the market hall, shop around for food. We recommend snacking on summer rolls (Gỏi cuốn) and banh bao banh vac (bánh bao bánh vạc), or white rose dumplings, a specialty from Hoi An at Mrs. Thu’s stall. Read more about our experience at the Hoi An central market in our blog post.
10.30 a.m. - See the charms of Hoi An
In the morning, the old part of Hoi An is still fairly empty, making it a good time to take a tour of the famed ancient town. Therefore, pick up your bike and ride it through the narrow streets and alleys. Riding through the beautiful old town, you will pass colorful temples and old wooden merchant houses, soaking in the atmosphere.
The city is famed for its traditional architecture, small houses washed in mustard yellow with concave shaped roofs. The most iconic image of Hoi An is the one of Chùa cầu, the covered bridge, built by Japanese merchants in the 16th century.
11 a.m. - Take a coffee break
The late morning, when the tour buses start to arrive in Hoi An, is a good time to take a coffee break. Fortunately, in Hoi An, you never have to walk far to get a great cup. The town is home to many great cafés that are part of the wave of specialty coffee currently transforming coffee culture in Vietnam.
For a relaxed cup of coffee in a cosy courtyard, try Phin Coffee (Google Maps). They roast their own Vietnamese single origin beans inside the café. Moreover, to interested customers, they explain how their coffee is sourced and roasted and the different brewing methods. Order a cup brewed in the traditional stainless steel “phin” filter, that slowly lets water pass through coarse grounds. Alternatively, choose a cup brewed with a woodneck cloth filter depending on the bean you choose.
In case you want a more atmospheric setting to sip your coffee, check out Hoi An Roastery. Besides, Hoi An Roastery makes excellent cups of Vietnamese single origins. The roastery only opened its first café in 2015 but has quickly expanded to 6 different locations, all in close proximity to each other in Hoi An’s old town.
12 p.m. - Lunch on Cao Lau
If there is one signature dish from Hoi An, it is cao lau (cao lầu). We ate it at Verdant Space Cao Lau Restaurant, but it can be found in a couple of places including the central market. The noodles, deemed to be one of Vietnam’s culinary treasures by the Huff Post, are made using wheat, well water from Hoi An, and ash from a tree that grows on islands off the coast of the town. The ash makes them more flexible so that they can be hand pulled. The noodles are topped with thinly sliced barbecue pork, fried pork rinds and pork floss. Stir to mix the aromatic herbs and lettuce and the sauce at the bottom of the plate with the noodles and pork.
2 p.m. - Sampling Banh Mi
After lunch time, Hoi An fills up and the masses of visitors can be a bit overwhelming. But before you leave town, there is one more obligatory stop. Take the bicycle and make your way to Mrs Khanh, the banh mi queen, to get a taste of one of the best banh mi sandwiches in town. Banh mi is the perfect bite of fluffy bread, fresh herbs, savoury pâté and meat, cucumbers, pickled daikon radish, and chilli. Read more about the most popular banh mi shops in Hoi An in our blog post.
3 p.m. - Relax on the beach
After the trip to banh mi heaven, we suggest you cycle back to An Bang. With the heat of the day slowly fading to more bearable temperatures, now is the best time to enjoy the beautiful beach right outside of Hoi An. An Bang has a long stretch of soft white sand beaches and there are many beachside cafés like the Sound of Silence Coffee Shop where you can enjoy an exquisite cup with a magnificent view.
7 p.m. - Seafood dinner
The beach is great, but the real reason to stay in An Bang is that the fresh seafood offered in many restaurants in the village. The seafood dishes are not always cheap, but always fresh and tasty. From the beach, walk to where Hai Ba Trung street starts to find a couple of specialized fish restaurants. If you want a less touristy setting, try Nhà hàng Cỏ Hồng close to the river and order marinated fish wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled over charcoals.
9 p.m. - Ending the day with craft beer
There is no better end to an exciting day of sampling the best food and coffee in Hoi An than to get a tasting of Vietnamese craft beers. Let’s be honest, the industrial beer in Vietnam is pretty tasteless and watery. At best, it is a refreshing drink to wash down delicious banh xeos.
Bungalow Beach Bar in the heart of An Bang is just the right place to test various Vietnamese craft beers right from the tap. They also have an assortment of imported beers from Europe, particularly, Belgian beer. So grab a chair, get a pint and say cheers to a lovely town with great food, beer and coffee in a fantastic country.
Where to stay
We recommend staying in An Bang away from the bustle of the ancient town and its floods of afternoon tour groups. An Bang offers a host of great guesthouses, an easy stroll away from the beach and a twenty minute bicycle ride from Hoi An.
Stay in Hoi An Estuary Villa (Facebook page), a family owned guesthouse that offers comfortable, clean rooms, great breakfast, and a small pool. The guesthouse offers reasonably priced transfers to/from the airport and train station, as well as scooter rentals and free bicycles. What’s more, the guesthouse was extremely welcoming and makes guests feel like part of the family.
How to get to Hoi An
The nearest airport to Hoi An is Da Nang, Vietnam’s third largest city and a 30-40 minute ride away from Hoi An and An Bang. Likewise, the train station is also in Da Nang. The best option to get to Hoi An and An Bang would be to organize an airport pick up by your hotel or guesthouse, which should cost around US$ 10.