How I Fell For Hoi An - This American Girl

Hoi An


In an instant alleys and buildings, bridges and rivers, merged into a black canvas until the soft glow of candlelit lanterns began to illuminate their surroundings.


Hoi An


I made laps around Hoi An’s Old Town in search of a hotel for nearly an hour when every light was replaced by an encompassing darkness as the town paid homage to the full moon.


hoi an full moon


Children lined the bridge selling colorful lit paper lotuses. Tourists released the precious parcels along the dark river.


Vietnam banana pancakes


Women grilled cakes made of sweet potato and grated coconut over an open flame. Banana pancakes were submerged into deep vats of golden oil.


Hoi An


Despite the bustle the sound of silence rang as soft as a town blanketed in a fresh sheet of snow. At least for a moment.


Hoi An


Lights returned, traffic commenced, tourists dined and I took my first scan of the reason why I was still in Vietnam.


Hoi An


My trip had not gone well thus far and I seriously considered fleeing to Thailand, Laos, really anywhere with a direct flight from Hanoi.


Hoi An


However my desire to see Hoi An, and likely my extreme stubbornness, sent me on the overnight train headed south against the typhoon instead.


Hoi An


Hoi An’s perfect facade stirred the skeptic in me.


Hoi An


Was this town guised with charm the ultimate tourist trap?


Hoi An


Shops lined every street and “you buy something” are the words I heard most.


Hoi An


Westerners filled restaurants that served overpriced pizza with a side of Vietnamese.


Hoi An


Unkempt expats passed out fliers advertising empty clubs blasting Pit Bull across the river.


Hoi An


But before long Hoi An found its way into my apprehensive heart.


Hoi An


Because for the first time since I arrived in Vietnam


Hoi An


I saw beauty everywhere I looked.


Hoi An


I saw a world that had not been devastated by war


Hoi An


with old houses washed in yellow on picturesque alleys


Hoi An


preserved pagodas painted in bright hues


Hoi An


and wooden boats rocking gently beside a lantern covered bridge.


Hoi An


I dined on local specialties


Hoi An


shrimp dumplings pinched into a perfect white rose


Hoi An cau lau


hand cut noodles steamed in spices in hidden courtyards


Hoi An


crispy pancakes wrapped in rice paper smothered with fresh herbs


Hoi An


I dined in local markets


Hoi An


darling restaurants


Hoi An


or from a plastic chair on the street.


Hoi An


I chatted with the tailors


Hoi An


touched trinkets


Hoi An


and window shopped.


Hoi An


Sat in silence in traditional teahouses


Hoi An


paid my respects to temples


Hoi An dance


witnessed traditional music and dance.


An Hoi peninsula


I escaped to an island with the old way of life


An Hoi peninsula


where artisans and craftsmen


An Hoi peninsula


make rice paper for spring rolls


An Hoi peninsula


carve elaborate decorative sculptures


An Hoi peninsula


and repair classic wooden boats.


An Bang Beach


I rode my bicycle through rice fields


An Bang Beach


passing sheep, cows, and water buffalo


An Bang Beach


to an endless golden sand beach


An Bang Beach


with fishermen and distant islands


An Bang


there with the sound of the surf


An Bang Beach


I felt complete.


Hoi An


All this beauty  I discovered


Hoi An


though stunning still could not hold a candle to


Hoi An Free Bicycle Tour


the people I met on the journey


Hoi An spa


whose love, generosity, and kindness


Reaching Out Tea House


radiated more brilliantly


hoi an lanterns


than the hundreds of lanterns


hoi an lanterns


that light Hoi An each night.




How to Get to Hoi An


This American Girl



Flights to nearby Danang run daily from Saigon and Hanoi and last about an hour. Check out Air Asia and VietJet for deals starting at $20. Shuttles go nearly every hour between Danang and Hoi An, last 45 minutes, and cost around $5.



Trains go several times per day all the way from Saigon or Hanoi. You can pick up in the trains at the popular stops along the way like Hue or Nha Trang. Many people claim the train ride from Hue to Hoi An is one of the most gorgeous rides in the country. Keep in mind the train station does not go to Hoi An, rather to Danang so you will need to arrange transport from there.



The Sinh Hop on Hop off bus connects Hoi An with Hue and Nha Trang. It’s about four hours from Hue and twelve from Nha Trang. Many people complain about the safety and comfort of these sleeping buses, but I had a blast laying out on the bed-like seat and staring out the window for the short trip from Hue.



Plenty of shops in Hue rent motorbikes for those who want to take the gorgeous highway that leads to Hoi An. If you don’t feel so bold, there are also tour operators who will take you on the back of their bike. As with any tour in Vietnam, do your research and go with a company that is well rated on Trip Advisor.



Where to Stay in Hoi An


Hoi An


Accommodations in Hoi An are more expensive than many other parts of Vietnam. There are many beautiful resorts at the nearby beaches if you’re looking to splurge. Budget options tend to lie between the Old Town and the beach.


Sunflower Hotel

$9 for dorm, $20 for private includes a huge buffet breakfast

The Sunflower Hotel is the only place in Hoi An with dorm beds, a must for budget solo travelers. I shared a private room here with my lovely friend Lisa from Amsterdam. This hotel has a backpacker scene with free computer use, a swimming pool, and a huge breakfast that includes made to order eggs, stir fries, salads, fruit, and fresh juice.


Anatara Hoi An Resort

$170 for a double room with breakfast

The location of Anatara Hoi An Resort could not be more ideal. It is on a small, beautiful street in the Old Town close to shops, spas, tailors, restaurants, and cafes. The grounds have a tropical setting with a swimming pool. If you prefer being in town rather than on the beach, this is the place to splurge.


Ha An Hotel

$75 for a double room with breakfast

The Ha An Hotel is located right next to the Anatara Hoi An Resort, but at a much lower price point. They offer free bicycle rentals, great if you want to explore the nearby beaches, and have outdoor areas for relaxing for a drink in the evening or enjoying the buffet breakfast.


An Bang Seaside Village Homestay

Beach cabins start at $50

If you prefer to be at the sea than in the town, An Bang Seaside Village Homestay is the place to be. It’s next to a secluded strip of beach but a short walk over the lovely beachfront bar and restaurant Le Banyan. The cabins feel more like a home than a hotel as each is detached and has a private terrace. If you’re a family or traveling with a group the larger villas are a great deal and come equipped with outdoor kitchens. If you plan to stay in Hoi An for more than a few days I highly recommend this option.



Where to Eat in Hoi An


Hoi An cuisine


Hoi An has some of the best food in the entire country with tons of local specialties and hundreds of restaurants that cater to locals and tourists. Here are a few of my favorite places to eat, though with so many to choose from I’m sure there are many gems not on this list.


On the Street

Like the rest of Vietnam, street food is everywhere. Follow your nose and look for places that are busy with locals. The classic dishes here include cau lau (special rice noodles cooked with broth, sliced pork, fresh herbs, and crispy rice crackers), white rose (steamed shrimp dumplings), com ga (rice fried with chicken, turmeric, and other spices), and bahn xeo (fried crispy pancake stuffed with shrimp and pork wrapped in rice paper with bean sprouts and herbs). The indoor street food market directly across from the outdoor fruit and vegetable market is a great place to sample all different street food. They have tons of local dishes for you to try in addition to what I’ve already listed like grilled pork spring rolls and chicken soup.



$2-10 for entrees

Mermaid was the first restaurant opened for tourists in Hoi An by the famous Ms. Vy. Its interior may be simple but the food is outstanding and less expensive than her other restaurants. The menu has pages of classic dishes but my favorite include the prawns served in a young coconut, the crispy won tons stuffed with shrimp and topped with tomatoes and crab, and the green papaya salad.


Mrs Dung’s

$1-5 for entrees

This simple eatery across the bridge next to the night market has excellent local food and an incredibly sweet staff. The fried shrimp spring rolls were probably the best I’ve had in Vietnam and the seafood we had here was inexpensive and delicious.


Blue Dragon

$2-10 for entrees

Blue Dragon has a lively atmosphere at night with outdoor seating and the best fish steamed in banana leaf. My other favorite dishes were the fresh shrimp spring rolls and the eggplant cooked in claypot.


Cargo Café

$1-$8 for pastries, salads, and sandwiches

If you’re craving something Western, Cargo Cafe has an excellent selection of international salads, sandwiches, and pastries. They even had a beet salad and multigrain bread.


Morning Glory

$5-$15 for entrees

Ms. Vy’s most famous restaurant, Morning Glory is the place to eat local dishes prepared by the master. The setting is beautiful and upscale and serves local specialties like the famous white rose. They also offer cooking classes daily.



$3-$5 for entrees

It may not be Vietnamese, but Ganesh serves some of the best food in Hoi An. In fact, they cook some of the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted. Break your diet and gorge on the crispy naan with buttery curries and fried samosas. Can you tell I’m craving this right now?


Karma Waters

$2-$5 for entrees, $3 for fresh juice

Wherever I go I make sure to find at least one healthy restaurant where I can detox from all my culinary adventures. Karma Waters strives to be as organic as possible, uses no MSG or sugar, and has a 100% vegan menu. I drank their carrot, apple, ginger juice daily. They have an excellent selection of salads to make you feel cleansed and ready for some fried spring rolls. They are also the only place I found in Hoi An that will refill your plastic water bottle.


Le Banyan

$5-$15 for entrees

Le Banyan is the place to be when you’re at An Bang beach. The staff is incredibly friendly, they play great music, and its one of the few places I’ve found in Vietnam where you can meet expats. The have a big selection of salads and they even serve French wine. Come on Saturday nights when the bar becomes a disco with international DJs drowning out the sound of the waves.



Where to Drink in Hoi An


Reaching Out Teahouse


Reaching Out Tea House

$2-3 for a pot of tea, $3 for a cookie sampler for two

This is hands down one of the most beautiful places I have ever had the honor of frequenting. Reaching Out originally began as a workshop selling handmade Vietnamese earthenware in the style of Hue. From the shop they developed a tea house which serves their drinks and snacks on the special handcrafted dishes they make. The entire staff is speech and hearing impaired and have created an unbelievably beautiful space of silence. Go here, go here, seriously go here. Afterwards you can visit their shop and take the experience home with you.


Mia Coffee

$1-3 for tea, coffee, and smoothies

Mia Coffee became my “office” during my time in Hoi An. The breezy space, wrap around porch, expat scene, European cappuccinos, and friendly staff made me feel right at home. They also had no problem with me hanging out for hours on my laptop. Come for espresso or a smoothie and sit and watch the world go by.


Meet Market

$2 for cocktails

You might laugh at the name but Meet Market has a fun traveller scene and live music. It’s located on the main strip across the bridge along the river. Sit outside, enjoy two for one gin and tonics, do some people watching, and mingle.


On a Boat

$2 for cocktails

Albeit touristy, sipping on a cocktail aboard a boat docked on the river is a wonderfully atmospheric experience. They have twinkling lights and live music and make for a romantic experience or a silly girls’ night out.



Where to Shop in Hoi An


Hoi An shopping


Tailor Shops

Hoi An is famous for its many tailor shops, and believe me they are everywhere. These tailors can make basically anything within a day tailored to your body. Be aware that they are not designers. Your best bet is to come in with an actual piece of clothing you want replicated and bring your own fabric as well. The quality of work can vary, I’d recommend starting with one inexpensive piece and deciding whether to proceed with that shop. I had leather shoes made for $10. Time will tell if they fall apart but I loved the design and ahem, they cost $10.


The Outdoor Market

The market lining the river in Hoi An Old Town is a bustling scene of fish, herbs, fruit, bracelets, traveler pants, and kitchen supplies. It’s worth exploring for the photos if nothing else.


The O Collective

This new shop opened just a couple of months ago, but I could not be more excited about what it plans to bring to Hoi An. All of their products are sourced from Vietnam and are artfully displayed in this high end boutique. They sell beautiful clothing, cute souvenirs, and local liquors, coffee, and chocolate. The top floor will house a tasting room where patrons can sample local vietnamese cacao and coffee.



Avan’na brings high end fashion to Hoi An’s predictable tailoring scene. Owned by two expat friends with a fashion background, the clothing is stunning and very international. Each garment feels truly special. Beautiful silks and linen are imported from Nepal and crafted into luxurious garments. Even if you’re not in the market stop into the shop simply to see their incredible displays.


Gemstones Art Museum

The Gemstones Art Museum, affectionately called GAM, houses a collection of unique gemstones originating in Vietnam. Their boutique has beautifully designed pieces incorporating these gemstones for shockingly reasonable prices. Had my budget allowed I would have bought half of the things in there. They also have a lovely courtyard in the bar for cooling off with a drink.


Tra My Aroma House

A small local shop offering reasonably priced teas, a large selection of essential oils, and one of my dietary staples: goji berries.


Dingo Deli

If you are self catering in Hoi An this is an excellent place to purchase specialty items. I found unprocessed oats, local unsweetened farm yogurt, chia seeds, and other health food here. They also have deli sandwiches, cheese, wine, and brownies for a more decadent experience. If you’re interested in an extended stay in Hoi An, their website is an incredible resource for expats.


What to Do in Hoi An


an bang beach


Days in Hoi An can be spent simply wandering the streets, popping into history Old Houses and temples, and dining in lovely cafes and restaurants. However there are plenty of activities in and around Hoi An for a bit more excitement and culture.


An Bang Beach

As a self proclaimed beach bum, Hoi An’s proximity to long stretches of golden sand beach is a big reason why I stuck around for so long. My first day I rode my bicycle to Cua Dai beach, just a couple of miles from the Sunflower Hotel, but was turned off by the development and high concentration of hawkers. An Bang beach is a little further out on Hai Bai Trung road past town but the ride is scenic and the chill vibes are worth it. Read my post on An Bang Beach for more information.


Cham Islands

If you are in Hoi An during the dry season (February – September) there are some nearby islands with calm water for snorkeling and diving. The islands themselves are said to be beautiful, but don’t expect the diving to compare to places like Thailand and Indonesia.



Hoi An Yoga offers Hatha, Yin, and Restorative classes nearly every day and occasionally beach yoga at An Bang. It’s a rare treat to find yoga, especially with this variety, in Vietnam. She also offers private classes and reiki sessions.


Hoi An Free Bicycle Tour

This completely free day tour of the An Hoi Peninsula on the Hoi An Free Bicycle Tour was one of my favorite experiences during my time in Hoi An. The organization is operated by University students in Danang who use the tour to both practice their English, which is excellent, and teach tourists about village life around Hoi An. We visited a family making rice paper and rice noodles, watched the men repair boats, learned about the amazing artisans and artists who work on the island, visited a family chapel, learned to make grass mats, and road our bicycle down scenic country roads. The guides are fun, friendly, and very knowledgeable.  Afterwards our tour guides, Tina and Sophie, took us to an authentic restaurant and taught us about local food. Hard to believe such a wonderful experience was free.


Morning Glory Cooking School

$27 for a trip to the market, cooking instruction, and enjoyment of four local dishes

Ms. Vy or her adept assistant teach you how to craft local Hoi An specialties. This is a delicious cultural experience to take home with you. Restaurants all over town offer lessons, but if you want the best head to Morning Glory.


My Son Cham Ruins

I did not make it to My Son, but these ancient ruins are even older than Ankor Wat. Unfortunately we (Americans) dropped bombs on their grandeur so the sight is not as impressive as it could be. Still I hear it is worth a trip!


Calla Lily Spa

My second day in Hoi An, walking down the street with huge piece of gauze taped to my leg, I stopped to ask a woman for directions. She asked if she could take a look at my leg. In no time she sent her brother to the pharmacy, cleaned and dressed my wound, and refused to accept payment for the supplies. Her name is Lily and she became a true friend during my time in Hoi An. If you find yourself in the area, pay her a visit at her spa Calla Lily, where I received the best massage of my life. The massage begins with a lemongrass foot soak and a cup of fresh tamarind juice. I can’t explain what happened during my massage, but afterwards I felt like a different person. The anxiety and tension I held onto since before I even arrived in Vietnam was gone. I think that’s the moment I let go and fell for Hoi An.


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Hello beautiful soul,
In August 2018 I stopped blogging as This American Girl. You can continue the journey with us over at Earth Daughters where we walk the sacred path of feminine awakening. Will love to see you there if it speaks to you.
With love, Camille