48 hours in Hoi An is just enough time to get a taste of Central Vietnam’s culinary capital and its distinctive cuisine, superb street food and cooking classes, and outstanding restaurants. But be warned: it will leave you wanting to return for more. Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Hoi An, Vietnam.
If you’re a food lover with only 48 hours in Hoi An on the coast of Central Vietnam, you’re going to want to savour as much of this historic riverside town’s heavenly cuisine, lively markets and lip-smacking street food as possible – and squeeze in a cooking class and food tour.
We spent four months in Hoi An researching and writing about its distinctive style of Vietnamese cuisine, grazing at its markets and street food stalls, and dining in its restaurants every single day, so this is our very personal itinerary of the best of Hoi An for food lovers, everything tried and tested.
We included Hoi An on our recent epic 22-day Vietnam Culinary Tour and we will spend time in the UNESCO-World Heritage listed town again on our next Vietnam food adventure in July 2019. We still have a couple of spots left so do let us know if you’d like to join us. Link to the itinerary below.
Here’s how we like to spend 48 hours in Hoi An and how you can make the most of two days in Hoi An.
48 HOURS IN HOI AN – A TWO DAY ITINERARY FOR FOOD LOVERS
Hoi An’s ancient town with its scores of atmospheric old houses, incensed-filled temples and fascinating museums are what most travellers are here to see and the Vinh Hung Heritage Hotel is a great place to start. In the heart of Hoi An in a centuries-old wooden house, Vinh Hung is the best option for those who value history and charm over facilities. The atmosphere, character and location make up for the lack of a swimming pool.
If you can’t do without a pool, the Anantara Hoi An, on the edge of the UNESCO-listed old town is a five-minute stroll to the markets and a pleasant fifteen-minute amble to the Japanese Bridge, one of Hoi An’s main attractions. Expect spacious rooms in colonial-inspired buildings set in tropical gardens on the banks of the Thu Bon River.
For five-star luxury on the beach, the recently renovated Four Seasons Nam Hai overlooking the creamy sands of Ha My Beach is a destination in itself with Zen villas designed on feng shui principles, a spa set on a lake, several restaurants and bars, and two enormous infinity swimming pools. It’s a 15-minute drive to Hoi An.
With its magic views of the Thu Bon River, the upstairs balcony bar of waterfront eatery, Mango Rooms is the spot for sunset sipping. You’ll need to arrive around 5pm (happy hour!) to snag a spot on the balcony. If you miss out, book one for the next evening and head downstairs to settle on the comfy cushions, where you’ll still get to watch the action outside and gawk at the sunset. Book a table at sister-restaurant Mango Mango, across the river, when you order your passion-fruit sangria.
Before you head to dinner, wander along the riverside where you’ll see families selling candles to visitors, Vietnamese and foreign, to float on the river and make a wish. It may be touristy but it’s an old tradition thought to bring fortune and luck. Old women sell boat rides and it’s a very pleasant way to spend some time – and to get cross the river and avoid the throngs of tourists that teem into the town in the evening.
One of Hoi An’s best dining spots, Mango Mango (45 Nguyen Phuc Chu) is located in a three-storey colonial-style building across the river. It’s one of three outstanding restaurants owned and helmed by bandana-wearing Chef Duc, above. Fostered by an American family from Southern USA, where he first learnt to cook, Duc’s love of surfing took him travelling and cooking around the globe, everywhere from Mexico to Australia. The result is a deliciously light, globally inspired Vietnamese fusion cuisine. Book a table in the breezy upstairs dining room for Hoi An town and river views. Chef Duc occasionally hosts private chef’s tables cooking classes here; book ahead.
After dinner, slip upstairs to sip a cocktail on the narrow balcony of Mango Mango, which has sublime views of the Japanese Bridge and town, enchantingly illuminated at night. Or stay downstairs but head out to the back bar for live music and Vietnamese craft beers by Saigon-based Pasteur Street Brewing Company.
SATURDAY MORNING – BREAKFAST AND LUNCH
Hoi An is home to some of Vietnam’s – if not Southeast Asia’s – best street food, so you can’t spend 48 hours in Hoi An and not do a street food tour. Skip the hotel buffet and sign up for a guided tour with either The Original Taste of Hoi An Food Tour or Hoi An Food Tours.
The Original Taste of Hoi An Food Tour begins with an off the beaten track market tour and culinary walk, followed by a guided tasting indoors. This is a comprehensive tour: 40 tastings and drinks over four hours, plus you’ll learn the names of specialties, how to pronounce them, their ingredients, and when and how they should be eaten. You not only won’t be able to eat lunch afterwards, you might not be able to eat dinner.
Hoi An Food Tours is a lighter tour, with just ten delicious food and drink samplings of local dishes – although it’s still plenty of food and will suffice for lunch. You’ll also get to try your hand at learning how to make ‘white rose’ from the descendants of the creator of the specialty, visit Hoi An’s main market, and get to thank your weary feet for their effort with a foot massage at the end.
If you prefer to explore alone, follow our self-guided Hoi An street food tour to savour Hoi An’s quintessential dishes made by their most notable makers, from Hai, our favourite Hoi An noodle shop, for fantastic renditions of Hoi An’s legendary cao lau and mi Quang to Banh Mi Phuong for the best classic banh mi (pork, pate and salad filled baguettes) and Nguyen Thi Loc, best known as Madame Khanh ‘the Banh Mi Queen’, for her superb banh mi op la, with an omelette tucked inside. (See our recipes for banh mi and banh mi op la to understand the difference.).
We’ve punctuated our street food itinerary with visits to Hoi An’s ancient houses, Buddhist pagodas, Chinese temples, and small museums, so in between snacks you can walk off one meal and work up an appetite for another. Note: you’ll need to purchase a ticket to Hoi An ancient town, which gives you entry to key sights from the ticket boxes you’ll see as you enter the UNESCO-protected area.
If you didn’t do our self-guided street food tour spend the afternoon visiting Hoi An’s historic sights, atmospheric Chinese temples, antique timber houses, and compelling little museums, for an insight into Hoi An’s history as a cosmopolitan trading port. Don’t forget to first purchase your tickets to the ancient town sights at one of the ticket boxes.
Start with the absorbing Hoi An Museum of History and Culture and don’t miss Japanese Covered Bridge (although you can also pass over the bridge in the evening); Tan Ky Old House and Phung Hung Old House, two of the best preserved of the ancient houses; and the Cantonese Chinese Assembly Hall, the Quan Cong Temple and the Fujian Chinese Assembly Hall.
Nab a window seat for more people watching at Hoi An’s best wine bar, lovely White Marble (98 Le Loi) one block from the riverside. Australian owner Nick Hatton’s brother is winemaker Peter Hatton at the Hatton family’s French Island Vineyards near Melbourne, so as you’d expect the bar offers a great selection of wines by the glass. You can also expect friendly staff, an eclectic soundtrack, and delicious food. We love the deep-fried ‘money bags’ filled with plump sweet prawns.
Dine at Miss Ly Café (22 Nguyen Hue), one of Hoi An’s oldest restaurants, set across two rooms of the charming family house. You should see Ms Ly on the woks in the kitchen in a little black dress and meet her American art teacher husband Nathan who looks after front of house. This is the place to sample a second serve of Hoi An specialties, including bánh bao bánh vạc (‘white rose’ dumplings), hoanh thanh chien (fried shrimp wantons) and fantastic cao lầu. It can be hard to get a table and they don’t take bookings, so if you’re not in luck, put your name down then browse the nearby shops. Or head back to White Marble’s air-conditioned restaurant upstairs.
For post-dinner drinks, make a beeline for Hoi An’s hippest spot, Q Bar (94 Nguyen Thai Hoc), which has the most dramatic interior of any old house in town and heady Hoi An-inspired cocktails.
Rise early for a noodle soup at Hoi An Central Market, a huge food hall where friendly vendors offer local and regional specialties at fixed prices, including cao lầu, bun bo Hue (a spicy beef soup from the imperial city of Hue) and banh xeo (crispy yellow turmeric tinted filled pancake), Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk, and fantastic fresh juices (love the avocado). You can also pick up edible souvenirs such as dried cao lau noodles although we recommend you take a short stroll to the nearby maker of Hoi An’s famous chilli sauce for some jars.
SUNDAY MORNING SUNDAY LUNCH
Spending 48 hours in Hoi An and not doing a cooking class is like not doing a street food tour. Impossible! The best is Red Bridge Cooking School and their full-day ‘deluxe’ experience is the more hands-on of the two programmes. After a wander through Tra Que organic herb gardens to learn about local herbs and vegetables and a visit to a market to shop for ingredients, you’ll drive to the cooking school, overlooking a serene part of the river. Four Vietnamese dishes are taught, including pho (beef noodle soup) – you’ll learn to make both the stock and fresh pho noodles from scratch – and cha ca (clay pot fish with dill), which you’ll lunch on in the adjoining restaurant, before boarding a boat for a peaceful cruise back to Hoi An. Sometimes they make a short stop en route at an island well regarded for its artisans, particular wood-workers.
SUNDAY LATE AFTERNOON
Seek respite from the heat at the delightful Reaching Out Tea House (131 Tran Phu) for thirst-quenching Vietnamese teas. There’s a tiny shaded courtyard out back although we love the window tables for people watching. After, head down the alleyway to their Reaching Out Arts and Crafts (103 Nguyen Thai Hoc) for quality handicrafts and jewellery made on site by Vietnamese artisans with disabilities. Don’t leave without a pair of elegant silver lantern earrings.
After its food, Hoi An is famous for its shopping. It’s so fabulous many travellers hold off buying anything on their trip until they get to Hoi An. Great buys include lanterns, silk clothes, cushions, scarves, and throws, silver jewellery, coconut lacquer bowls and other lacquerware, ceramics, decorative objects, and beautiful handmade leather goods. Getting tailor-made clothes is also a must-do, but 48 hours in Hoi An is not enough time to get quality tailoring done, so you’ll need to extend your stay if that’s a priority.
Dine at waterfront Mai Fish (45 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai), located in a beautiful French colonial style villa decorated in art deco furniture, to a smooth jazz soundtrack. Here, the kitchen dishes up Chef Duc’s mother’s recipes. Order the barbecued sesame and lemongrass pork skewers that comes on a massive platter with salad greens and herbs, that you leisurely roll in soft rice paper sheets and dip in a pungent peanut chilli sauce.
With its colourful lanterns, striking art on its walls and comfy sofas, casual Tam Tam Café (110 Nguyen Thai Hoc) is as fine a place as any for a final drink and game of pool. The friendly owner is often up for a round (trust us: we finished many a night playing pool with him) and what better way to end your 48 hours in Hoi An than kicking back with the locals.
So how was your 48 hours in Hoi An? We’d love to hear from you if you tested out our Hoi An itinerary or any of our other weekend itineraries.
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