Hoi An, central Vietnam’s former bustling trade port, remains one of the country’s most-visited locales. Visitors flock to the town to see its colorful buildings and its picturesque riverside views. Unfortunately, the ticketing system of Hoi An Ancient Town, where most of the main attractions are located, is far from straightforward. To prevent you from wasting either your time or your money, this guide consists of a complete list of all the attractions which the Ancient Town has to offer. You’ll learn a little bit about each one, along with tips on which ones to visit and which ones to skip.
Confusion From the Get-go
After checking into my hotel, I went out to explore. Just as I’d read about, there was a ticket booth near the entrance to the ancient town. For a single ticket, I could visit 5 of the town’s attractions. And so I went off exploring, popping into different old houses and assembly halls. But not even a few hours had passed before I was down to my last ticket!
While some of the ornate assembly halls were truly extraordinary, other “attractions” required only a few minutes to see and were largely underwhelming. I asked the nearest staff member how many attractions there were in total. “Twenty-two,” she told me (although I have yet to find an official list). And she further explained that when my 5 ticket stubs were all torn off, I had to pay another 120,000 dong to see more places.
I’d not even been in Hoi An for half a day and was already feeling a little ripped off. While I knew what some of the more popular highlights were, there are actually many more sites in Hoi An Ancient Town than what often gets written about. Therefore, in order to save future visitors the time and potential hassle, I decided to visit ALL of Hoi An Ancient Town’s ticketed attractions, ranking them in order from most to least essential.
In total, I spent about 5 days in Hoi An but spent only one full day that was completely dedicated to the Ancient Town. After coming back from day trips on other days, I’d visit some more attractions here and there before I finally managed to see them all. Most people should be able to see the highlights of the Ancient Town in just a day or two.
Before going over the list of attractions, let’s briefly go over Hoi An’s history and why it’s become such a popular tourist spot.
Hoi An: A Brief Introduction
Hoi An, located in Vietnam’s Quang Nam Province, was one of Southeast Asia’s main trading hubs from the 15th to 19th centuries. While the area was originally the main port of the Champa Kingdom, the port town was established by local Nguyen lords once they gained control over central Vietnam. Trade with China, Japan and to a lesser extent, Europe, flourished for hundreds of years during Hoi An’s heydey.
Merchants who came for frequent or extended stays started building their own permanent communities in Hoi An. To feel more at home, they built assembly halls to gather with people from their same locale, while establishing shrines and pagodas where they could worship their preferred deities. Over time, Chinese, Japanese and the local Vietnamese styles merged to form a distinctly Hoi An flavor of architecture.
Hoi An, however, would eventually lose its relevance for a number of reasons. One being the isolationist policies of later rulers, while the French would then establish a new trading port in nearby Da Nang.
Miraculously, Hoi An’s ancient buildings received little damage during the Vietnam War. Now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Hoi An is one of Vietnam’s most-visited destinations. The town’s immense popularity, however, can evoke a wide range of opinions from its visitors (my own thoughts at the very bottom of the article).
Hoi An's Ticketing System
Close to the entrance of the Ancient Town, you’ll encounter a ticket booth selling the required passes. For 120,000 VND, you’ll get one ticket with 5 stubs attached. These get torn off at each of the official attractions until nothing’s left. After that, you have no choice but to pay for another set of 5.
Simply put, this is not a great system. It gives visitors a false impression that all locations in the Ancient Town are more or less equal in terms of quality and value, while the reality is very different. Hopefully, this guide helps make exploring Hoi An an easier and smoother experience.
I’m not sure what all 22 attractions are supposed to be, as they aren’t even clearly numbered in the town’s brochure. All in all, I was able to find 16 ticketed attractions plus a number of free ones, and I’m pretty certain I saw all or nearly all of the main sites in town. You may also be able to use a ticket for a boat ride along the river, though this is the one thing I didn’t try.
In the end, I managed to see everything with only 2 tickets. How? It’s not uncommon to find no staff at some of the attractions. In a couple of other cases, I told them I had no ticket and they suggested I buy a small trinket instead. For this guide, though, let’s assume that each place is actually checking tickets, with the exception of the permanently free attractions listed at the bottom.
Using Your 1st Ticket
Here are the five sites I would recommend you visit if you only plan on buying one single 120,000 VND ticket. Everyone’s interests are going to vary, of course, so you may prefer to swap a couple out with something from the “2nd ticket” list.
Cantonese Assembly Hall
The Cantonese Assembly Hall (also called Quang Dong) was built by merchants from Canton, China in 1786. It was a place for the seafaring merchants to rest, have meetings and worship. One of the main deities worshipped here is Quan Cong, a historical Chinese general of the former Wu Kingdom. Notably, he also happens to be a favorite of the Chinese immigrant community in Saigon.
The Cantonese Assembly Hall is a colorful feast for the eyes. All around the site, you’ll find shrines, lion statues, and intricately carved bas-reliefs. The highlight is arguably the dragon fountain in the central courtyard, where you’ll find an assortment of spiral-necked creatures made out of Chinese ceramics.
It is one of, if not the most impressive building in Hoi An. If you only visit one assembly hall during your time in town, make it this one.
Phung Hung Old House
One of the larger and more impressive of the old houses in Hoi An, the Phung Hung house is located just past the Japanese bridge. The house dates back to 1780 and has been occupied by the same family ever since. They made their fortune selling glassware, spices and perfumed woods.
Architecturally, the house fuses elements of Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese traditional buildings. Consisting of two stories, the house is held up by 80 wooden columns. Like at many of the old houses, you’ll even see an ancestral shrine.
In addition to the house itself, one of the highlights here is the view from the balcony on the second floor.
Tan Ky Old House
Built by a local Vietnamese merchant family a couple centuries ago, the Tan Ky Old House is one of the finest examples of traditional architecture in Hoi An.
In the daytime, the first floor of the house is illuminated by light shining in on the central courtyard. In addition to looking nice, the courtyard served the functional purpose of collecting water during heavy rains. In fact, the area has been affected by heavy flooding so many times throughout its history, that pulleys were put in place to lift furniture and other artifacts to the second floor in an emergency.
In the back of the house, a door even opens up for a nice view of the river.
The Japanese Covered Bridge
The Japanese Covered Bridge, built back in 1593, is considered by many as a symbol of the city itself. Back then, Japanese merchants were thriving in Vietnam, and so were the Chinese. The bridge was built to link the two communities. The Japanese would remain in Hoi An until 1663, when the Tokugawa Shogunate put an abrupt end to all foreign trade, thus sending Japan into a long period of isolation.
The interior of the bridge features a small shrine to the deity Bac De, an incarnation of the Taoist Jade Emperor. This was probably added by locals later, as Taoism never really caught on in Japan. You’ll also find statues of both dogs and monkeys, symbolizing years of the Chinese Zodiac.
This is a somewhat controversial choice for a place to use your ticket on, as the interior is small and can be seen in a couple of minutes. On the other hand, the bridge is one of Hoi An’s most famous landmarks. If you’re already going to make your way over to see it, you might as well take a look inside. There are ticket-checkers at the bridge’s entrance, but if you really want to save a ticket, there’s an alternate free bridge closer to the river.
Fujian Assembly Hall
First built in the late 17th century, the Fujian Assembly Hall, as one might imagine, was built as a place for merchants from Fujian Province, China. The Fujianese have been one of the most prominent merchant communities in Vietnam, and have also constructed pagodas in Saigon and elsewhere. Many of them sailed south after the fall of China’s Ming Dynasty.
The Fujianese enshrined one of their main deities, Thien Hau, here. As she’s the goddess of the sea, they came here to pray before embarking on long trading journeys.
This assembly hall is one of the most remarkable buildings in all of Hoi An. Overall, however, it’s fairly similar to the Cantonese Assembly Hall but not quite as impressive. That’s why you might want swap it out for something else, such as one of the museums below, if you’re looking for more variety.
Using Your 2nd Ticket
If you’re sticking around for a little while in Hoi An, here are five more attractions worth checking out.
Tran Family Chapel
The Tran Family Chapel contains elements of both an old house and an ancestral shrine. The original members of the Tran family who settled in Hoi An were merchants from China, and supposedly over a dozen generations have passed since then.
Inside, you’ll find a shrine along with various artifacts belonging to prominent family members. And like many old houses in Hoi An, you’ll find both Japanese and Chinese architectural influences, especially in the shape of the roof.
A visit includes a free English tour, but just brace yourself in advance for the sales pitch at the end.
Museum of Folk Culture
While the building itself is pretty ancient, the Hoi An Museum of Folk Culture first opened its doors in 2005. As the name suggests, the focus here is local folk culture such as local dress, tools, crafts, ceramics and more.
One of the highlights, though, is the structure itself. And the balconies provide great views of Hoi An’s backstreets from above.
Note: It’s unclear whether this place actually requires a ticket or not. While I was able to walk right in, some reviewers online have mentioned needing to use one. As this is Vietnam, it might just be a case of whether a particular staff member is on duty or not!
Museum of Hoi An
This large museum, a little outside the borders of the Ancient Town itself, details the history of the Hoi An region. You’ll find information on things like the area’s original settlers and Hoi An’s rise to becoming one of the region’s most prominent trading ports.
The building is not especially charming, but the rooftop terrace provides great panoramic views of the city, which may be worth the admission on its own.
Quan Cong Temple
This temple was built in 1653 in honor of the historical Chinese general Quan Cong. In battle, he was known for his bravery. In his personal life, he was widely respected for his honesty and valor. Therefore, many Chinese and their descendants have prayed to him in hopes of strengthening these qualities within themselves, and probably for a bit of protection too.
Inside, you’ll find a statue of Qan Cong along with his trustworthy horse. Like many places of worship in Hoi An, this temple was originally established by the Chinese merchant community.
Duc An Old House
The Duc An Old House was built in 1850 though the family has been in Hoi An for even longer. Throughout its history, it’s operated as both a bookshop and as a medicine dispensary. On the plus side, it doesn’t have the souvenir stalls or sales pitches of other Hoi An old houses, but it’s not quite as essential as places like the Pung Hung or Tan Ky houses.
If You Really Want to See it all...
If you want to keep exploring and don’t mind buying a third ticket, here are the rest of the locations that require one.
Museum of Trade Ceramics
The ceramic trade was thriving in Hoi An during the 16th – 18th centuries, and this museum is dedicated to the history of that industry. You’ll find maps and detailed information about the old trade routes from China and Japan. If you’re not especially wild about ceramics, however, this museum won’t be of much interest to you.
Cam Pho Communal House
In addition to the typical shrines and wide courtyard, this communal house features a small exhibit on the history of the Japanese trading community that once occupied western Hoi An. It really can’t compare, though, with the other houses listed above.
Sa Huynh Culture Museum
Sa Huynh is an area around 160km from Hoi An, and it’s where remnants of a mysterious ancient culture was discovered in the early 20th century. This is one of the more promoted sites of Hoi An Old Town, but be aware that it’s essentially just a bunch of old pots behind glass cases. Located in the center of town, it also feels out of place, given the fact that it has nothing to do with the 15th – 18th century time period that nearly all other attractions focus on.
Trieu Chau Assembly Hall
Built in 1845, the Trieu Chau Assembly Hall is impressive on its own, but all around less interesting than its neighboring halls. It may be worth a visit if you especially like the assembly halls, however.
Quan Tang Old House
Yet another Hoi An old house, this one is much smaller than the others and with relatively little to see. Don’t use your ticket here unless you’ve visited all the other old houses first.
Free Things to do in Hoi An
If you only have a day to spend in Hoi An but already went through the 5 places allotted on your Ancient Town ticket in a few hours, don’t panic. There are also some worthwhile things you can do around town for free.
One of the most popular things to do in Hoi An, of course, is a visit to one of its beaches. The weather was surprisingly cold during my visit, though, so I didn’t get a chance to swim. Apparently, one of the most popular beaches is Cua Dai Beach.
Trung Hoa Assembly Hall
Trung Hoa (also known as Duong Thuong) was a collaborative effort by merchants of several different Chinese counties, including Canton and Fujian. The hall also provided educational services for Chinese diaspora children, including those with no clear ties to one particular clan.
The main deity worshipped here is Thien Hau. Also known, as Mazu, this sea goddess is believed to have been a real woman who once used her powers to rescue her family from a typhoon. It’s no wonder, then, why so many seafaring merchants put special faith in her!
This hall is a lot more minimalistic in style compared to others like the Cantonese and Fujian halls. But that’s what helps it stand out. It’s amazing that this one is free, as it’s simply one of the best attractions in all of Hoi An.
Precious Heritage Museum
One of the best museums in Hoi An also requires no ticket at all. Curated by the French photographer Réhahn, this is part photography exhibit, part folk museum. On display are traditional costumes worn by women from ethnic tribes from all over Vietnam. At no cost, the Precious Heritage Museum is definitely worth a visit.
Hoi An Central Market
While the Central Market isn’t technically ‘free’ if you buy something, it’s worth visiting whether you’re window shopping or looking for a place to eat. While there’s normally a big price difference between the food inside the Ancient Town district and just outside, the market is a good place to get cheap eats without having to travel too far.
The food stalls here are a great place to try Cao Lau, the tasty local noodle dish. Hoi An also happens to a popular place for tailored men’s suits, for some reason.
Exploring the Streets
And don’t forget the number one thing to do in Hoi An Ancient Town, free or paid! Simply roam the streets, explore back alleys and walk along the river at night. Love it or hate it, Hoi An is truly a photographer’s paradise.
In my opinion, no, it does not. As nice as some of the individual attractions are, the town as a whole has been too over-commercialized to the point of feeling like an amusement park. While you couldn’t tell from the pictures above, it seemed as if roughly 80% of the town consists of kitschy souvenir shops. While Hoi An may still be a photographer’s paradise, so much of it also feels fake.
This was what I originally feared before traveling to Vietnam, and had originally booked a hotel in Da Nang, with plans to visit Hoi An for just a day trip. But, after the encouragement of other travelers and hotel staff that I met, I changed my plans at the last minute.
But Hoi An was just as I expected it to be: an over-commercialized tourist trap. I am usually one to defend touristy places like Venice, for example. Given its popularity, that town does a good job of handling loads of tourists while also maintaining a lot of its original charm and architecture. But Hoi An is different. They’ve just taken the commercialization way too far, to the point where it loses much of what probably once made it so interesting.
Despite my disappointment with Hoi An overall, I’m still glad I spent several days there instead of Da Nang. The reason being that it was closer to a few of the day trips I’d been planning on taking, while Da Nang would’ve just been a little too far.
Are you traveling around Southeast Asia and looking for something with a similar vibe, but without everything centered around the tourism industry? Visit Malaysia. Towns like Penang, Kuching and others have the same colorful Chinese-style buildings along with numerous pagodas and other cultural sites. But they haven’t come nearly as close to being destroyed by tourism like Hoi An has.
In my opinion, Hoi An may very well be the most overrated place in all of Southeast Asia (OK, maybe excluding some of the Thai islands!) With that said, I still think it’s worth visiting for a day or a two-day trip.
Hoi An is easily accessible by bus from either Da Nang (just about an hour) or from Hue (4 or 5 hours).
To/from Da Nang, you want to hop on the public yellow bus #1. The price is only 20,000 VND. However, bus staff can sometimes try to cheat foreigners by lying about the price.
I rode the #1 bus a number of times during my stay. There were no issues most of the time, but on one ride, after I put a 20,000 VND note in the money collector’s hand, she continued to hold it out as if I hadn’t given her enough. I just smiled and shook my head. She shrugged it off as if to say “Well, I had to try” before walking away.
Hoi An can also be reached from Da Nang airport.
The town has no train station.
The closer you are to Hoi An Ancient Town, the better. The Ancient Town is the specially designated zone where no cars are allowed and where all except a few locations mentioned in this list are located. The rest of Hoi An doesn’t have a whole lot to offer other than a few beaches. As mentioned above, I didn’t make it to any beaches due to the cold weather, but some people may prefer to stay closer to the coast.
I stayed at a hotel called Kiman Old Town Hotel, which was right in between the Ancient Town and the bus station. At just around a 10-minute walk from either, it was perfect for exploring Hoi An’s attractions as well as taking day trips to the Marble Mountains and Da Nang.
The Ancient Town area is easily accessible on foot, though some prefer to rent a bicycle.
You likely won’t have to worry about a taxi or Grabcar during your stay in the area, except to the beach or to different towns like My Son.