Hoi An, Vietnam: Travel Tips

Asia, Travel, Vietnam

Watch our travel tips video above on Hoi An for more detailed and colorful explanations.

The historic town of Hoi An may just be the most charming city in Asia. Located in central Vietnam, just south of the country’s third largest city Danang, Hoi An is a growing tourist destination. The Ancient Town is a UNESCO Heritage Site and it’s a stunning place in which various cultures collide—see lasting remnants of the strong Chinese history and influence, the Japanese Bridge and merchant houses, and French colonial architecture. And don’t forget the incredible Vietnamese cuisine. It’s a wonderful destination to eat, relax, and soak up traditional Vietnamese culture. If you’re planning to visit, here are 7 quick tips to enjoy Hoi An to the fullest.

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Coffee by the beach at Sound of Silence Coffee in the Hidden Beach area of Hoi An.

1. Skip An Bang Beach and Head South
An Bang Beach is the main beach of Hoi An, but it can be a bit of a tourist trap. But it’s easy to get away and find your own private patch of sand. Just head south along the beach. A good spot to stop is Sound of Silence Coffee, which specializes in espresso-based drinks (which aren’t easy to find here in Hoi An). If you order a drink, you have free access to a beachfront seat. Nothing is better than having a fresh cup of coffee with toes in sand and the sea as your backdrop. Check out Sound of Silence Coffee for the best beach experience.

2. Enjoy the Local Cuisine
The cuisine of central Vietnam is fresh and flavorful. Our personal Hoi An favorites are the Cao Lau (a noodle and pork dish) and Banh Xeo (a savory, crispy pancake that’s rolled in rice paper). There are also a few spots where you can order an egg coffee, a Hanoi specialty.
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Take the time to bike through the vegetable village outside the ancient town of Hoi An.

3. Take Your Bicycle to the Fields
Escape the manic roads and take a bike ride through the tranquil rice paddies. Most hotels, villas, and homestays in the area offer free bikes to rent—definitely take advantage of this. It definitely takes some nerve to get on a bike in Hoi An, but once you reach the rice fields and Vegetable Village (Tra Que), you’ll find some serenity amongst the plants, cows, and water buffalo.

4. Visit the Hoi An Museum
The main museum in Hoi An is small, but has some interesting artifacts, especially from the Vietnamese/American war. Because of its location, Hoi An was somewhat neutral during this time, as it sits near the demarcation line between the north and south. Still, there was plenty of fighting going on in this region, and the chilling artifacts at this museum—including missiles recovered not long ago by the Vietnamese—remind you of the recent and dark history here in Vietnam.

5. Protect Your Valuables When Biking

Petty crime can be a problem in Hoi An. We have heard stories of cyclists being bumped into and robbed during all times of the day. If you’re carrying a bag, the best way to avoid any potential problems is to simply strap your bag around the bike’s handlebars. Keeping your bag attached to the bike makes it much more difficult for quick-handed scooterists to snatch your stuff.
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The Vietnamese Hat known as Non La is together with Vietnamese dress, one of the most recognizable symbols of Vietnam.

6. Get Lost and Explore
Even within the busy Ancient Town, you can find plenty of small streets and quiet alleyways to sneak into and explore. Outside the main town, take your bike through the rice fields and around the quaint neighborhoods of Cam Thanh and Cua Dai.
7. Loosen Up with a Yoga Class at Nomad Yoga
Yoga can be hard to come by in this part of Vietnam, but Nomad Yoga offers a great selection of classes daily (except for Sundays) for all levels. The studio is in a beautiful setting, located just near the rice fields in Cam Ha. Classes on offer include Ashtanga, Hatha Vinyasa, Gentle Flow, and Yin Yoga. You can also take an early morning class right near An Bang Beach.
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16 Things You Must Do on Any Trip to Tokyo

Asia, Japan, Travel

Within our first few hours in Tokyo, Big hit his head on the doorway to our tiny pod apartment. Small later felt a little rumbling in the bed—just a minor earthquake off the coast. Yep, we’re officially in Japan. Though jetlagged for most of our week in Tokyo, we eventually got a hang of exploring this huge, wonderfully quirky metropolis—and wanted to share our discoveries. Sure, you can see the sumo wrestlers, walk across Shibuya Crossing (one of the busiest intersections in the world), or catch a Kabuki show, but we think these 16 things—both obvious and obscure—are essential to any trip to Tokyo.

1. Gawk at the Lights
This is nearly impossible not to do. Step off the train in major commercial centers like Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Akihabara and you’ll be immediately slapped in the face with bright, flashing lights and video-game-like bleeps, bloops, and jingles luring you in all directions. It’s a feast for eyes and ears, meaning too much of it may cause dizziness and nausea.

The Lights of Akihabara

The Lights of Akihabara

2. Shop, Then Eat Your Way Through a Department Store Food Hall
Aside from gawking at the lights, it’s nearly impossible not to shop in Tokyo. In fact, there’s almost always a mall or department store attached to the train station, meaning you never even need to step outside to freshen up your wardrobe. Go to Ginza for the luxury brands; Harajuku for wild fashions and vintage gear; and the heart of Shinjuku for shops of all stripes, colors, and price ranges. After a good quality splurge, head to the basement food hall of a department store and discover some of the most delicious and diverse delicacies in the city.

3. Order Ramen from a Vending Machine, Slurp, Enjoy
Waiters are pretty passé in Tokyo, so be prepared to order much of your food from a vending machine. You’ll likely need to rely on pictures (and often plastic displays of the food) to get a vague idea of what you’re ordering. For ramen, we were directed to the popular chain Ichiran, known for its pork bone broth tonkotsu. And since this is the only soup they offer, the vending machine process wasn’t nearly as intimidating. After receiving your ramen, get right into that bowl and slurp up. It ain’t pretty, but it’s the most effective (and respected) way to enjoy the rich noodle soup.

Enjoying Ramen at Ichiran

Enjoying Ramen at Ichiran

Classic Ramen in Tokyo

Classic Ramen in Tokyo

4. Push Your Way onto a Train During Rush Hour
You haven’t lived and breathed Tokyo until you’ve stuffed yourself onto a train at the same time all 13.6 million residents are heading home for dinner. When you think they couldn’t possible squeeze one more limb in, there’s inevitably the guy who will sneak in at the last minute to make sure every inch of breathing room is obliterated. With so many bodies holding you up, this situation makes falling asleep while standing possible (a sight you will likely witness).

5. Purify Yourself at a Temple
When in Tokyo, you’ll inevitably end up at a temple or shrine. Here, Big explains the purifying process before entering a Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine.

6. Explore Ueno Park and the Tokyo National Museum
Any concrete-lined urban center requires a nice, big green space to ensure its citizens remain somewhat sane. This is Ueno Park in Tokyo. Walk the trails, check out the cherry blossoms (when in season), see the pagoda of Ken’ei-ji, and visit the Tokyo National Museum (if you’re going to go to one museum in Japan, this one’s it).

7. Take a Day Trip to the Seaside Town of Kamakura and Visit the Great Buddha

Just a one-hour train ride south of Tokyo, Kamakura provides a great little respite from the big city. Once the political center of Japan, it’s chockfull of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, along with cute boutiques, hip cafes, and farm-to-table restaurants. But you can’t come here without trekking out to see the Great Buddha, one of the largest bronze Buddha statues in Japan. Pay just 20 yen (about $0.18) to go inside the statue as well.

The Great Buddha of Kamakura

The Great Buddha of Kamakura

Surf's Up in Kamakura

Surf’s Up in Kamakura

8. Fill Up on Matcha and Mochi
I have a problem with wanting to press my finger down on all of the packaged Japanese sweets and treats we come across, because many of them are made from mochi (a sort of chewy rice cake), making them all delightfully squishy. I sampled a few of these treats to varying satisfaction, though I’ve grown fond of the taste of matcha with and without my mochi. Matcha is everywhere, and is typically free when you sit down at even the cheapest sushi spot (see #9). Bonus: matcha powdered green tea is loaded with vital nutrients and antioxidants, helping to balance out any sugar indulgence.

Matcha and a Sweet Made of Sugar, Agar, and Yuzu

Matcha and a Sweet Made of Sugar, Agar, and Yuzu

9. Pick Your Sushi from a Conveyor Belt
Forget the fancy sushi joints that have you dropping some serious cash. For a quick, easy, satisfying meal of sushi, head to the nearest conveyor belt sushi joint, where you can grab whatever looks good as it passes by your eyes. Plates are as cheap as 100 yen a pop and then added up for your final bill. You can also make special orders, too. It helps if you make friends with a local so they can order for you!

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Sushi on the Cheap

10. Take Pictures with at Least One Cute Character
The Japanese turn everything—I mean everything—into a “kawaii” (i.e. cute) character. The front of a bus. A cup for water. A pill container. A no-smoking-and-walking sign on the sidewalk. Everything comes to life by adding a smiley face and some limbs. And, if you’re lucky, you may just run into a real-life character! These guys were representing the JR trains and we couldn’t resist a photo with them.

11. Brush Up on Your Nintendo Skills
Yes, you can relive childhood with a killer game of Super Mario Bros. in various vintage game stores throughout Akihabara, aka video-game-geek heaven.

Retro Video Gaming in Akihabara, Tokyo

Retro Video Gaming in Akihabara, Tokyo

12. Indulge in Handcrafted Bean-to-Bar Chocolate
As a chocolate fan I had to stop by my favorite San Francisco-based shop Dandelion Chocolate, who recently opened a Tokyo outlet. They offer the same two-ingredient, single-origin bars (the fruity Madagascar is my favorite), along with a few 85% variations that are exclusive to the Tokyo shop. There’s also Minimal, which is the best bean-to-bar chocolate in Japan according to the barista at Fab Cafe, as well as Green Bean to Bar Chocolate, which, along with their elegantly wrapped bars and bonbons, serves up decadent desserts like bean-to-bar pudding and a house hot chocolate.

13. Stock Up at Lawson’s 100
You’ll get to love your local Lawson’s Station, but when you find a 100 version of the convenience store, prepare to stock up. This is basically Japan’s interpretation of a $1 store, and you can get everything from fruit and veggies to batteries to a newly pressed shirt, even when you’re on a tight budget.

14. Scarf Down a Wagyu Beef Burger
Some have claimed Blacows, a burger joint in Ebisu, may be the world’s best burger. We wouldn’t totally agree with that, however the wagyu beef patty was a nice change of pace from ramen and rice.

Wagyu Burger at Blacow's

Wagyu Burger at Blacow’s

15. Put on a Face Pack
We’re not totally sure what exactly is on these face packs (apparently some sort of skin moisturizer that feels especially slimy), but trying them on is a guaranteed good time. We got to try these on for free at the Design Face Pack shop in the Tokyo Plaza Building in Harajuku. (Note: We somehow got serious for this photo even though we were laughing hysterically just seconds before.)

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16. Get Lost!
While I love playing navigator, I did have some trouble figuring out the streets of Tokyo. Street names can be tough when you don’t know Japanese, or are just nonexistent all together, especially in the small back streets and alleys that make some parts of the city feel like a bustling village. But it’s always comforting to know that you’re never too far from a train station to orient you back to where you need to go. Just follow the yellow brick road.