The lantern-lit streets of Hoi An are what most tourists think of when they think of Vietnam.
This Unesco listed town certainly is gorgeous.
Strings of colourful lanterns hang over the pedestrian and bike-only walkways, between restaurants and gift shops, art galleries and tailor stores.
Men and women row lantern adorned dragon boats up the river offering rides to tourists.
The lanterns are gorgeous in the day, but even prettier at night when they glow red, pink, orange, blue or green with a soft light.
Hoi An has plenty of family-friendly hotels along the beach, by the river and set in the rice fields. It’s also one of the stops on an Intrepid Family Tour of Vietnam.
Here are a few things for families to do in Hoi An
For most Australians, Hoi An is the place to go for tailor-made clothing. You can get a three-piece suit made for about $250 us. I went to Yaly and choose a knee-length wool coat from a book of fashion photos. A similar coat, unfitted would cost at least $600 at home. Here, it cost me $US150, fulled lined, tailored and with my choice of fabric.
Athena, my personal tailor, measures my neck, chest, waist, arms and takes photos from all angles to create a 3D scan of my body. Yaly keeps that scan on file. If you want to order more clothing, you can just send them an email and they will post it to you.
Measurements are taken on day one. On day two, you come back for a fitting. Athena ensures the coat tailors perfectly to my shape, marks up the button holes and helps me to choose the buttons I want.
On day three, my coat is ready. I have one final fitting to check the button holes and then it’s time to pay – which you can do with a credit card. Yaly then delivers the bespoke clothing to your hotel.
My husband ordered a three-piece suit and rather impressively, Yaly has stitched his name into the inside lining.
You can also order tailor-made shoes and boots. I wish I realised that a little earlier. The kids were keen to get clothing made too, but with tweens it doesn’t really make financial sense.
For teens about to head into the formal season – this would be brilliant. You could fly here on Scoot and get a dress made for less than you would pay in Australia.
Hit the beach
Hoi An is a beach town but don’t expect to be surfing. The waves are small and refreshing.
At An Bang beach, women swarm on tourists offering beach chairs for hire. Touts walk along the beach selling souvenirs, we shake them away with a “kong, calm earn” or no, thank you.
As I sit watching the kids paddle in the waves, a fisherman paddles a circular boat into the shore, hauls out a full metal tub of fresh crabs and places it onto the sand before rowing back to the sea again.
You can choose to parasail or jet ski at the beach if you have older kids, or simply chill and build sandcastles with little ones.
If you’re staying closer to DaNang in one of the beachfront five-star hotels, you’ll likely have your own private beach.
And if the touts get too much – there’s always the hotel pool.
Market and village shopping
The Hoi An morning and night markets are cheap, but you should haggle.
The market stores around central Hoi An sell mostly clothing, leather goods and souvenirs. It’s a great chance for kids to try bargaining. My son found a Nike shirt and bargained the seller down from 400,000 Dong to 200,000.
Make sure you make it to the food stalls at the end of the night market – they have fried frogs legs. That is one way to weird out the kids.
The kids also liked finding decorated coconut bowls (we now have six of them at home) and colourful wrist bands.
Hoi An also has lots of speciality stores selling silk and bamboo clothing. You will notice the cheaper stores all sell the same dresses. So if you think one store is too expensive, walk away and try the next one.
Make sure you check out some of the galleries in Hoi An. The artworks and photographs are impressive.
Eat and drink
Like most of Vietnam, the food in Hoi Ann is fresh and packed full of flavour. Local specialities include white rose cake (dumplings made from rice flour and ground prawns), baguettes, chicken rice and Cao Lo Beef.
Most of the shops in Hoi An will have happy hour with two for one cocktails before 6.30pm. You can arrive at 6.25 and they will give you two drinks on the spot. But be warned – some of the cocktails are really strong.
If you want a decent, real coffee – find Phin cafe. It’s up an alleyway near the Secret Garden restaurant. This was the best late I had in Vietnam. Try the Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk too.
Take a cooking class
The Green Mango in Hoi An offers cooking classes. The kids can join in too.
In our class, we made traditional deep-fried spring rolls, banana blossom salad with chicken, beef Pho, barbecue fish in banana leaf and mango sticky rice.
The kids loved julienning the vegetables, rolling the rice paper for the spring rolls and mixing the mango and sugar for the sticky rice.
The best part? You get to eat it all for dinner at the end. And you all get to wear a chefs hat while you cook.
Make your own lantern
At Cua Hang Deng Long Lanterns Shop you can make your own Hoi An lantern to take home. Families can choose from several different fabrics. You can use up to four different colours, or just use the one.
First, you need to apply glue to the bamboo frame, then attach the fabric. The guides will help you to make sure it’s stretched perfectly across the frame.
The whole activity only takes a few hours. The kids rate this as one of the best things they did in Hoi An and it’s their favourite souvenir from the trip.
Take a bike ride
Most hotels in Hoi An have bicycles for rent. You can take one and go and explore the rice fields yourself.
We booked a cycling tour through our Intrepid Travel guide. Starting from the hotel we cycled into the rice fields and past water buffalo working in the fields to a vegetable garden village.
In the village, we tried to water the plants using traditional equipment and sat down to tea with the homeowner.
We rode over rice spread out on the path to dry in the sun, past water buffalo sloshing in mud and along the river. This is the best way to see the real Hoi An, outside the shopping strip.
Go bucket boating
The kids loved this activity. On our bike ride, we stopped at a bucket boat village. The local people use the bamboo bucket boats to float down the river and fish for crabs.
We jumped into a boat with an older lady and she took great delight in spinning us around in her bucket boat. Once we were dizzy and laughing we set off in search of the crabs. They hide in the palm trees, mangroves and rocks lining the edge of the river.
Our guide gave us bamboo fishing sticks with meat hooked on the end and pointed to a crab hiding in the crevice of a rock. She danged the meat in front of the crab and, when it grabbed the bait with its pincers, she expertly lifted him up and into a bucket.
After you’ve caught enough grabs, head back to the shore for a tasty lunch.
Check out the Japanese bridge
In the centre of Hoi An, stands a Tori gate and a Japanese covered bridge. The Japanese community built the bridge to link their homes with the Chinese quarter.
Inside you will find a pair of monkeys on one side, a pair of dogs on the other. Construction started in the year of the monkey and was finished in the year of the dog.
Explore the traditional house
You can also explore the old traditional house. Inside you will see examples of traditional furniture, a courtyard and beds.
Hoi An floods with the monsoon every year and you can see the flood markings clearly on the wooden wall of the house. The owners haul the furniture up to the second floor with a pulley as soon as the rains begin.
Intrepid Travel’s 12 day Vietnam Family Holiday starts from $1,720 per adult twin share and $1,548 per child.
The trip starts in Hanoi and ends in Ho Chi Minh City and includes accommodation, transport, an expert local leader, most activities and most meals.