Hoi An is one of the cities that people tend to rave about in Vietnam. We skipped it on our first visit to Vietnam with kids five years ago, and knew it definitely needed to make the list this time. We decided New Years Eve would be the perfect time to be in Hoi An with Kids (all 7 of them!), as well as a great location for a slightly longer stay (6 nights). I found a lovely boutique villa between the Old Town and the beach, with a pool and breakfast included. We were going to be 3 families with 7 kids, the pool and breakfast were both essential!
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Hoi An With Kids
5 Reasons Why I Didn’t Love Hoi An Old Town
3 Things I DID Love in Hoi An
Hoi An Details
If you’d rather watch our adventures in Hoi An, they’re right here!
5 Reasons Why I Didn’t Love Hoi An Old Town
Vietnam is one of many great countries to travel to with kids. And Hoi An seems to be the crown jewel for family travel in Vietnam. I felt like I should love Hoi An, but there was just something that didn’t sit right with me. The area we stayed was fantastic, and I loved the surrounding local neighbourhood. I enjoyed wandering through the little local market, buying snacks and contemplating the incredible variety of fruit. The countryside is beautiful, the beach is close by, and the food is pretty freaking delicious! However, Hoi An Old Town, the place I felt I really should have fallen in love with, just didn’t do it for me. These are the five reasons why I didn’t love it!
1. Hoi An Old Town is too perfect!
The Old Town area is beautiful. The streets are lined with the lanterns that Hoi An is famous for, and the colonial buildings are in excellent condition. Some of the streets are cobbled, adding to the quaintness of it all. It’s almost too perfect. Once I started looking around, I noticed fancy coffee shops, lantern stores, tailors (tailors and more tailors), souvenir shops, dress shops, shoe shops. There wasn’t a single local restaurant, or house, or even small grocery store. Everything local has been pushed out to make way for tourists. It reminded me of the city center in some of the bigger cities in Europe, like Prague. Near the Old Town Hall with the astronomical clock, there are no locals. Only crystal shops (and more crystal shops), tourist restaurants and chain hotels. Hoi An was similar (minus the chain hotels).
2. I felt like a dollar sign or a nuisance
Walking through the market, people either wanted to sell me something, or seemed truly annoyed I was there. At one point, Colette leaned in to have a look at a big gelatinous rice ball, and the little old lady running the stand almost slapped her in the face. It wasn’t all bad though. A few minutes after that incident, 2 ladies from different stalls gathered around us and tried to teach us how to tell the difference between a red and white dragonfruit. Then they called over the young girl from the stall next door and had her help translate it all into English. They made it sound so simple, and I was sure I had it figured out. I was wrong…I still have no idea which is which!!
3. The locals left in Old City “want something from you”
It seemed like the locals have all been pushed out. They haven’t gone far. You only need to wander a few blocks from Old Town to find local restaurants and friendly locals. But the core itself is full of pushy touts trying to extract every last penny from the tourists. I started to get tired of it. Us mamas walked into town one day, and on the way a nice lady started walking beside us, pleasantly chatting. She asked the typical questions; “What’s your name? Where are you from? How old are you?” I thought, “wow, she genuinely wants to talk to us”. Just as that thought popped into my head, she asked if we wanted a dress made, because she had a friend who could make us a dress. My bubble burst. So much for an innocent conversation to “practice English”.
4. There are SO many Tailor Shops
At one point there were a few great tailor shops in Hoi An. They started making money. Someone notices. More tailor shops start to open, but they decide it’s cheaper to outsource to one factory rather than do it themselves. This paves the way for more tailor shops to open…leading to the now 700+ tailor shops that can be found everywhere in Hoi An. It’s like the crystal shops in Prague, but taken to a whole different level. This has also led to everyone having a “friend” who can make you a suit or dress for a “good price”. In my opinion, it has significantly increased the amount of tourist-heckling that happens on the streets. If I just removed every heckler that asked if I wanted a dress made, I wouldn’t have had a problem with the rest of the touts. A certain amount of that is to be expected in Asia after all.
5. The streets are SO busy!
Cars aren’t allowed down the few blocks of the Old City, but that doesn’t stop hundreds of motorcycles from careening down the streets. There were a number of small alleyways that, for the most part, offered a bit of respite from the bikes. And every evening after 6pm they’re not allowed in the old town, and most of them abide by that rule. I likely would have enjoyed it more if I was able to wander through the manufactured city without fear that the kids would be hit by a passing motorcycle, or three, the whole time. Although, that might have added to the fake-atmosphere even more, so maybe it’s not a bad thing it’s busy. The motorcycles might be the only authentic part of the Old City!
Read More: A 3-week itinerary for Vietnam, including Hoi An
3 Things I DID Love in Hoi An
It wasn’t all bad!! We had the opportunity to do a few fantastic activities in Hoi An, and get beyond the Old City back to a bit of reality. Thankfully, I booked a hotel outside of the Old Town. I honestly think this saved it for me. Across from our little hotel was a truly local market. There was an amazing variety of fruits and vegetables, local fish and meat, bread, buns, sweets, you name it! There were also a few really great local restaurants around that little market, and the most amazing (and cheap) Banh Mi sandwiches we had anywhere. The baguette is something Hoi An does right! And with a great baguette, comes a great Banh Mi. On top of the great food, there really are a ton of things to do in Hoi An with Kids. I understand why so many families love it, just keep me out of Old Town!
1. Hoi An Eco Coconut Tour
Our accommodation arranged this for us, and to be honest I’m not sure what about it made it “eco”, but it was an enjoyable day none-the-less. We started with a tour of the market, learning about different ingredients used in the cooking, and picking up a few supplies for our cooking class along the way. Our guide, Spring, was really great with the kids! We were walking past quail’s eggs, Kacela’s favourite, and she kept asking when we were going to buy some. When Spring stopped to purchase, Kacela was right in there watching what was happening. The lady at the stall picked one up and handed it to Kacela. She smiled, accepted it, then proceeded to jam her thumb into the top to make a hole, and drank it down in one big gulp. The lady at the stall burst out laughing!
Calais decided she wanted one too, so the lady handed an egg to her. Being a bit less impulsive, she handed it to me to “take the top off”, and then she shot hers back too. I tried to pay the lady at the stall, but she absolutely refused to take my money. I think we provided her with a bit of entertainment, and she’s probably still talking about it. Spring was a bit concerned however, and asked if the girls had ever eaten raw quail’s eggs before. She thought they might get sick. I assured her that it wasn’t their first foray into eating raw eggs, but told her they’d stick to eating just the one.
After our market visit, we enjoyed a boat ride down the river. It was relatively uneventful, but as we floated along, I watched the black clouds growing overhead. As we transferred from the big boat into the little round boats, the rain started to fall. It started out slow, and with our rain jackets on (which we had brought along thankfully), it wasn’t too uncomfortable.
The little round boats took us to a “fishing demonstration” (i.e. some guy threw a net into the water), and then we dipped into the mangrove. It was more enjoyable than I was expecting, actually! I was a bit worried we’d be tippy in the boat, but it was surprisingly sturdy. At a few different places there were men waist deep in the water, working at cutting down trees (I think). Ryan’s boat periodically blasted “Gangnum style”, which of course added to the ambiance of the relaxed boat ride through the mangrove!! It was pretty funny, and the kids loved it.
We arrived at our cooking school, found our way inside, and almost immediately it started to pour rain. Talk about perfect timing! We all got a little wet, but it was nothing compared to what it could have been if we arrived 5 min later.
I got two big wins out of the cooking class. First, my spring rolls will now be perfect!! I learned to not soak my rice paper wrapper for as long. It’s really just a quick dip into the water, then let it sit for a few minutes until it softens up. That, and we always buy the large wrappers, but it works so much better with small wrappers. Second, I’ve tried making Banh Xeo a few times at home and failed miserably (I hate to admit it). But, I learned the trick…more oil, and of course a super-hot pan. We put a small amount of oil in the pan to start, then the batter, and then MORE oil on top, almost to deep fry the edges. It was that crispy edge that I was always missing at home, and now I know why! For me, the day was 110% worth it for even one of those great tips, and I got two!! Plus, we got to enjoy another delicious meal of Banh Xeo, which is one of my most favourite foods ever.
The kids also had an absolute blast at the cooking class. Calais, Emily and Haven (the older girls) chopped veggies, and added oil to the pan, so they basically felt like adults! The younger kids (Kacela, Brady & Joshua) helped mix things up, and transfer chopped up veggies into bowls. They all rolled their own spring rolls too. When we sat down to eat, every single kid ate like a champ. Of course, the food was absolutely delicious, but I’m sure they also ate it without complaining because they helped make it. This is an important lesson I need to remember when we get home, especially for Kacela!
2. The Calm Spa
This lovely little spa set amongst the rice fields on the outskirts of Hoi An, was a breath of fresh air. The products were all made in house, from ingredients purchased from farmers in the surrounding countryside. I love this kind of stuff!
The treatment rooms are set back on the property, overlooking the fields. I’m sure the farmers get the odd show as tourists scurry from the treatment room to the shower and back again! They probably think we’re absolutely crazy! The packages are well priced, included transportation to and from our accommodation, and include lunch. After our relaxing spa-time, we sat outside on the terrace, enjoying a delicious lunch from the Red Dragon, and chatted about life. It was lovely!
3. Lantern Making Class
The Dads opted out of the lantern making class. They decided to stay back and have some “man time” while the mamas took the kids into town. Just like the cooking class, we arranged this through our accommodation. And just like the cooking class, it was fantastic! The class was in a small house, just North of the Old City. It was a family house, and at one point we had three generations helping with the lanterns. The two grandsons spoke great English, and were fantastic helping with the kids, especially since we only had 3 adults for 7 kids, and it’s definitely not a do-it-yourself activity for the kiddos. There was a lot they were able to do, and lots that they needed help with.
Had I known better, I would’ve chosen a class where the frame was already made, and we only needed to add the fabric. Although, the fabric gluing was also one of the trickier parts! Calais, my little perfectionist (and mini-me), was tying up her lantern frame and felt like she wasn’t doing it right. She started to get discouraged and frustrated. One of the grandsons came and sat beside her, and told her his own lantern-making story. The first lantern he made wasn’t perfect. He threw it in the garbage and refused to show his mom. The next lantern he made wasn’t perfect either, and he also wouldn’t show it to his mom. It took 200 lanterns before he made one that was perfect. To be honest, I’m not sure it made Calais feel any better, but I sure appreciated the attempt!
Hoi An Details
Where We Stayed
This was a lovely little hotel in a fantastic location. We had two large, adjoining rooms each with their own bathroom. There was a seating area inside, and a small deck with chairs outside, overlooking the pool. It was a bit chillier than we were anticipating, so the pool didn’t get as much use as I thought it would, but it would be fantastic in the warmer months. Breakfast was also delicious. There was a decent selection on the menu, the Vietnamese coffee was super YUMMY, and they had a spicy red chili sauce that I ate every morning with my eggs and rice, that I’m still dreaming about. We bought two jars of it and sent it home with Pam and Ryan. I’m excited to get home and eat it!! I’d definitely recommend this place!
Cost: $120 CAD/night for adjoining rooms. I booked through AirBnB but I’ve seen it cheaper on Booking.com
Where We Ate
This is likely one of the best restaurants in Hoi An, and it’s not outrageously priced. It’s Vietnamese cuisine, but with a twist. A few members of our party went back multiple times for the lemongrass chicken…it was that good! If you’re looking for a bit of a treat, the Red Dragon is definitely worth it.
Cost: 330,000 for 3 meals, a bottle of water and beer
Banh Mi on the street
There were a few Banh Mi stands around the market near our hotel. They were all a little different, and all delicious. They were also super cheap!
Cost: 10,000 dong ($0.50 CAD) per sandwich!
Hoi An Roastery
I love a good coffee, and there were so many coffee shops in Old Town I couldn’t resist going into one. Hoi An Roastery was decent, but definitely overly touristy. My meal was good, and the coffee was good, but no better than what I’d get for half the price outside of Old Town.
Cost: 144,000 dong ($8 CAD) for salad rolls and a Vietnamese Coffee.
This was recommended by our lantern making class, and was just down the street. The food was delicious, local and reasonably priced. I’d go back!
Cost: 503,000 dong ($28 CAD) for 3 adults and 7 kids.
What We Did
Eco Coconut Tours
This included a market tour, large boat down the river, round boat ride through the mangroves and cooking class. We made Banh Xeo, Spring Rolls, Clay pot pork and Papaya Salad. It was fantastic with the kids and I’d highly recommend it! You can find their website here.
Cost: 2,074,000 dong ($115 CAD) for 2 adults and 1 kid (5 and under were free)
The Calm Spa
I rarely pamper myself, but when I’m traveling with Pam I always seem to!! Every time I’ve done a “spa day” has been on vacation with her. The Calm Spa was incredibly calm, and the products were fantastic. It’s a new business, locally owned and supports the surrounding community. That’s a win for me! They weren’t able to accept credit card, but we were able to pay with a credit card after at our hotel. I love this flexibility! Plus, the price included pick up and drop off from our hotel.
Cost: 1,460,000 dong ($80 CAD) for a body scrub & wrap, facial and massage (3.5hrs), plus lunch!
Lantern Making Class
The kids and adults all had a great time at Hoi An Handicraft Tours lantern making class. It was a bit of work, and the kids weren’t old enough to do it themselves. However, it was a fun activity to do together. The lanterns collapse a bit for transport home, but they still take up a fair bit of space. Luckily for us we could send our lanterns home with our friends!
Cost: $20 US ($27 CAD) per lantern
How We Got Around
Our hotel was only about a 10min walk into town, (20min with the kids). We walked in a few times, and always walked once we were in town.
Uber and Grab ride apps are the easiest way to get around because the taxis were always waiting to overcharge unaware tourists. We did take taxis a few times, but I was always requested they use the meter. And, at the very least I knew approximately what the ride should cost by checking the Grab app. (Grab is the Asian version of Uber and I found it to be easier to use and more plentiful than Uber throughout Vietnam).
Cost: The ride into town varied between 35,000 dong ($2 CAD) and 45,000 dong ($2.50 CAD)
On New Year’s Eve it was impossible to get a Grab/Uber or taxi back to our hotel from the Old City. Thalia and I spotted a golf cart and figured it was worth asking if he could take us. And he did!! Surprisingly it was reasonably priced, and a super fun way to get around town.
Cost: 70,000 dong ($4 CAD) for the whole big golf cart (that fit 2 families!)
The hotel booked a private van for us from the airport and to the train station. There were enough of us that this was the easiest option!
Cost: $30US ($40 CAD) for a 16 person van from DaNang to Hoi An.
If you’re thinking about visiting Hoi An, pin this for later!