Hoi An, Vietnam
10 Cheap Things to do in Hoi An
Dates Visited: March 2019
There are tons of cheap things to do in Hoi An, and it's known for being Vietnam's mecca of inexpensive tailor made clothes. This quaint historic city is also a well preserved UNESCO World Heritage Site that still maintains a blend of foreign and native influence. The Old Quarter of the city is known for its signature paper lanterns that light up the streets each night.
- Walk around the Old Quarter
- See the Lanterns at Night
- Buy some Tailor Made Clothes
- Eat the best Banh Mi in Hoi An
- See the Japanese Covered Bridge
- Lunch at Jack’s Cat Cafe
- Go to the Water Puppet Show
- Visit the Ba Mu Temple Gate
- Get a cheap Dental Cleaning
- Go to a Tribee Pool Party
The lanterns are just one piece of the 'festival of lights' occuring each night along the Thu Bon River. Just around sunset, floating candles mysteriously appear and drift down the river. Locals will offer to take you out on their boats to float amongst the lights which sounds pretty magical.
But where do all those candles go? Read more below about the unfortunate reality of this aesthetically pleasing nightly tradition. Additionally, be wary of accepting the boat rides offered by locals. As always, make sure you agree upon a price before departing, and never let your belongings out of your sight.
Regardless of all that, Hoi An is definitely one of our favorite cities in Vietnam. In fact, we even ended an extra night since it' such a lovely city.
1. Walk around the Old Quarter
Walking around the Old Quarter is one of the great free things to do in Hoi An. Wander the streets of this UNESCO World Heritage site while experiencing a remarkably preserved example of an ancient South-East Asian port city. The walking and cycling street is a great place to wander around without any car or motorbike traffic. This area provides a few kilometers of sidewalks and streets closed off to only foot traffic.
2. See the Lanterns at Night
If you walk around the Old Quarter during the day you'll see tons of paper lanterns hang over the streets and alleyways. Wait until just after sunset and you'll see this city light up with thousands of lanterns illuminate overhead. Since walking around the and admiring the lights is of no cost to you it's one of the best free things to do in Hoi An.
3. Buy some Tailor Made Clothes
Hoi An is the mecca of tailor made clothes in Vietnam. There are tons of tailors lining the streets of this city, but they all vary in price. The Tribee hostels we stayed at recommended a couple places like BeBe Tailor, which in our opinion is very pricey for the services offered. We also later learned the Tribee hostels charge the tailors a crazy high fee in order to recommend them to tourists staying at their hostels.
After learning this, Molly was determined to support a local tailor that wasn't recommended by the hostel. She found Ha Ni Hoi An Tailor on the same street and it turned out to be an excellent experience. The owner, Ha Ni, was super helpful and offered the best price in town for what we were looking for.
Molly got a bathing suit (550,000 VND or $23.50 USD), linen pants (500,000 VND or $21.50 USD), a dress (650,000 VND or $27.75 USD), and a pair of shoes (650,000 VND). In total it all cost roughly $100 USD, which would have cost at least two, sometimes three times as much at other tailors in Hoi An.
Though some of the prices can add up if you're looking to get a lot of custom clothes made like Molly, I (Josh) a huge rip in my shorts fixed for 30,000 VND ($1.30 USD). All-in-all, getting some custom clothes made is quite reasonably priced which is why this made it on our list of cheap things to do in Hoi An.
4. Eat the best Bahn Mi in Hoi An
A Bahn Mi is a type of sandwich unique to Vietnam. Essentially, they are sub sandwichs made on a baguette with a variety of fillings. Vegetarian options are available but they usually contain a pâté spread, some type of cheese, cilantro, cucumber, hot sauce, and either egg or another type of meat.
Two of our favorite spots are Bahn Mi Queen and Bahn Mi Phoung which are the best places to eat in Hoi An on a budget. Their sandwiches start at 15,000 VND ($0.65 USD) which are crazy cheap so I would usually get a few be stuffed. For that reason, eating Bahn Mi's at these places are definitely one of the best cheap things to do in Hoi An.
5. See the Japanese Covered Bridge
One of the most iconic attractions in Hoi An's Old Quarter is the Japanese Covered Bridge, dating back to the 18th century. It's said that Japanese and Chinese merchants thought Hoi An was the best trading port in all of southeast Asia. This bridge was built to connect the two different parts of Hai Pho with Chinese and Japanese on separate sides.
The bridge is open 24 hours and there is no entrance fee which makes it another one of the great free things to do in Hoi An. The covered bridge is said to have been built with some buddhist influence. However, there are also no clothing restrictions to visit the bridge as there typically are with buddhist temples.
6. Lunch at Jack's Cat Cafe
Jack's Cat Cafe is a small little kitty oasis walking distance from the Old Quarter of Hoi An. Not only does this vegan restaurant have tasty entrees, it also functions as a cat rescue dedicated to saving cats from being sold into food trade. There is a 100,000 VND/person ($4.30 USD) donation requested on your first visit to the cafe, however, returning guests do not need to pay this.
With the donation you will get a free drink and a post card of the cafe. We actually ended up going back here twice because the food was delicious and the cats are so cute and love the attention. The delicious entrees are only 90,000 VND making it one of the best places to eat in Hoi An.
7. Go to the Water Puppet Show
The water puppet show is a unique cultural experience distinct to Hanoi and Hoi An. The whole show lasts roughly 45 minutes and is a series of roughly 15-20 acts of short stories. It's billed as a family experience targeted to keep the attention of younger children. However, it's all in Vietnamese so the typical tourist won't understand much. Nonetheless if you want to see something that you can only see in Vietnam, this would be something to add to your to-do list.
The Hoi An Water Puppet Theatre is walking distance from the Old Quarter. Show are daily at 6:30PM except on Wednesdays and Sundays. Tickets are only 80,000 VND/adult ($3.40 USD) and 40,000 VND/child which makes it another one of the best cheap things to do in Hoi An.
8. Visit the Ba Mu Temple Gate
The Ba Mu Temple Gate is an example of classic Vietnamese architecture. It's the entrance gate of what used to be one of Hoi An's most beautiful attractions, the Ba Mu Temple complex. Unfortunately, the majority of the complex was destroyed by weather and war. However, the beauty of the gate still remains and is open to the public 24 hours a day. It also doesn't have an entrance fee which makes it another great free thing to do in Hoi An.
9. Get a Cheap Dental Cleaning
Interestingly enough, Vietnam is actually known for its dentistry. In fact, a market for dentist tourism has evolved since prices are so much cheaper than the rest of the world. Despite cheap prices, reputable places maintain a high quality of care (just read a few reviews of a place before going). We recommend going to an international dental clinic because the staff speaks English and they are usually higher quality of care.
We ended up getting our teeth cleaned in Hoi An at TGM Dental clinic, which was an excellent experience. A full cleaning is 180,000 VND/person ($7.75 USD) and is done in a fully sterile environment. The staff is extremely helpful and spoke fluent English. This wasn't our first teeth cleaning experience in Vietnam, but it's certainly the best and had the same level of care as at home.
The first time we got a cleaning done was in Ha Giang for only 30,000 VND/person ($1.30 USD) - wouldn't recommend doing this because the cleaning wasn't very good and the office wasn't the cleanest. Nonetheless, I've never heard of any medical care that cheap.
A popular group of hostels are the Tribee Hostels in Hoi An. There are about 4-5 different locations all on the same street and they're known for having a pretty decent party atmosphere. If that's your thing, Tribee Ede has a pool party every Friday offering discount drinks. Regardless, there is no cover charge for entrance so it's another one of the great cheap things to do in Hoi An. There will be plenty of other backpackers to meet but be sure to get there early because it gets packed on a nice afternoon.
Environmental Impact of an Aesthetic Tradition
The 'festival of lights' occurring each night in Hoi An is quite beautiful, however there are some unfortunate impacts of this tradition. Each night while lanterns light up the streets, candles are sent off into the river on paper holders. But what happens to these candles and paper holders when they burn out? Eventually they sink to the bottom of the river, which really isn't noticeable until you look along the water's edge.
Unfortunately the environment isn't a big concern to a lot of Vietnamese people, which is apparent by the alarming pollution levels in the country. There are litter bins in the city that are all labeled "Recycling Bin for Tourist", which was irritating to see. Why are these bins just for tourists? Shouldn't everyone be responsible for properly disposing of their own waste? Regardless, some people still couldn't be bothered to use them as we noticed litter on the ground right outside the bins.
The frustrating thing about all of it is we really don't know the solution to this problem. Trash Hero does an amazing job at organizing trash cleanups in other South East Asian countries, however, Vietnam is not one of them. We had an unforgettable experience working with them during our time in Bali and have reached out to them to inquire about expanding their efforts to Vietnam.
Nonetheless, we really enjoyed the cultural experience in Hoi An even though the country faces a serious pollution problems. All we ask is that if you're traveling through, make a conscious effort to reduce your plastic consumption. Ask for 'no straw' when ordering a drink, try to avoid getting take away food, or ask for 'no bags' when. Any plastic saved is a win, that's why it's the first step in Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Where to stay in Hoi An
From our experience, we like to use Hostel World to check out potential hostels, then check other booking websites like Booking.com to make our reservations. Sometimes we also message hostels directly to get a better price. We also like to use Airbnb to book accommodations if its a better deal than hostels. Clicking on either of the icons will give you a deal with either of the sites, but are affiliate links so we earn a small commission.
Dorms: $5.00+ USD
Private Rooms: $17.00+ USD
Amenities: Water Refills (5,000 VND or $0.20 USD), Free Breakfast, Free Wifi, Laundry Service, Restaurant, 24 Hr Security/Reception, Tour/Travel Desk
Dorms: $7.00+ USD
Private Rooms: $17.00+ USD
Amenities: Free Wifi, Free Breakfast, Free Scooter Parking, Luggage Storage, Excellent Location, A/C
Dorms: $5.50+ USD
Private Rooms: $10.00+ USD
Amenities: Free Wifi, Free Breakfast, 24 Hr Security/Reception, Tour/Travel Desk, Cafe