With its golden beaches, flavorful cuisine and UNESCO-listed Ancient Town, Hoi An, Vietnam, often is celebrated as one of the most beautiful destinations in Southeast Asia. Here’s how to sample a little bit of everything if you only have 48 hours in this former trade port.
Once wheels touch down, make your way to the all-villa Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai, Hoi An to check into one of the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star hotel’s beachfront sanctuaries for the weekend. Surrounded by lush tropical gardens, the resort offers tennis and yoga, cooking classes, several alfresco restaurants, beachfront tai chi, a kids’ club and an idyllic spa — plus three sparkling pools, should you prefer to casually swim rather than wrestle the waves.
After an espresso or two, tear yourself from the lap of luxury and hit the ground running. Thanks to many centuries as a French colony and important international port, Hoi An’s Ancient Town — an easy drive or bike ride from the hotel — showcases gorgeous, mustard-yellow shophouses that house eclectic businesses such as leather workshops, tailors, silk specialists, home décor boutiques, restaurants, bars and more.
Hoi An does a roaring tailoring trade and, even if you only have two days, it’s possible to get a bespoke piece made. Have a beautiful leather bag, belt or pair of shoes crafted at Buffalo Leather Shop or opt for a custom jacket, skirt or dress at Sewing Bee Tailors. Either way, be sure to clearly explain your tight schedule and set a fitting appointment the following day to ensure enough time for adjustments.
If you’re seeking more low-maintenance souvenirs, visit Sunday in Hoi An boutique, a homegrown interior design shop in the Old Quarter where you can find stylish accessories spanning silk scarves, hand-painted coasters, bucket bags, throws and bamboo furniture.
Once you’ve had your fill of shopping, take a respite at one of the town’s top coffee shops, such as Hoi An Roastery. Traditionally served with sweetened condensed milk, Vietnamese coffee tends to be strong and aromatic, with subtle notes of nuts and chocolate. It’s delicious on its own, too — try a black, drip-brewed cup to put a spring in your step.
For lunch, duck into Banh Mi Phuong for — what else? — the restaurant’s famed banh mi sandwiches. At this local institution — which late chef and TV host Anthony Bourdain declared the “best banh mi in Vietnam” — skilled cooks work at lighting speed to stuff ultra-fresh baguettes with layers of roasted pâté, barbecued pork, chili sauce, pickled vegetables and fresh herbs. The result is a savory, spicy sandwich that you’ll dream about long after you’ve returned home.
In the afternoon, enjoy a stroll through Central Market, where strong bargaining skills could land you an assortment of Vietnamese silks, herbs and spices. Then, head to the waterfront to explore the famous Japanese Covered Bridge, Quan Cong Temple and Old House of Tan Ky — three of the major historic landmarks in the area.
As dusk sets in, Ancient Town turns on the charm. Hundreds of merchants shut off all electric lamps and instead light silk lanterns in a rainbow of colors all glowing against the night sky. It’s a memorable sight that’s best enjoyed on foot, walking in between the leafy little lanes or at an alfresco watering hole like White Marble Wine Bar & Restaurant, where you can cool off with chilled wine or craft beer.
For dinner, try a contemporary spin on Vietnamese cuisine at Nữ Eatery. Right by the Japanese Covered Bridge, this cottage-like restaurant showers you with creative combinations that pull from tradition for a decidedly modern result. Must-try dishes include avocado salad, pork belly buns and chili lime shrimp. Still, the star of the show is the housemade ice cream. The refreshing lemongrass flavor is great for those who crave something light at the end of a meal.
With much of Ancient Town conquered, spend the morning exploring the countryside, rice paddies and rural villages around Hoi An. Offering a nice balance of planned and spontaneous experiences, Vespa Adventures operates private group outings on refurbished 1960s Italian scooters.
A local guide will lead you into the soft morning sunshine, across the Thu Bon River and onto Cam Kim Island. After stopping to see a traditional boatyard, you’ll continue on a wide-open rural road that’s flanked by farms and rice paddy fields — and don’t be surprised if you meet a few water buffaloes along the way.
As part of the fun, you’ll stop to meet local residents who will show you how to create traditional crafts, such as hand-woven mats, or fry up tasty banh dap rice crackers. Then comes a lesson in coffee roasting, followed by a breezy seafood feast on the beach.
The half-day excursion leaves just enough time for tailoring appointments, a visit to the nearby Marble Mountains or a relaxing afternoon by the water. Hit the beach right outside your villa for ultimate convenience or venture two miles south to famous An Bang Beach, where casual cafés deliver cocktails, beer and live music.
Come evening, make your way to Miss Ly Café back in Ancient Town to partake in an array of classic Hoi An dishes, such as white rose dumplings (a satisfying combination of shallots, shrimp or pork in a translucent rice paper wrapper) and crispy cao lầu (pork belly, rice crackers and thick noodles).
At this charming, family-run address, you’ll be greeted with friendly faces and warm wood tables, not to mention ice-cold Tiger Beer to cut through the humidity. Though Vietnam’s central coast tends to be hot and humid all year long, travelers who seek sunshine should visit during the dry season (March to September) and avoid the rainy season (October to January), when flooding is more likely to occur.
Finish off the evening with a nightcap at The Bar at Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai, Hoi An, where talented mixologists whip up inventive, locally inspired creations like the aptly named Pho Cocktail (a wholly edible combination of Cointreau, gin, pho syrup, lime, basil, coconut and beef jerky), Tea Time (Vietnamese green tea, French brandy, peach liquor, pistachio syrup, mirin rice wine and lime juice) or a simple, chic and cooling lychee martini to help you toast your Vietnam vacation.