Hoi An Old Town Boats: Guide to Boat Rides in Hoi An Town

Hoi An town sits by the left bank of the Thu Bon River, the largest and most important waterway in mother Quang Nam province. It’s also near the mouth of this river (called Cua Dai or “large estuary”), a few kilometers away to the east. Thanks to this location, boats from upstream and downstream areas are easy to get to. Before the early 19th century, Hoi An was a busy international trading town where merchants from other regions of Vietnam and different continents came to trade. They felt a convenience to access it too. Sadly, its entrance to the world, the estuary later became shallower and narrower that didn’t support traffic and led to serious decline in commerce. This unfortunateness made the town a backwater where nearly everything was kept intact. That convinced Unesco to add Hoi An into its World Heritage Site list in 1999.

This travel guide aims to introduce all boat rides in Hoi An Old Town and details about each. In the daytime, travelers can get a ferry across the Thu Bon River to land on serene Cam Kim Island and start a self-guided cycling tour. To know more about the local industry, a ride to two famous handicraft villages Thanh Ha and Kim Bong should be the choice. After it’s dark, nobody misses out on a lantern boat to view the gorgeous beauty of the town and nearby canal. Both places are decorated by uncounted, colorful lantern lights. Last but not least, an experience on a boat to sightsee around flooded Unesco heritage can be one of the lifetime.

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About Hoi An Old Town in Vietnam

Hoi An Old Town is a world heritage site located on the west bank of the Thu Bon River. It played an important role in international trading from 15th to 19th centuries, a main South-East Asia’s stopover in the Maritime Silk Road. Since its decline, historic quarters and cultural traditions are unchanged. In 1999, thanks to its intactness, it won the Unesco title. Today, there are 5,5 million tourists coming here and left 102,900 hashtags on Instagram. Activities around it are indoor and outdoor but all are related to its long roots. During the day, visitors can get a boat ride from the riverfront to craft villages, countryside lands or see sunset. After that, a lantern boat ride definitely provides a cool experience, lots of photo opportunities. For everything about this world-famous destination, browse our traveler guide to Hoi An Old Town.

During the typhoon season, Hoi An town is often flooded, and nicknamed “the Venice of Vietnam”. Instead of exploring it by foot, a boat ride is required.

Boats and Harbours

Bach Dang Street Quay

Bach Dang is the historic quay of Hoi An trading town, used to dock and transfer goods from merchant’s boats from 15th to 19th century. Stretching 1km from the Japanese Bridge to Hoi An Central Market, today its function still continues. Here, tourist wooden cruises and smaller lantern boats depart and land everyday, to provide stunning experience on the Thu Bon River. The original ferry is visible too, connecting Cam Kim Island with the city center. Each morning, fisherman boats moor the east portion to off-load their catches of fish to sellers or wifes. 17th-century Old House of Tan Ky, Traditional Art Performance House, Museum of Folklore and old buildings stand in this iconic, colorful waterfront. That’s why photographers love to capture it from the opposite bank. When the sun goes down, romantic souls enjoy a twinkling sunset and fairy lights of uncountable lanterns.

Travelers can take a boat ride to many famous attractions from Bach Dang quay, such as Thanh Ha pottery village, Kim Bong carpentry village, Tra Nhieu fishing village, Cam Kim island, Hoi An Memory theme park, Hoi An coconut village.

Nguyen Hoang Pier

Nguyen Hoang Pier is at the end of the street of the same name in An Hoi Island, in the opposite of Hoi An Old Town. The street is the host of the daily Night market. There, travelers have some boat selections to go to their favourite places. It takes 10 minutes to get to Kim Bong carpentry village or Hoi An Memory theme park island and 20 minutes to Thanh Ha pottery village or Cam Thanh coconut village. At night, barbecue and beverage stalls open here, serving delicious dishes and cold drinks with cool winds blowing from the river.  

About Hoi An’s Traditional Boats

Central Vietnamese culture is strongly linked to the sea and for local fishermans, the boat is seen as the most precious property. Nowadays, although living conditions and income increases significantly, many fisher families still live in their own boat as a house. No matter if it’s a sampan or cruise, they paint eyes at the bow because they think that the boat needs eyes to see things clearly in the front, to navigate well and avoid dangers. The registration plate is also on the hull with two first words HA or QN, and a series of license numbers followed by. Kim Bong carpentry village is the largest factory where villagers continue building techniques from father to son over 400 years. In the 1st and 14th days (full moon) of each lunar month, fishermans burn incense sticks and pray for safety and advantage in business. Lantern boat owners often do so in the sunset, before the crowds come to the town.

Ghe bau (local sailing boat) was popular to transfer goods in the golden age of commerce in Hoi An trading town. It’s not used much today. The Museum of Trade Ceramics exhibits one in its first space. Historians said that Vietnamese might learn how to build it while living with the Chams. 

Hoi An Old Town Boats during the Day

Local Ferry to Cam Kim Island

Boat ferry from Hoi An Old Town (Bach Dang Street Quay) to Cam Kim Island has a history of some hundred years. It provides the quickest transport between the city center, central market and rural villages in the island. The ride is only 10 minutes. Since the Cam Kim Bridge was built in August 2005, the number of islanders choosing to get to the opposite bank by this ferry has decreased. However, for old ladies, women, childrens and people living near the harbours, it’s still the choice.

The cost is really cheap, and if bringing the bike, only a small fee is charged. Available from sunrise to sunset, travelers often have to wait for a while to reach the other side. The landing place in Cam Kim Island is at Kim Bong carpentry village, so no doubt that the ride is popular to those who visit to know a deeper traditional industry. Hoi An’s bicycle tours also include it as a part of the discovery of the most serene piece of countryside.

Note: Life vest is not equipped in the ferry boat. If worrying about safety, you can change to a ride by a covered boat nearby. The price is more expensive because it’s larger and has chairs to sit on.

Boat Ride to Handicraft Villages

This ride is known by all skippers in Bach Dang Street Quay or the pier at the end of Nguyen Hoang St. It includes two main stopovers: Thanh Ha pottery village and Kim Bong carpentry village. Both handicraft communities continue their tradition since their establishment in 15th century. When the town was a hub of traders, a village produced high-quality clay products to export while craftsmen built ships and timber houses in the other. Nowadays, travelers still have the chance to see artists at work and join their daily works to deepen understanding. Thanh Ha village requires an entrance ticket, covering a class in making pottery. If don’t book a tour, these are recommended itineraries for self-guided travelers:

  • The sunset ride: Old Town – Kim Bong Carpentry Village (workshop, souvenir stores, shipbuilding yard, market) – Thanh Ha Pottery Village (pottery making class, souvenir stores, communal house, temples) – Thanh Ha Terracotta Park – Sunset on Thu Bon River – Nguyen Hoang Pier – Night Market
  • The sunrise ride: Old Town – Thanh Ha Fish Market – Thanh Ha Pottery Village (pottery making class, souvenir stores, communal house, temples) – Thanh Ha Terracotta Park – Kim Bong Carpentry Village – Old Town (Hoi An Central Market)

See also: Hoi An Pottery Village, Cam Kim Island, Hoi An Night Market



Hoi An Old Town Boats at Night

Hoi An Lantern Boat Ride Experience

A lantern boat ride on Hoi An Old Town’s canal is a must-try experience after the sun goes down. It’s iconic, surreal, only in this world heritage site. During it, travelers will see a mesmerizing scene mosaiced by lantern-lit streets and houses, chaotic crowds of pedestrians, and shimmering paper lanterns floating on the water. The energy of the town reaches its peak. In addition to plenty of memorable photo opportunities, the passengers also have a chance to light up a paper lantern by themselves and then drop down the canal. Locals often make wishes and the tradition may have a Buddhist root. If moving around An Hoi Bridge (“Bridge of Lights”), passengers need to head down or squat to go under it. The ride time is 15 minutes minimum.

A boat is easy to find when strolling along the waterfront Bach Dang or Cong Nu Ngoc Hoa St. Even travelers don’t need to ask about it, lots of locals come closer and invite them to pay for their ride. However, there are two different areas to get around: the water near Hoi An Central Market and the water near An Hoi Bridge. Second area provides a better experience and recommended experts.

The best time to get a lantern boat ride is in the busiest hours of Hoi An Old Town and the Night market. During it, travelers can see most lanterns on the canal and boisterousness from crowds.

Cost of Hoi An Lantern Boat Ride

Hoi An lantern boat ride price depends on how long travelers want to take, and number of passengers. For a 15-minutes experience, it’s around 50,000 VND per person and from 70,000 to 100,000 VND if traveling 30 minutes. Because a boat can legally accommodate 4 passengers, a private ride may cost from 200,000 to 300,000 VND. These prices are lower if bargaining is made. Keeping in mind to make sense about the paper lantern, the pay covers it usually. If the boat owners don’t have it, it’s easy to buy in the surroundings, with an affordable price from 10,000 to 20,000 VND.

Since July 2022, the cost of Hoi An lantern boat at night is 150,000 VND for a boat with 1 -2 passengers, and 200,000 VND for the one carrying 3 to 4 people. These prices exclude paper lanterns (if want to buy, travelers will pa about 10,000 VND). 

What to Do in Hoi An Ancient Town at Night

Visitors love strolling around lantern streets of Hoi An Ancient Town at night. The scene is lightful, colorful, fairy and romantic. Especially during the full-moon, the Lantern festival is held. During it, wanders can expect more lanterns lit up or dropped down the river, social outdoor activities, folk games and a bustling atmosphere. Of course, there are a lot of photo opportunities.

On the opposite bank, the Night market is a paradise of foodies who have a safari to taste different dishes amongst plenty of choices. There are Hoi An’s local food specialties (cao lau, mi quang, cakes, dumplings, breads, etc), quintessences from other regions, Asian and European flavours. It’s not strange for those who shopaholics. Souvenirs, gifts, clothes, handicraft products, postcards, paintings, lanterns, and so on are affordably priced here.

Closely, Nguyen Phuc Chu “Pub” Street is lined by nightlight and live music venues. The bar on top of Hoi An “The Deck” is also quite near. If you prefer watching to drinking, you should buy a ticket to witness a culture show in the Lune Center, a top producer in town.


Hoi An Old Town Boats in the Flood

When Does Hoi An Old Town Flood?

The time between October and December is called “the typhoon season”. It may last shorter or longer depending on climate patterns in the Pacific Ocean, known as the La Nina and the El Nino. The El Nino brings drier weather, meaning that temperature is higher than average and it doesn’t rain much to feed the river basins. Drought and forest fire frequently occurs. On the other hand, the La Nina features rainfall that is higher than normal. During this phenomenon, severe typhoon cyclones are formed and developed in the Western Pacific and then move towards the coast of Vietnam.

In a La Lina month, some typhoons may hit Hoi An area one by one. Throughout their life, pouring rains, stormy sky, big waves, strong winds and especially, the flooding definitely happen. Because the rainfall increases exceedingly, the river quickly rises and the dams have to release water. So, lowlands in the delta including Hoi An Old Town, are flooded within some hours. Without a back-to-back typhoon, the inundation lasts around 3 days. On the other hand, floodings extend and become higher in the areas already covered by water. Visiting the Old House of Tan Ky, you can see flood levels in many years.

Experience in the Venice of Vietnam

A boat ride across Hoi An Old Town world heritage on a flood day, is special and once of the lifetime. It allows travelers to understand the town and how life of people goes on from a different perspective. This experience is not always “available” or not easy to be in your travel itinerary. Therefore, if lucky, it’s definitely a beautiful memory to share when chatting with friends, family or social media. Flooded Hoi An is positively likened to the Venice of Vietnam. For photographers, they can bring home lots of impressive (unique) photos with a nice story behind.

When Thu Bon River rises up, riverfront road Bach Dang is inundated first. As a result, travelers can’t see the quay anymore in a couple of days. However, to tour around the town, the water needs to be high enough to allow boats to move easily. The most ideal time is when the quarters are flooded in many days or when the dams release the excess water. To know it, check the news on the internet or ask locals, such as the hotel, tour operator. Due to electricity cuts, the ride should be in the daytime.

Cost of Hoi An Old Town Flood Boat

Coming to the new water edge of Thu Bon River, visitors will see skippers and their boats, most near the Japanese Bridge. A ride in the flooded town costs 50,000 VND minimum per person. If getting a private one, it may be up to 200,000 VND because one boat can carry 4 passengers legally. However, a lower rate may be achieved when bargaining is made. Sharing with other visitors is a good idea, to reduce the pay.

Life of Locals in the Flood

Floods occur yearly in Hoi An Old Town, so local residents have adapted to it many centuries ago. They build the house with 2 floors at least, and the upper one will be used to accommodate things on the ground when the water rises above the knees. All are lifted by a truckle. For motorcycles, locals use or hire a boat to transport to higher locations. About the foods to eat, dried ingredients are the priorities because of lack of fresh ones and isolation. There are sun dried seafoods that are redundant in the harvests, Pho and Cao lau noodles, more. According to culture researchers, the annual flood had an impact to Hoianian cuisine.


Hoi An Old Town Boat Tour

Boat tours on Thu Bon River to handicraft villages, Cam Kim Island or somewhere else are easy to arrange for local operators. Price depends on the duration of the itinerary and different seasons of the year. An adrenaline experience across rural lands of Cam Kim Island on bicycle wheels, is also possibly combined. Cycling tour-specialized firms should be the choice to book. If would like to explore the attractions by yourself, coming to any harbour near you and discuss with the boat owners there to get the best prices. Entrance ticket is required in the pottery village. We recommend reading our complete guide to Hoi An’s Thanh Ha Pottery Village and Cam Kim Island, before boarding. 

These are guided boat tours what you may be interested in:

  • Sunrise Thanh Ha and Kim Bong Villages Boat Tour (half-day, optional lunch)
  • Sunset Thanh Ha and Kim Bong Villages Boat Tour (half-day)
  • Two Craft Villages and Cam Kim Island Cycling Tour (full-day)


Other Activities in the Old Town

Cooking Class

Hoi An Old Town is home of many good cooking schools to select and start learning first Vietnamese traditional foods. Average duration is about 2 hrs and the price includes all ingredients, utensils, recipes, chef instructions and optional market visit. Vegetarian menu is available upon request. This is a nice fit for members of the family or an indoor thing to do. Read our guide to Hoi An’s cooking class to find out the best option.

Handicraft Workshops

Workshops in which artisans instruct travelers techniques to make a handicraft object are popular in Hoi An Old Town. It’s diverse, from lanterns, bamboo root, pottery, leather items to coffee. Many of which provide an experience from scratch, so requiring many hours. Timing well your travel plan to join and bring home a meaningful souvenir that is made by yourself. Browse our guide to Hoi An’s craft workshops for further details.

Cultural Shows

Watching a cultural show in Hoi An Old Town is not only a way to entertain, but also to understand more about Vietnamese culture. The nearest theatre is the Lune Center, run by a Ho Chi Minh City-based production team that got many international prizes. 15 minutes walk away, Hoi An Memory show is the largest outdoor visual art performance with attendance of 500 professional dancers and actors. Around its stage, there is a theme park that is nice to roam around and see things happening. See details in our guide to Hoi An’s cultural shows.  

Sightseeing Historical Sites

Hoi An is a Unesco-inscribed historical trading town, so it houses plenty of old and well-protected buildings to sightsee. This collection comprises wooden bridges, temples, pagodas, assembly halls, houses, family chapels, museums and more. It varied in nationality of the builders (Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese) and religion (folk, Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, more). A visit to them allows a deeper understanding about history, culture and diversity. The entrance ticket covers the entry to 5 places. A local guide is needed. For more information, read our guide to Hoi An Ancient Town’s attractions.

Getting a Custom-made Garment

Coming to a tailor shop and making custom made fashion items like suits, dresses, shirts, and more, is a popular thing to do in Hoi An town. After leaving, travelers may return for the last fittings within 24 hours. A variety of fabrics, colors, quality, prices, styles and friendly, helpful service are other reasons, to explain why Hoi An is the favourite of shopaholics. It’s titled as “capital of tailors” because of being home of excellent, nationally-famous tailors. See all you need to know about this activity in our complete guide to Hoi An’s tailors


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