Hoi An or Hue: Which is Better?

Both Hoi An and Hue cities are in the middle of Vietnam, and they’re not far from each other (about 130 km). Therefore, for those who travel from north to south or vice versa with a limited visa validity, they want to know which is better to visit.

Located on the left bank of the Thu Bon river, Hoi An is a small historical port town. If fly, travelers need a 45-minutes drive to get it from Da Nang. Here, foreign tourists love strolling to see lovely old quarters, go shopping, try local foods and photograph. At night, thousands of lanterns just give Hoi An a spectacular beauty.

As the capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945, Hue city boasts of grand monuments built by emperors, set along the Perfume river. Besides the Royal palace, travelers always add Buddhist temples and mausoleums in their itinerary. This charming city is also nationally known for its amazing local cuisine.

In this article, we introduce Hue and Hoi An cities, things to see, things to do and other sides about them. Depending on personal preferences, you can decide which is better on your own (or even visit both).

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Hoi An Introduction

Hoi An (meaning “peaceful meeting place”) is a famous and important tourist destination in central Vietnam. It’s 30 kilometers south of Da Nang city and the Da Nang international airport. Its historic centre is a set of pretty quarters serving merchants and their trading activities from 15th to 19th centuries. At the present, Hoi An is home to 150,000 people.

This town is famous for: its Old town that was inscribed by Unesco as a world heritage site, its Lantern festival in full moon, unique local cuisine with many delicious dishes, shopping experience (lanterns, custom tailoring). Rural areas surrounding it are known for their peacefulness and charm. Hoi An’s long white sandy coastline is also stunning for visitors.

Read our comprehensive travel guide to Hoi An in https://centralvietnamguide.com/hoi-an-travel-guide/.

Hue City Introduction

To the north of Da Nang and Hoi An, some 100 and 130 kilometers respectively, Hue is the former capital city of Vietnamese people. Its old walled citadel was the seat of power of the Nguyen family from 1802 to 1945. On the opposite side of the Perfume river, there are its new urban areas, with hotels, restaurants and evening walking streets. Travelers absolutely can get to Hue from major cities by air (via Phu Bai international airport), train and bus.

Hue city is famous for: its rich collection of historic and religious heritages, charming Perfume river running through its heart, and ao dai (traditional long dress). In addition, its local culinary culture is the most special in the country, including imperial style and vegetarian dishes.

Read our comprehensive travel guide to Hue city in https://centralvietnamguide.com/hue-travel-guide/.

What to See in Hoi An vs Hue?

Hoi An

In the centre of Hoi An, it’s the Old town where its whole history can be seen. Within this world heritage area, there are more than 1,100 buildings preserved, including Japanese bridges, Chinese temples, Vietnamese houses, and markets. Visitors will buy a ticket (costing 120,000 VND) to sightsee 5 places in the list of 21. During many hours of the day, these streets are pedestrian friendly.

After the sunset, Hoi An’s old town again is the main sight for visitors thanks to the beauty of innumerable sparking lanterns and great vibrancy. The lanterns vary in size, shape, color and the paper ones float on the river (lit by candle). In full moon, it’s more spectacular. Nearby night markets attract many people to visit for buying something and trying local street foods.

Not far away from the Old town, An Bang beach is the best spot for sea lovers. It’s an unspoiled stretch of fine sand by clear and not deep water. In the front, Cham islands perfectly blend this picturesque scenery. Additionally, Hoi An also has a countryside with tranquil villages, rice fields, waterways, fish farms and a coconut forest. See more details in https://centralvietnamguide.com/hoi-an-countryside. People in Thanh Ha village have made pottery for sale (exportation in the past) since 16th century.

An hour drive from Hoi An, My Son sanctuary is the holy land of Cham people who built about 70 Hindu temples there. It’s another Unesco world heritage site in the area.

Hue City

In Hue city, there are many historical and religious places to visit. The most featured ones of them are constructed by kings that join together to become a Unesco world heritage site (known as “Complex of Hue monuments”). Traveler’s must see the Imperial city and its Forbidden purple city. It’s right in the city centre. 10 minutes away, Thien Mu pagoda(Celestial Lady pagoda) is older than any Buddhist temples in Hue (built in 1601). It’s a popular stopover for boat tours and all city tours.

In hills and mountains around the upstream of the Perfume river, four major imperial tombs are not to miss too. Khai Dinh tomb is different from others, thanks to its elaborate architecture and decoration that blend Asian and European arts. Tomb of Tu Duc, tomb of Minh Mang, and tomb of Gia Long have a similar style that features traditionally-designed buildings set in large gardens with lakes, old trees and hills. Recently, the Abandoned park and its dragon have been searched by many young travelers.

To escape from hustle and bustle, travelers can go to Bach Ma national park, some 40km from Hue’s center. This boasts a wealth of floral and faunal species, and tall waterfalls in extremely dense forests. Here, trekkers and hikers have the nicest wildlife experience in the area.

What to Do in Hoi An and Hue?

Things to Do in Hue City

Main article: Things to Do in Hue Vietnam

Hue is a heritage city, with many imperial buildings to sightsee and learn about history. To save, visitors can buy combo tickets which include the Imperial city and other king’s tombs (2-days validity). By boat, it’s possible to reach Thien Mu pagoda, Hon Chen temple or Minh Mang tomb, and enjoy the scenery along the Perfume river. See more information in https://centralvietnamguide.com/perfume-river-cruise/.

Furthermore, cultural experiences like street food tours, making handicraft products, cooking class, and motorbike adventures are also available to have a memorable time in Hue. For shopping, Dong Ba market (largest in Hue) provides a variety of local products and fresh fruits to buy.

In the evening, the Hue walking street (on three roads – Pham Ngu Lao, Vo Thi Sau, Chu Van An) is the busiest spot for both locals and tourists. Here, to eat, people can come to Vietnamese and western restaurants or traditional food eateries. To drink, local beer restaurants, pubs and bars are many to choose from.

Things to Do in Hoi An

Main article: Things to Do in Hoi An

There are more things to do in Hoi An than Hue. In its Old town, besides seeing famous landmarks, visitors can use the entry ticket to watch traditional performances in the House 66 Bach Dang. If like to make a meaningful gift on your own to bring home, why not make a lantern? It’s amongst the best reminders here. On the other side, someone has a custom made suit. At sunset, traveling on the Thu Bon river on a cruise is joyful, breezy and laid back.

Throughout the evening, these are what visitors can do: go shopping at night markets, walking street food tours, lantern boat ride and release wishing paper lanterns. As Vietnam’s largest outdoor performance, we highly recommend watching the Hoi An memories show. See details in https://centralvietnamguide.com/hoi-an-memories-show.

In Hoi An’s countryside, stunning experiences are farming class at Tra Que vegetable village, making pottery by manual potter’s wheel at Thanh Ha village, exploring coconut forest by basket boat. Cycling tours to know true local life and interact with their daily work can’t be missed. Travelers can cycle to Tra Que village and Cam Thanh village (their surroundings) or Cam Kim island.

Along the coastline, tourists can go swimming in the sea or join in different water sports. For those who love underwater discoveries (snorkeling, diving, sea walking), the Cham islands is their destination. It’s a marine park, a Unesco world biosphere reserve.

Hoi An or Hue: Which is Better for Foodies?

Both Hoi An and Hue are widely known for great foods thanks to their diverse nature and long history. Each has their own signature dishes which no Vietnamese doesn’t know.

Hue cuisine features two styles: the royal and the folk. When the city served as Vietnam’s capital (19th and 20th centuries), the first one was exclusive for kings and their families, and enriched by them over time. However, what tourists usually will see and taste are from the folk cuisine. It’s developed by lower classes (just before). The best known food is bún bò Huế (translation: Hue beef noodle). A bowl of this noodle soup contains the broth cooked from beef bones and spices, rice vermicelli, thinly-sliced beef or rare beef, a meat ball and a pig blood curd. Other specialties are bún hến (baby clam noodle), nem lụi (lemongrass pork skewers), bánh khoái (pancake) or three popular traditional cakes.

Hoi An’s local cuisine is a little bit different due to its history as an international trading port. Here, people coming from other parts of Vietnam and the world, meet and exchange their culture. So, no doubt that Hoi An is a melting pot. Famous dishes are cao lầu noodle, mì quảng noodle, bánh mì sandwich, white rose dumplings, and chicken rice. See more details in https://centralvietnamguide.com/hoi-an-food-specialties/.

Hoi An or Hue: Which is Better for Nightlife?

Travelers have more things to do in Hoi An at night than Hue. The old trading town boasts of its evening experience that it gives to visitors. There, people love walking around lantern-lit streets, in order to take pictures, enjoy the atmosphere, taste local dishes, go shopping and participate in traditional games.

By the river, they release paper lanterns to make wishes or do it from the boats. Bustling night markets boost the vibrancy of the area. Due to these fun things, so many tourists come to Hoi An in the evening, making it very packed. If you don’t look for an experience which is too touristy, it’s not really a good choice for you. Restaurants and pubs in town are absolutely atmospheric, providing a wonderful view if stand along waterfronts. Read more information in https://centralvietnamguide.com/what-to-do-in-hoi-an-at-night/. In An Bang beach, seafront clubs serve fine dining, cocktails and live music in several nights of the week.

In Hue, all tourists will go to “the Walking street” (around Vo Thi Sau St). Around it, there are restaurants, eateries, shops, pubs, bars, and night clubs. To eat, Vietnamese foods, Hue’s food specialties, western dishes and other cuisines are available to select. To drink, local beer restaurants and their social atmosphere are interesting (make sure that you try Huda beer!). Foreigners have a good chance to interact with locals at these places. Because of the nightlife scene, almost tourists don’t stay in Hue for many nights. But if spend one night, that’s enough.

How to Visit Both Hoi An and Hue

Both Hue and Hoi An deserve to visit. Hue owns the best preserved imperial buildings from times of kings while Hoi An is the most intact trading port of South East Asia. Foods in these two are amazing. So, for visitors who like to know local culture and history, they can’t miss one of them.

By Airplane

We advise flying to Hue first because the airport is not far from the city. After sightseeing around, travelers will have a transport to reach Hoi An. All vehicles are available to get from Hue to Hoi An (including motorbike and train up to Hai Van pass – the best coastal scenery of Vietnam). From Hoi An, the Da Nang airport is nearest. The distance is some 30 kilometers. See more information and find your best ways in https://centralvietnamguide.com/hoi-an-to-da-nang/.

By Bus, Train and Car

Our advice for those who get Hue or Hoi An by bus, train and car, is choosing the nearest city to visit first. From northern cities like Hanoi, Ninh Binh or Ha Long, Hue is nearer than Hoi An. And, from southern cities like Ho Chi Minh city, Da Lat, Quy Nhon or Nha Trang, Hoi An is closer. Local bus companies will drop off passengers in their official parking within the city center. There, taking a taxi is the easiest way to get to the hotel.  

These vehicles are available all month to get from Hoi An to Hue and vice versa. By train, travelers have to come to the Da Nang railway station, in the heart of Da Nang city.

Should I Stay in Da Nang Also?

From Hoi An, main sights in the area are not far away (within 1 hour drive). For that reason, many travelers skip Da Nang and base in Hoi An. Someone stays in Da Nang for one night to shorten the time to visit the Golden hands bridge of Ba Na hills. In fact that it takes visitors 45 minutes to get there from Da Nang centre, instead of 1,5 hours from Hoi An. Browse https://centralvietnamguide.com/where-to-stay-in-da-nang/ to select suitable places to stay in Da Nang for yourself. However, somebody says it’s not much different, so they decide to spend the evening in Hoi An. If traveling with kids, changing hotels is not really convenient. 

How Many Days in Hoi An and Hue?

We recommend 2 days in Hue and 3 days in Hoi An (at least) to fully explore the cities. It’s enough to see the main sights, learn about local history, enjoy the nightlife and try local foods.

In Hue, the first day is for Unesco-inscribed sites such as the Imperial city (or Royal palace), Thien Mu pagoda, Dong Ba market, or Perfume river cruise. The Walking street is definitely the choice for eating, drinking and entertainment in the first evening. For the next day, visit the tombs of different emperors and the Abandoned park in Hue’s mountains. Around dusk, taste local foods, specialties and local beer brands – Huda. A cyclo ride around the city later is also interesting, giving a chance to join the city’s traffic.

In Hoi An, travelers have time to discover the most fascinating attractions and immerse in cultural experiences. See our suggested itinerary for 3 days in Hoi An in https://centralvietnamguide.com/hoi-an-3-day-itinerary/. For those who like making a suit, three days (48 hours) is absolutely adequate. 

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