Hoi An and Hue are both located in the center of Vietnam, with the former just south of the latter. While both are worth visiting, and offer completely different experiences, I hope this guide will help you to figure out which is best suited to you, if you have to decide between the two!
Best for Party Animals: Hue
The backpackers’ area of Hue has some incredibly cheap bars, where you can find beer for as little as 8,000 Vietnamese Dong (approx. 0.35 USD), as well as cocktail deals, and affordable wine. While Vietnamese law requires venues to close by midnight, it’s not hard to find somewhere to enjoy a drink after the clock turns twelve, as long as you keep the noise down.
Hoi An’s riverside bars in the Ancient Town also host affordable happy hours; however, it’s a much more relaxed atmosphere, and you won’t be able to score as good a bargain as in Hue. This does, however, mean that Hoi An is much more family friendly, while Hue is more popular among teens and young adults.
Best for Beach Bums: Hoi An
This was quite a difficult one, as both cities have some great beaches; however, those in Hue are a little further out of the city center. If you do decide to head to Hue’s coastline, I’d recommend asking the taxi driver to drop you off at Hue Beach Bar: after paying 100,000 Vietnamese Dong (approx. 4.30 USD), you’ll be granted access to a secluded part of the beach with a private bar. You’ll also receive 100,000 Vietnamese Dong to spend on food and drink, which is very reasonably priced.
Hoi An has far more options when it comes to beaches. While the town itself has two of its own beaches ― both of which are lined with delicious seafood restaurants and relaxed (albeit quite pricey) beach bars ― you can also head to the Cham Islands for more white sand, clear water, and fantastic diving opportunities.
Best for History Nerds: Hue
While Hoi An’s Ancient Town, with its intricate architecture and quaint backstreets, offers an insight into Vietnam’s past, I learned far more while in Hue, probably because this used to be the capital city! To gain an understanding of old Vietnamese dynasties, be sure to head to Hue’s Imperial Citadel, a series of ornate buildings and temples, built at the start of the 1800s. Along Hue’s Perfume River, you’ll also find a series of tombs, where members of the Nguyen dynasty are buried. The largest of these is the Minh Mang Tomb. Along with the impressive tomb itself, this site is also home to beautiful scenery, such as a large, peaceful pond, and various plants and flowers.
Despite Hue’s slight victory, history geeks won’t be disappointed by Hoi An, especially if you take a trip to the My Son Sanctuary: a complex of Hindu temples built by the Champa people. I’d recommend taking a sunset or sunrise tour to experience this UNESCO world heritage site at its best.
Best for Shopaholics: Hoi An
One of the cheapest places for tailor-made clothing in Vietnam, Hoi An is a shopaholic’s dream come true. Whether you’re after a new suit or some leather shoes, there really is something for everyone. The Ancient Town is also full of galleries, with beautiful pieces created by local artists. Whether you’re buying a painting or a dress, be sure to haggle for the best prices. While Hue’s Vincom Plaza offers many great brands, there are fewer independent boutiques, making it a much less interesting city for a shopping spree.
Best on a Budget: Hue
Whether you’re after food and drink or souvenirs and tours, Hue is one of Vietnam’s best spots for traveling on a shoestring. I’ve already mentioned the cheap beer, but Hue’s deals go much further than this: many restaurants offer discounts if you order between certain times, while plenty of hostels offer cheap deals on tours around the city, or to nearby landmarks. When searching for tours, be sure to shop around a bit! I stupidly fell for the first dragon boat tour I found, and ended up spending far more than I should have (although a half day tour still only cost me around 25 USD).
While Hoi An ― like most Vietnamese destinations ― is certainly not expensive, it’s more difficult to eat a meal for less than 100,000 Vietnamese Dong (approx. 4.30 USD), which is very easy to do in Hue. If you’re looking for a cheap meal, I’d suggest heading somewhere between the beach and the Ancient Town to avoid getting stuck in a tourist trap. The same goes for accommodation: while hotels on the beach and in the center of town will overcharge you, you can find some beautiful guesthouses in between the two for a very reasonable price!
Best for Adrenaline Junkies: It’s a Tie!
It really depends what kind of a thrill you’re after! If you’re looking to get lost among the trees, I’d recommend heading to Hue. From there, you can join a day trip to the Alba Thanh Tan Hot Springs, where you can zip line through beautiful forests or climb across a high wire course. If you’re more of a water baby, Hoi An is definitely the place for you. From jet skiing to scuba diving, Hoi An’s beaches and Cham Islands really have it all. You could also head to the Marble Mountains in nearby Da Nang, where you can undertake challenging hikes up the mountains and through caves for unforgettable views over the city.