Hoi An is an easy going town on the coast of Vietnam, around a 45/ 60 minute drive from Da Nang. The ancient town which used to be a major trading port, still retains all of it’s old charm with its beautiful yellow buildings and colourful lanterns.
Shaun and I really liked Hoi An and I would struggle to find a reason why anyone would dislike this picturesque little town. When we have chatted to various different friends and family about our trip and they have asked us for recommendations, I will always tailor the places I suggest depending on that persons likes/dislikes etc. so sometimes a destination will make it on my recommendations list for one person, but not another. Hoi An however, always has a firm place on this list.
When I think about Hoi An, the memory that is most prominent in my mind, is the amazing food on offer. This was, by a country mile, the best food selection of any of the destinations we had visited in Vietnam and often the cheapest prices. So be prepared, the majority of what I have to stay about Hoi An revolves around food and drinks!
We stayed for 3 nights at a place called Snow Pear Homestay, it was really clean and comfortable. The owner was very friendly and would often be sat in the entrance hall to the building with her dogs, so we would say hello in passing.
Cycle around old town
One of the nicest things about Hoi An, is it’s easy going atmosphere, the old town is small enough that you can just hop on a bike, cycle around and see where you end up! It really doesn’t require the kind of in depth planning you may need in a large, busy city. I found that sometimes much of the travelling experience can feel like endless hours of planning routes, accommodation, itineraries etc. When we we visited Hoi An it gave us the opportunity to let that go for a couple of days and take a more spontaneous approach, which we really tried to embrace. So, everyday we would hire our bike and off we would go into the old town, by Unesco decree, more than 800 historic buildings in Hoi An have been preserved, so much of the old Town looks as it did several centuries ago, which means there are plenty of beautiful sights to see just cycling around.
Japanese Covered Bridge
Dating back to the 18th century, the Japanese covered bridge is one of the most iconic sights in Hoi an, the well preserved coloourful bridge does not look a bit out of place in the old town.
Hoi An Central Market
Situated on the rivers edge and lined with hundreds of stalls selling all manner of things, Hoi An central market was a really fascinating place to visit. It was fairly busy with people buying produce so we hopped off our bikes and pushed them on the periphery of the market, we weren’t looking to buy anything on this occasion so were trying to stay relatively out of the way and not make a nuisance of ourselves, whilst still getting to have a little nose at the market.
Dip in and out of the shops
The streets in the old town are lined with so many different shops, some selling fabrics, suits and dresses (Hoi An is famous for it’s inexpensive hand made tailoring, there are over 200 tailor shops here alone), others selling souvenirs or arts and crafts, we spent hours wandering around all the different shops. We didn’t end up getting any tailor made clothes during out stay, whilst we liked the idea of having something custom made, we both knew we had already over packed and had far too many clothes to begin with and were conscious of our budget.
The colourful lanterns in Hoi An have become synonymous with the town, which is often referred to as ‘lantern city’. The lanterns are present in the city day and night, but they do have a much more magical effect when you see them lit up in the evening, dangling from store fronts and bridges, it is a major part of what makes the city so picture worthy. At 6 pm every night you can also buy paper lanterns and release them down the river, the view of hundreds of coloured lanterns floating in unison is certainly a beautiful beautiful sight and Shaun and I enjoyed standing on the bridge and watching them disappear into the distance. (However, I couldn’t help but wonder where the lanterns ended up, were they environmentally friendly or were they going to end up a big pile of rubbish somewhere? On the other hand, if people didn’t buy and release the lanterns, how would that impact tourism and revenue in this area. This paradox is something I felt quite often when travelling, constantly trying to find a balance between enjoying myself and wondering if my actions are having a negative impact on something/ someone.) With this in mind, Shaun and I decided we were content with just watching the lanterns and didn’t feel the need to buy our own to release.
An Bang Beach
On our second day, Shaun and I decided to cycle from the old town to the beach, it took us about 20 minutes to cycle and was mostly flat. However, the heat did make it a fairly challenging ride because there was no shade or relief from the sun and the humidity makes everything feel more difficult. The ride to the beach takes you on an open road through some rice paddies, it was nice to cycle along this and actually be able to pick up some speed, when cycling in the centre of the town there are lots of people so you have to be on alert at all times and steadily weave in and out of pedestrians.
Once we made it to the beach, we hired some sun loungers and briefly did some sunbathing. However, not long after we arrived the storm clouds came rolling in, followed by a huge downpour which lasted a couple of hours (the joys of visiting during monsoon season). Never ones to miss an opportunity and not wanting to cycle back in the rain, we set up camp at a beachfront restaurant with WiFi, ordered some drinks and planned the remainder of our trip. We ended up booking our flights home whilst we were here, we still had a few weeks of travels left but it felt strange knowing the end date, this trip had been something we had both looked forward to for so long and all of a sudden it was drawing to a close. It definitely helped that upon returning to the UK we were moving to London and living together for the first time, Shaun was starting his medical degree and I was starting a new job, so we saw it as one adventure ending and another starting!
Food and drink
Okay, so here comes the real fun stuff, Hoi An is a foodies heaven and at times I did feel like Shaun and I were doing a self guided food tour around the old town and I loved every minute of it.
Situated in the old town, this coffee shop is a great place to stop off for a quick coffee or spend a couple of hours people watching. Hoi An Roastery, which now has seven shops in the Hoi an area prides itself on offering a completely authentic Vietnamese experience, sourcing all of it produce locally and working with local craftsman to design the store. Whilst it is on the slightly more pricey end of our budget, the coffee was really great. Shaun and I got a Ca Phe Sua (Da) – A traditional Vietnamese coffee, with condensed milk (and ice in ours)!
Most of the time when Shaun and I eat out on our travels, we will research places to eat and base our restaurant choices around recommendations, trip adviser etc. However, embracing the laid back nature of Hoi An, we stumbled across this place one day and decided to try it out. We were so pleasantly surprised, the restaurant is pretty modest in it’s appearance, but the staff are very welcoming and the food is great! They offer traditional Vietnamese dishes at extremely reasonable prices, Shaun ordered Cao Lau (a regional dish of Hoi an) this quickly became his favourite Vietnamese dish and I ordered a beef noodle salad. We were so impressed with the quality and price that we returned on our last day to eat there again, I ordered the Cau Lau the second time because I had major food envy during our first visit.
Cafe 43 is really well rated on trip adviser and lucky for us was on the same road as our home stay. They serve traditional Vietnamese dishes and the menu here is a little more extensive than Com Linh (however, I did prefer the food at Com Linh). They also offer cooking classes – although Shaun and I didn’t take one of these, they are very highly rated. Shaun’s favourite thing about this place was the fresh beer or ‘Bia Hoi’, a glass of Bia Hoi costs 3000 dong, the equivalent to 10 pence!!!
We headed to Vy’s Market with Jayce and Mackenzie on our first night in Hoi An. The easiest way I can describe Vy’s Market is a modern street food dining experience. There is a courtyard like space in the centre of the building where you sit at benches with electronic menus. You can then order from the stations surrounding the seating area, which offer a range of amazing Vietnamese dishes.
I must admit, it is definitely more similar to a western all you can eat buffet than the typical Asian street food set up. However, for someone like me who worries excessively about how food is prepared and tends to avoid lots of food at ‘street markets’ for this very reason, being in a more sanitised, familiar environment gave me the opportunity to try everything I wanted without my usual concerns.
The four of us ordered around 10 dishes to share and they were all amazing, I would recommend Vy’s Market to anyone visiting Hoi An.
From my favourite restaurant, to my favourite Cafe in Hoi An (and possibly anywhere). The Reaching Out Teahouse employs local people with speech and hearing impairments in order to provide people in this community with meaningful employment and the opportunity to lead independent and fulfilling lives. As an extension of this, the Teahouse encourages customers to practice silence whilst they are there, this fosters a tranquil environment and allows you to enjoy the experience in total peace, a novelty many of us don’t get to enjoy in our busy lives. However, you can still communicate with the great staff at Reaching Out through the use of aids such as notepads and speech blocks.
I ordered a cold green tea, which was presented in a beautiful decorative teapot with a tasty biscuit. I found a seat by the window and I sat in the teahouse for hours, enjoying the silence, taking in the views and writing in my journal – there could not have been a more perfect place to sit and write.
Reaching out is an excellent example of a social enterprise empowering communities which can often be ‘left behind’. My mum has worked with adults with learning disabilities for 27 years and I also worked part time all through my degree, so this is a cause quite close to my heart and it was my absolute pleasure to visit this teahouse.
Mr So’ns is located over the bridge from the central part of the old town, a very unassuming place to look at, it is essentially a small market stall with some plastic tables and chairs outside, but don’t let that put you off. The food here was amazing, Shaun and I ordered, Cau Lau (again), Vegetable spring rolls, Beef Wonton (Soooo good) and Morning glory (my fave). The food was extremely cheap and delicious.
Mango cakes (Banh Xaoi)
So this section may be a bit misleading, firstly, ‘mango cakes’ are actually a street dish as opposed to a restaurant or cafe to visit, but I enjoyed them so much I had to include them in my post. Mango cakes are sold by many different street vendors in and around the old town, so are very easy to find.
Secondly, mango cakes do not contain any mango at all, it’s actually made from sticky rice on the outside and stuffed with peanuts and sugar, it’s a perfect snack or dessert! Apparently, the name comes from it’s appearance which is similar to a mango seed.
Made popular by celebrity Chef Anthony Bourdain’s claim that the sanwhiches at Banh Mi Phuong were the ‘best in the world’. I mean, if it’s the best in the world, we had to try it right? We actually visited here twice, once for breakfast and another day in the afternoon.
When we went for breakfast, there was a small queue and we were able to get a seat inside, I ordered the cheese and onion Banh Mi, I noticed the cheese inside was dairy lee spredable cheese, which made me chuckle a little. However, it was still delicious and the Banh Mi here has a nice chilli kick to it which I enjoyed.
When we returned for the second time, this time in the afternoon, the queue to get in was crazy, it snaked all the way across the road and down the street. Shaun and I thought we would be waiting hours, there was no way we were going to be able to get a table inside so this time we ordered it to take away.
So I guess, my top tip here would be, go early to avoid the crowds, it’s a much nicer experience when you’re not waiting in the baking sun for 45 minutes and you can sit down in the shade and enjoy a coffee with your sandwich.
Mot is a really tasty herbal tea unique to Hoi An, infused with a variety of different ingredients which are cleverly laid out and displayed alongside the cups of Mot for sale (although, I couldn’t identify what they all were). I thought there was a really relaxed environment in the cafe, and the tea is served in a cute little cup with a lotus petal inside – a really nice touch. The whole set up from the ingredients to the presentation of the drink is a visual feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds!
All in all, our time in Hoi An was tranquil – we explored the beautiful old town at a leisurely pace, ate a ton of great food and enjoyed extremely cheap beers – what more could we ask?