Hoi An is as pretty as a postcard.
If you’re planning a trip to Vietnam, you simply must add this place to your itinerary, especially if you’re looking for some small town charm and R&R after the craziness of the bigger cities such as Saigon.
Hoi An was once a major trading port and has been exceptionally well-preserved; most of the buildings are in the traditional style of the 19th and 20th centuries, which adds to the charm and beauty of the place. After the Thu Bon River silted up in the late 19th century, no ships could access the town’s docks, which led to Hoi An’s importance dwindling until the 1990s, when tourists started flocking in and transformed it into one of the country’s most wealthy towns.
Today, you can lose yourself for hours in the town’s labyrinth of tiny streets while admiring the architecture, shopping for some of the best souvenirs in Vietnam, soaking up the laid-back atmosphere and stopping for the odd Vietnamese coffee or two along the way.
Here are some of my favourite things to do while in Hoi An:
Take a cookery class
Hoi An cuisine is renowned around Vietnam and once you’ve eaten there you will know why. The town is famous for delicacies such as Banh Bao Banh Vac (White Rose dumplings – frigging de-li-cious!) and Cao Lau (pork, noodles, veggies and croutons – I’m still dreaming about this one). I honestly didn’t have a single bad meal while I was there and I still dribble at the thought of some of the dishes.
It’s therefore the perfect place to take a cookery class. We chose the Green Bamboo Cooking School, which cost $35 per person and was worth every single dollar. Before the class, you choose the dish you would like to make from an extensive list. On the day, you’re picked up at around 7am by your teacher for the day, Van, who also owns the school. Van is friendly, knowledgeable and has the most amazing smile that makes you just want to grin away with her.
First you shop for the ingredients of the day in the market, which is an experience within itself (the fish section isn’t for the fainthearted), then you head back to her cookery school, where together with the rest of the group you each make your own dish in turn and get to sample everyone’s as you go along. It’s a great way to pick up a new skill and to sample so many different dishes. In fact, if you can do this class at the beginning of your trip, you will then be clued up enough to be more adventurous in your food choices when eating out.
Shop for souvenirs
I hate souvenirs; they’re usually made out of plastic or to a poor standard, and they always look so darn cheap. I honestly wonder why most people bother buying them! Hoi An, however, did have a few beautiful souvenirs on offer. Here you will find Buddha statues carved out of wood or marble as well as quirky interpretations of famous movie posters printed on rice paper. Also head to the Lifestart Foundation – a not-for-profit charity that helps disadvantaged Vietnamese people to become self-sufficient – which has great handmade items such as lanterns. And better still, you know your cash is going to a worthy cause.
Head out of town and cycle around the rice paddies
My partner and I stayed at the Hoi An Chic Hotel, which is a 10 minute drive from the town’s old quarter. The hotel was built in the midst of luscious rice paddies and we enjoyed breakfast with the most spectacular views. We were lucky that the hotel also offered free cycles, so we had the chance to cycle around the area surrounding the hotel and see the locals cutting/collecting rice. If you have a cycle while you’re in Hoi An, venture out of town and enjoy the beautiful views of nature. Totally worth it, plus you get to interact with locals while on your travels.
Have coffee at the Reaching Out Tea House
Once you’ve tried Vietnamese coffee you will see what the fuss is about. As a self-professed java lover (speak to me before my morning cup of coffee and I’ll kill you) who has tried a lot of coffee in her time, I have never tasted anything as delicious as coffee from here. When in Hoi An, we loved Reach Out Tea House. The servers are all speech and hearing impaired – but I should be mentioning that second to the fact that they’re ever so friendly and cheerful. Don’t let the name ‘tea house’ fool you – their coffees are just as great, and every drink that they serve comes with delicious homemade cookies. It’s the perfect little spot to chill after an afternoon of sightseeing and shopping.
As I mentioned before, the food in Hoi An is out of this world. I had never really eaten Vietnamese food before I arrived in the country, so this was quite the introduction. You must definitely try the aforementioned specialties. Also, I highly recommend Miss Ly Cafeteria (the White Rose here is de-li-cious!) as well as a hidden gem that goes by the name of Son. This restaurant is located about ten minutes from the centre of town, but if you make the trip you won’t be disappointed. Try the Lotus Root Salad and the Fried Shrimp in Butter and Garlic, and then come back to my blog and thank me.