From the Imperial City of Hue we made our way down to the Vietnamese coastal town of Hoi An with its beautifully preserved historic buildings, good beaches and some amazing food.
The journey from Hue is short at only four hours by coach. We could have taken the train to Danang and then caught a bus to Hoi An, but the limited train schedule and the transfers from Danang to Hoi An it didn’t seem worth it. Plus the offer of a hotel pick up in Hue, direct to the bus terminus made this a no brainer choice, especially as the ticket cost of US$4 each.
Our Hoi An hotel had a swimming pool to cool off in and a few little extra luxuries, as we planned to spend a bit of time here. The hotel was situated on the edge of the old town, which is a good location, and came with the use of free bicycles which made it very easy getting around this (thankfully flat) piece of Vietnam. Its also very cheap and easy to hire a moped here.
Taking a break
Hoi An is a great place to spend a few days relaxing. We needed a bit of down time after hurtling through Japan and whisking ourselves up and down northern Vietnam. So we decided to take our foot off the travel accelerator and spend a few days here unwinding before we headed off for our south Vietnam schedule.
Some people think long term travelling is just like a regular holiday only longer. While it does feel a little that way, every so often you need a few days to catch up with your responsibilities. Such as calling friends and family back home, sorting out your photo gallery, blogging, banking and all the other mundane admin life throws at you.
Now I don’t want you all feeling sorry for us as this isn’t a real hardship, when considering the food and other relaxation experiences on offer in this wonderful little oasis called Hoi An. So while this blog post is light on travel tips, excursion options and our usual album of travel pics. Hopefully, if you find yourself in need of a little respite from speeding around Vietnam – here is the perfect place to do it.
Things we didn’t do in Hoi An
Hoi An is famous for its bespoke tailoring and shoe making. So if you are in the need of a new made to measure shirt, dress, shoes or practically any form of clothing imaginable then your in the right place. Just get some recommendations from people who have collected their finished garments. Some people we met were ecstatic about their bespoke purchases, others disappointed, just allow yourself enough time and check how many fittings you can have before receiving the finished product and ask to see the workshop. Anyone working in Hoi An will know a tailor and will happily recommend their sister, brother, uncle or aunt, but with such a high concentration of clothes manufacturers in a fairly small place the quality and price vary.
Within the old town there are also lost of ‘museums’ and traditional houses for you to visit which can be accessed by by a voucher system which entitles you to enter one of each of the different historical treats. We had read reviews and blogs of these places and given our relaxation and recuperation frame of mind we decided to give them all a miss.
You can venture on an organised bike tour visiting local craft workshops (you can learn how bricks are made!) or take a ride to the Marble Mountains or a trip to the islands dotted across the bay. We did actually contemplate staying on one of the islands, as its a very easy and short trip, but in the end we were enjoying ourselves far too much to leave Hoi An.
Things we did do in Hoi An
We spent a few days just lazing on the beach, we chose An Bang beach instead of the more touristy Cua Dai beach. An Bang is quieter (and a bit closer to town) and consists of about half a dozen beach shacks serving food and drinks and offering free beach beds if you promise to buy a drink and/or eat.
If you want to save a few thousand Vietnam Dong (and in our experience) get better food, don’t pick the two by the main entrance they charge a slight premium. Also in some of the shacks along the beach, they have two differently priced menus for the same beer and food, just go snooping and you shall find.
There are moped/cycle parks at the entrance also and you will pay 2 – 5,000 VND for them to look after your bike for the day.
So after you have made your choice you then simply lie back, enjoy the sun, warm sea and wait till about four o’clock and watch the locals swarm down to the beach after work and school for their evening of lounging in the South China sea which is a real treat to witness.
We cycled there every day and even in the heat it is a pleasant journey along Hai Ba Trung Street through the outskirts of Hoi An, straight through some picturesque paddy fields over a bridge and you are on the beach, ready for a beer to cool you off.
If we werent at the beach we were cycling around the old town, ambling accross the Japanese bridge and admiring the wonderful UNESCO listed Chinese style shop houses lining the streets of the old town. Most now sport more modern shopfronts, restaurants and bars, but the charm is still there , just.
The one thing we did most of whilst here was dining out.
Food Glorious Food
I foolishly and prematurely opined that I was not impressed with Vietnamese food after our first few days in Hanoi. All that has now changed and if I had any space in my belly, I would eat my words, but I can’t because it is now permanently full with delicious Vietnamese food.
There are loads of places to indulge your foodie senses here, whatever your budget. We particularly enjoyed, Cafe 43, which for a ridiculoulsy low price serves some really tasty food. Cafe 43 has a very friendly and laid back atmosphere and is packed with a mixed crowd every evening. This glowing review has nothing to do with the fact they also serve Bia Hoi at 3,000 Dong (10 pence) per glass, honest.
Mama cooks up a storm in the kitchen and the owners daughter does the cookery class (which we indulged in for $5 per person, plus the menu cost of what you want to learn to cook)
We chose some of our favourite dishes from the delicious menu. We cooked stuffed squid, tofu with lemon grass and chilli and Vietnamese spring rolls. We had a two hour class, learnt that in fact the ingredients are all of a ridiculously simple combination and understood some nifty techniques to try these out when we get home.
Some of our favourite dishes whilst eating in Vietnam have been:
Cao lầu (Hoi An ) a wheat noodle base (similar to Japanese Soba Noodles) made from water from a special well in the city (apparently). The noodles served in a soup with roast pork, bean sprout and fresh herbs and local in season vegetables. The secret (and thus the success) for this dish lies in the taste of the broth which no Vietnamese cook worth their lemon-grass will divulge their own secret ingredients for making it.
White rose (Hoi An ) a steamed prawn\shrimp dumpling made from translucent rice flour dough (again made from water from the special well) arranged to look like a rose.
Bun Cha (Hanoi) a mound of Vermicelli rice noodles, beef, herbs, sauces and chilli
Spring rolls you get these in all shapes and sizes, thin, fat, fresh, fried,some with lattice type wrappings and filled with just about anything
Pho Bo (pronounced Fah Bow) – A rice noodle soup dish topped with beef and a mound of herbs, limes, beansprouts and fresh chilli to add as you like. Like Cao Lau the secret is in the broth and I have had some amazing and some average versions.
We’ve found the wide choice of seafood available throughout Vietnam to be very good.
A very popular vegetable accompaniment to many dishes is morning glory which is similar in taste to pak choi.
The Vietnamese like their coffee and I like their coffee even more. I have also now become a fan of iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk. I know it doesn’t sound right but trust me it is delectable and I fear I may just have to go into rehab when we leave. I have also purchased one of their handy one cup filter contraptions to reproduce it.
Some of the dishes we haven’t tried yet are little more exotic and appear on many of the menus of restaurants we’ve dined at with dishes containing rat, snake, turtle and frog. Seeing them wriggling around in small tanks makes you want to expedite their destiny with a dinner plate, but thankfully there have been far more interesting food combinations that have got us salivating. We didn’t come across any dog restaurants while we were in North Vietnam, nor did we go looking. Although our guide did tell us we’d eaten it at our homestay, with a wry smile, I hope she was joking.
Whilst in Hoi An, we treated ourselves to bit of pampering in the form of pedicures, massages and body scrubs. While I wouldn’t say all the Spas (beauty salons/massage parlours) deserve the ‘spa’ status contained in their promotional literature, all our experiences were very reasonably priced. While they’re not the finest massages or beauty treatments we’ve ever had the pleasure of, they did put us in a relaxed frame of mind, before we embarked on a very long 24hr coach journey to Ho Chi Minh City.
Hoi An Gallery
Vietnamese Food Gallery