I had heard relatively mixed reviews on Hoi An: while almost anyone I talked to or read acknowledged it as a beautiful place, I had heard a couple more negatives tones around the amount of tourists.
After visiting it, to put it simply, Hoi An was one of the highlights, if not THE highlight, of my experiences in Vietnam.
A culinary capital
Vietnam has by now my favorite cuisine in the whole of Asia, and Hoi An is so far the place where I’ve had the best food in Vietnam! I had read in one of the few blogs I follow (link in french) about a food tour in town, which seemed pretty nice and varied – so, since one of my objectives was to discover more of Vietnamese food, I booked it a couple weeks before coming. I was not disappointed!
The tour starts in a market, and progressively works its way towards the old town, with a full dozen stops at different food stalls or restaurants, all of them impressive: fruit salad, banh xeo (a vietnamese pancake with prawns and pork), a local noodle dish called Cau Lau, fried wantons Vietnamese style, Bun Cha, spring rolls… what really makes the tour stand out is the ability to try all of these at once, as well as the excellent explanations from the guide. I almost never take tours, but I’m really glad I took this one!
As I really liked my guide, I arranged for a tour of the surroundings in motorbike with her the following day.
She took me to a great selection of places around town: a bamboo workshop (where I bought awesome bamboo straws!), a small coffee roasting business, a quick trip on the river…
One of the stops was a small shipbuilding workshop. I learned that most of the rather large fishing boats we see around Hoi An are made manually in such workshops a few kilometers out of the old town!
Of course, as most of these places were scattered around town, one of the big perks of the tour was just the landscape – crossing the river, watching the countryside, all on the back of a motorbike.
Finally, my guide took some time to teach me how to ride her bike! She turned out to be an excellent teacher, and I actually managed to ride it and change gears rather quickly!
After ending the tour, I still had a couple hours to walk a bit in the old town in daylight, and check the quite interesting folk culture museum – like many museums or attractions in Hoi An, the building itself is a good reason to visit in itself !
I had started the visit to the museum just after having a drink at a nearby bar – as I had a cocktail, I told the waiter not to bring a straw so I could use my own – new! reusable! – bamboo straw. This being me, I obviously forgot to take it back from the glass – and the waiter chased me into the museum to give it back to me! The same had happened to me the day before with my sunglasses.
Walking and Biking around
Walking or cycling in the old town is a delight, even in rainy season. A large part of the old town is pedestrian, which makes it even better for a stroll.
On most of my free time, I just walked or cycled with the old-but-good bicycle my hotel lent me, stopping regularly at cafés or shops, or simply admiring the view.
One great thing about cafés or restaurants in Vietnam is that many have nice second floor balconies, with chairs facing the street. They can make for a great observation spot, and are particularly great in the Hoi An riverfront.
Towards Da Nang
Before flying further south, I had planned to spend my last night in the region in Da Nang, the largest city in central Vietnam, just 30 kilometers north of Hoi An.
I might have been a bit unfair with Da Nang: while I certainly liked the city, the comparison with the atmosphere of Hoi An was quite difficult, which made appreciating this city a bit less easy.
It remains, all in all, one of the most attractive cities in Vietnam.
Upon arriving, I checked in a relatively small high-rise hotel by the river, which ended up being one of the best value accommodation I’ve seen in Vietnam: even with a rather cheap price, I got a four-star standard, complete with really excellent service, and a very central location. I spent a simple evening between checking the beautiful views over the river and a few LaRue beers at a nearby bar that had quite an excellent soundtrack.
On the next day, I first went around for a walk around my hotel, before heading for the beach – that turned out to be a real surprise!
I expected a rather average, urban beach. It turned out to be really beautiful – a (very) long, well-kept and extremely clean beach, where it was really a delight to walk. Every 50 or so meters, a small restaurant / bar with deck chairs makes for an excellent stop or shelter from the sun, and there’s a few nice restaurants in a more built-up area of the beach.
All in all, I really had a blast in Hoi An and Da Nang. Hoi An, especially, qualifies as one of my very favorite places in the whole of Asia – I sure expect to return in the next couple years!