Hội An (會安) translates as “peaceful meeting place” and after some of the places we’ve been to in Vietnam this peacefulness really was welcomed. It was also a ‘meeting place’ in every sense as it’s where I met my parents. Located on the coast in the middle of Vietnam, Hoi An is an old port town which has somehow managed to preserve it’s quaint streets and buildings despite being a massive tourist destination. I’ve been here now for 3 weeks and I’m still not bored of it.
Compared to the rest of Vietnam, traffic in Hoi An is very subdued. Don’t get me wrong there are still buses that overtake when they shouldn’t, mopeds on the wrong side of the road pulling out and turning off without indicators and lots of horn beeping. But it is generally quite chilled out compared to many other towns and because of this you can quite easily get round Hoi An by bike meaning the air quality is pretty good here. Most homestays and hotels provide them for free which is good for your bank balance and for the environment.
Food and drink
Everyone we’ve met that has visited Hoi An told us just how great the food would be. It really hasn’t disappointed. Hoi An is home to the famous (and my favourite) Cao Lau dish made with noodles, pork, pork crackling, mint, basil and lots of other fresh leaves. You can only get Cao Lau in Hoi An. A Cao Lau is only a true Cao Lau if it contains water from a secret Cham well just outside of Hoi An town.
There are so many good places to eat in Hoi An, it’s quite overwhelming really, but here are some of my favourites:
- The Noodle House – Every day between 12:30 – 2pm in front of the Noodle House kitchen you can see a noodle demonstration (for free) where you are shown the different types of Vietnamese noodles and how they are made. After the demonstration treat yourself to one of their amazing noodle dishes and a fresh fruit juice (served with bamboo straw).
- Mr Son – Located over the bridge from Old Town on An Hoi island, Mr Son’s is a street food restaurant where you can order all the Hoi An specialities for a couple of quid. My favourites are the white rose dumplings, chilli and lemongrass beef and shrimp spring rolls.
- Coco Box – A farmshop / cafe located in Old Town that sells natural, organic and fair trade treats. It’s a good spot to rest your sweaty self (it’s dead hot here now!) and people watch the many Chinese and Korean tour groups walking past.
- Herbal Tea Homestay – We stayed here for 9 wonderful nights and hands down they do the tastiest Cao Lau. Despite being a homestay they are currently working on opening up a restaurant, if you are in the Cam Thanh area of Hoi An I’d definitely recommend popping in and having one. Make sure to say hello to Mr Binh for me!
What to do
Hoi An is a great place to just ‘mooch’ or to do some quirky activities. It’s a town that’s lucky to have the best of many worlds; beaches, bustling town and rice terraced countryside.
- Shopping – Most people come to Hoi An to get something made at one of it’s many tailors. We were no different, my Dad and Rob got some suits made and I got a dress and skirt (ready for employment in Oz!). Aside from the tailors and souvenir shops there are some cool ethical and sustainable brands to check out. Ginko, 100% made in Vietnam this place sells clothing and bags made from organic and recycled materials. Mekong, a social enterprise that creates sustainable employment for under-privileged women in remote and rural regions of Vietnam and Cambodia. Metiseko, selling high-end organic silk and cotton pieces. Vietnam Sustainable Space, a space that sells eco-friendly products, hosts a swap shop for clothing and organises sustainable events.
- Calm Spa – Set among luscious green rice fields and a beautiful garden the Calm Spa was definitely the best massage I’ve ever had. They use 100% natural ingredients for their treatments, many of which they grow in their own garden and at the end of the treatments you are treated to some healthy fresh grub with a crisp glass of white wine. Pure zen.
- Eco Cooking Class– Yesterday we were picked up from the hotel and taken to a local market where we were shown lots of different fruit, veg, fish and meats. From there we headed to the cooking school where we were put into a round boat, given a rod and paddled to the reeds to catch crabs. Catching the crabs didn’t sit too well with me… however just as the boat ride was over we released them back into the river (phew!). After that we began the cooking class where we were shown how to make many delicious Vietnamese dishes. Rice milk, rice paper, fresh spring rolls, fish sauce, Pho, banana flower salad, Bahn Xeo and aubergines with soy. It was $32 well spent and seeing my Dad in a pinny with a cooks hat on was priceless!
- Nomad yoga – A yoga studio and cafe located in Old Town that has lots of classes and special events on. For instance on International Women’s Day they held a free class for women (men had to pay #genderpaygap). Me and my Mam went (can’t resist a freebie) and it was such a cool set up. Lots of space, clean mats and pretty pictures on the walls. Finding a decent studio on the road it tough, but this was such a treat! After months of doing yoga on hard hotel floors this class was delightful.
A couple of tips on how to explore towns like Hoi An and travel sustainably:
- Check out my packing list here for ideas on toiletries and things to pack that will help reduce your plastic consumption whilst on the road.
- Make the most of your breakfast, put extra (steal) in a tin or bees wrap for for later in the day which prevents buying stuff with packaging and saves money.
- Eat local food. Again, it’s cheaper, has less air miles and is bloody delicious.
- Make the most of free bike hire (cheaper than a Grab taxi!).
- Only buy what you need. It’s so easy to get caught up with the cheap prices and go overboard on souvenir and clothes. Always ask yourself ‘do you really need it?’… if no… don’t buy it!
I have just two days left in Hoi An (also two days left with my parents… but I’m trying not to think about that!!!). After Hoi An we leave Vietnam and fly to Cambodia. First stop Siem Reap. If you have any suggestions on what to do in Cambodia, please let me know!
Sending love back home.