Sunday, 9 November 2014

Hoi An in Vietnam

After visiting Ho Chi Minh City, we flew to Danang, which is around a 45-minute drive from Hoi An. A few people highly recommended we visit Hoi An and the Lonely Planet guide book makes it sound great too. We could have got a 17-hour night train from HCMC to Danang, but this wasn't hugely less in price than the flight and it obviously took much longer! We travelled by taxi from Danang Airport to Hoa Binh Hotel in Hoi-An. Some friends we met earlier in our travels were already staying there, said it was nice and it had a pool. It later turns out that the roof-covered pool was FREEZING, but it was nice to sit by it, after discovering the hard way that it was a tad to chilly to enjoy swimming in!

Hoi An is a very beautiful riverside market town. It has a really nice atmosphere, which is probably in part helped by the ambient music being played from speakers on lamp posts in the old city! The old city and riverside was so pretty, that along with the piped music, I compared it to the 'It's A Small World' ride at Disneyland, while travelling down the river on a little boat! Hoi An is famous for being one of the best places to have tailored clothes made, with dozens of tailor shops on each street. Our friend Jess had some nice and good value clothes made when she visited earlier in the year and our friends Owen and Nanna got whole new wardrobes while we were there, including a full suit for Owen!

On our little boat trip, we were paddled down the river by a little old Vietnamese lady, who didn't speak a word of English. She kept loudly shouting stuff to her other boat friends and she passed them and at one point whacked out a huge cigar to smoke. All very strange. She managed to communicate with us at one point that we should float some candles down the river for good luck, and before we knew it we were dropping these colourful paper floats with candles in them into the water, costing us as much as the whole 30-minute boat trip! It was nice to see the old city from the water and we watched the sunset whilst in the rickety little boat too.

On our first evening in Hoi An we went for dinner with our friends Owen and Nanna, heading to Bale Well Restaurant, which is recommended in the trusty guide book. Bale Well is described as a street food restaurant, which is only marginally more organised than the little street side stalls you see all over Asia, with the little plastic stools. This restaurant is famous for only really having one dish. As soon as we sat down, they bought over massive plates of salad, meat and spring rolls. I mentioned I was veggie and they bought me veggie spring rolls and omelette. Then a lovely lady showed us how to wrap all of these items into big rice paper wraps. It was super tasty and really cheap! They keep bringing more and more food over, until you tell them to stop. It was great to have such a different dining experience to what we are used to. 

The next morning the four of were picked up from our hotel for a cooking course, which we booked only an hour before. Emily and I did a cooking course in Chiang Mai, Thailand earlier in the year [which you can read about here], which was great, so we were excited to learn to cook some Vietnamese food. The cooking course was at OM/One Moment Restaurant. 

We were given Vietnamese hats to wear and were taken to the market to buy items to cook with. The guide was showing us all sorts of items to explain what they were. This was sometimes interesting, but many times he was holding up things which were very clear what they were, including things like chopsticks. Perhaps we look stupid! The guide and a chef showed us how to make spring rolls, a mango, papaya and meat/veggie salad and a lemongrass and chill chicken stir fry [and tofu option for me]. It was all very delicious and we enjoyed eating the amazing food we had cooked on the restaurant balcony. We were given a fancy vegetable peeler as a souvenir of the course and they e-mailed us the recipes, so we can recreate them for friends in the future. It was lovely doing the course with the four of us, which was a completely different experience than cooking with at least 30 other people in Chiang Mai, which was great too.

The following day we hired bikes and cycled to the beach. This was a 20-30 minute cycle in a straight line from our guest house, directly to the sea, which was pretty convenient! No confusing road signs to contend with. We paid a small amount to safely park our bikes and used sun loungers and a parasol for free, on the basis that we then bought very reasonably priced food from the restaurant next door for lunch. The sea was VERY choppy, so you only had to be standing knee-deep to be repeatedly smashed by the big waves. It was quite fun, but not very relaxing. It was unusual, as all the other beaches we have visited in Asia have been very calm. 

The old town area [all along the riverside] in Hoi An has lots of tourist attractions to visit. You can buy a pass to visit your choice of five of the attractions. which costs 100,000 VND [5 USD / 3 GBP]. We visited the Chinese Meeting House, which was very beautifully decorated, along with the Japanese Covered Bridge. We also visited a traditional Vietnamese house and a local museum, both of which were very boring and brief visits! As we learned during our visit, it's hard to believe that the buildings all along the riverside regularly flood during the annual rainy season, often up to head height on the ground floor. Everything is moved up to the top floors and they use boats for access.

 Japanese Covered Bridge

Chinese Meeting House

The whole town has a really lovely feel about it and we really enjoyed our four-day stay there. There was plenty to do and there were other day trips we could have done to extend our stay if we had wanted to stay longer. There were also a huge number of lovely places to eat and drink, along with plenty of interesting shops and market stalls. 

Hoi An is one of the best places we've visited on our travels :)

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