I really loved Hoi An and ended up staying longer than I planned. I arrived Sept. 5 and stayed until Sept. 9. I stayed at the Hoa Binh Hotel, which had some of the cheapest beds in the city and was very comfortable. Hoi An doesn’t have much in the way of hostels, but has plenty of hotels. Hoa Binh had six and four bed dorms in addition to single and double rooms, so it was a great substitute. And it offered a delicious breakfast buffet. Plus we got new towels each day and the bed was very comfortable.
The first day I arrived in Hoi An, I needed some time to relax and catch up with friends and family. I spent the afternoon chatting during four consecutive Skype sessions with loved ones. It was really great! I was happy to have an easy day, especially after sweating out a fever the previous night in Hue. I also ran in to a girl, Emily, I met on the overnight bus from Hanoi to Hue at the hotel. So she and I spent some of our time in the city together.
The next day I set out to explore the old quarter. My hotel was really close to the old quarter area, about a 5 minute walk. The ancient town was so cute! The streets are lined with adorable yellow buidlings, and the streets are often closed to automobiles, making it much more pleasant to walk around. I bought an entrance ticket for some of the sites in the city. Tickets cost 120,000 dong (about $6) and allow entrance into 5 sites of your choosing. There are 17 spots to choose from, including old houses, assembly halls, museums and communal houses. I went for the Japanese Covered Bridge, Tan Ky Old House, Trieu Chau Assembly Hall, Quang Trieu Assembly Hall and Quan Cong Temple. The bridge and Quang Trieu Assembly Hall were my favorite spots. I would absolutely recommend visiting both. Overall I found the assembly halls and old houses to be more impressive than the museums and communal houses. There are also several sites that are free, so it isn’t imperative to buy a ticket to visit those locations, but something worth paying for. I also visited the Reaching Out Tea House, which is run by speech and hearing “impaired” (as they described it on their pamphlet) for a nice pot of jasmine tea. It was a serene place and offered a nice, quiet place to rest. The staff were kind and the tea was tasty.
Sunday (Sept. 7) I went to My Son, an old temple site about 23 miles (38 km) outside of Hoi An. I met a German guy, Clemens, at breakfast (he was staying in the same room as Emily) and was excited to find out he planned to go to My Son that morning. I quickly finished my breakfast and joined him for the journey. This was my chance to redeem myself and finally conquer the motorbike. We had a pleasant, safe journey to the temple, and I was pleased to have finally finished a successful motorbike ride. The roads were mostly flat and usually without too much traffic, except for the bit when we were on a major freeway, so it was pretty easy going. And there were great views along the way. The temples at the site, which cost 100,000 dong (about $5) to enter, were lovely and in a good state of ruin with enough remaining to see something worth while. But having previously been to Angkor Wat, My Son left something to be desired.
We had a safe journey back and spent the evening with the other people in his room. We had dinner at a food stall on the river and enjoyed the lanterns that were floating along the river. It was the celebration of the full moon, so many people were out and sending off wishes with the lanterns. It was lovely, but not as spectacular as my research led me to believe it would be. I was hard pressed to find a difference in the city’s nighttime appearance from the previous night other than an increased volume of lanterns and boats filled with passengers on the river. Actually the previous night had been more pleasant, because it wasn’t as crowded. But it was indeed a lovely sight and I enjoyed my time out with my new friends.
Monday I intended to spend the majority of the day at the beach, but realized I needed to nail down my travel schedule for the remainder of my time and figure out my flights between countries. It took the bulk of the day and was rather stressful. I was sad to have wasted so much time, but glad to have the stress over and things figured out. I biked (bike rental was only 20,000 dong, about $1) to both An Bang (2.5 km from the city) and Cua Dai (4 km from the city) beaches in the bit of daylight I had left. Both beaches were lovely and offered a long stretch of sand. I preferred An Bang, because the sand slopped at a much gentler angle into the ocean than Cua Dai. But Cua Dai had far less pushy peddlers. Either beach is a great option and really worth spending some time at. I wish I had utilized my time a little better and spent more time at the beach. As it was though, I only had about three hours to go to and spend time at both beaches. I wanted to get back to the city before dark, and back to my hotel before it got too late.
I spent my final day in Hoi An doing a cooking class. It was great! I went with Morning Glory Cooking School’s course offered at The Market restaurant. The course starts with a buffet breakfast of a variety of Vietnamese dishes. We then did a tour of the market, which was incredibly hot. I was thankful for the delightfully cheesy Vietnamese hats we were given to wear. It offered a bit of relief from the scorching sun. We were also mercifully given cold, wet towels throughout the course, which were a huge help to stave off the heat. Upon our return to the restaurant we were given a tour of the different food stations and a brief description of the food and cooking methods. We were also able to sample many of the foods, including some more adventurous bites. I sampled the jellyfish, pig’s ear and some kind of larvae. We also enjoyed tamer options like noodles and dumplings. Finally we spent the remaining two and a half hours doing the actual cooking. Our instructor would first show us the dish, then help us as we prepared it ourselves, and then we ate our creation. We did this for each dish. First we made a cabbage leaf and shrimp mousse soup. Next we marinated chicken and skewered it (then left it aside be barbecued after marinating; the staff at the restaurant took care of the barbecuing). Our third dish was banh xeo a savory, crispy pancake with pork, shrimp and bean sprouts. Finally we made a mango salad, which we ate with our chicken. All of the food was delicious, and the staff was incredibly professional. It was a well run course and offered a lot for the cost. I also really appreciated that they had a large mirror angled behind the instructor, so it made it easy to see what she was doing as she cooked. I was very impressed with the whole thing and would definitely recommend taking the class.
Hoi An was absolutely one of my favorite places in Vietnam. Lots of delicious food, a charming old town and beaches with plenty of soft sand. Basically everything I could want in a travel destination!
Hoi An Gratitude Journal
1. I’m grateful for Skype.
2. I’m grateful for pedestrian/bicycle only streets.
3. I’m grateful for lanterns.
4. I’m grateful for air conditioning.