Hoi An is really the cultural centre of Vietnam – a stunning riverside town that offers temples, old Chinese shop houses, dance and puppetry performances, amazing street food, and probably the best markets / shopping in the country, specialising in tailored made-to-measure clothes and colourful silk lanterns.
We ended up staying a full week in Hoi An (and returning later due to a bus fuck-up!) and we had a really great, indulgent week of drinking, eating, cooking, beaching, and occasional culture. We treated ourselves to a hotel that cost $15 a night for a double room, but came with an unlimited and mindbogglingly good breakfast buffet, serving everything from pancakes and omelettes to noodles and rice, to fruit and cakes. Needless to say, we took full advantage of this on a daily basis! The hotel also had a little pool where we’d start the day with some fun ‘Jack aerobics’ or ‘callisthenics’ which essentially meant us pretending to be trains under water, doing doggy paddle races, and splashing around in a circle trying to drown each other!
We spent a day seeing cultural stuff in town, poking around dark ancient Chinese shop houses, checking out the ornate detail of old assembly halls full of buddhist statues, visiting a Ceramics museum geeking out looking at old crockery, and seeing a free performance of traditional dance/music, all for a multi-pass of about £6!
We also checked out a water puppetry performance one night which – in Jack’s words – was a ‘truly magical evening!’ The puppets were simultaneously impressive and adorable, and the evening was broken into several stories, from legends of fights with dragons; to everyday life in the countryside (featuring a crazy puppet cat that whizzed up the stage curtains!); to tales of romance, amazing creatures like the phoenix, and fantastical fairies. The show was narrated in English and featured explosions, cool tricks of the light/in the water, and high production values. Although there were a few delighted kids there, I think we maybe enjoyed it even more than them!
We spent many afternoons drinking ice coffee by the pretty river in town, running around the giant lantern statues and sculptures; and many lunch times eating at our favourite stall in the Central Market, where the stall lady got to know us as her regular customers and would subtly give us freebies like spring rolls with our orders, and even free smoothies by the end! When we returned to Hoi An weeks later, she remembered me and Sam and greeted us with a big hug! The food in the market was really fresh and delicious, and we happily worked our way through the regional specialities on a daily basis, from noodle soups like Cao Lau to local delicacies like White Rose and classics like Pho. See Food Blog for more details!
At night time we ate on the streets, stuffing ourselves silly with amazing loaded noodle dishes like Mi Quang and summer rolls with BBQ meats that we assembled ourselves. A brief brush with some peanuts on the table meant another hospital visit for Sam (assisted by our good doctor friend Lil!) where we (thanks to Lil!!) narrowly avoided a heavy-handed treatment of beta blockers and steroids (!) for his minor reaction. The town was even more magical in the evening, with coloured lanterns lighting the streets, and glowing decoration sitting over the river, casting some magical reflections in the water.
Cultural stuff aside, we also found Hoi An to be a really great place to party! We spent one evening getting loaded up on bia hoi (now par for the course, and even cheaper at about 15p a pint!) then hitting up a local karaoke venue where we downed spirits and crooned our way into the early hours. We also had some fun bia hoi nights with an awesome older Brit couple from Lil’s town that we randomly kept bumping into. We spent nights drinking beer until we couldn’t drink any more, and delirious days afterwards eating all the street food, or hanging out a the beach!
Another reason that makes Hoi An great is that you can take a taxi for about 10 minutes and be at nearby An Bang beach, which is a pretty nice beach (although the sea is very rough!) and you can buy a cheap beer which also covers the rental of a beach lounger. We went there on a particularly hungover day and spent a few hilarious hours relaxing, joking around trying to do yoga moves, and doing our best to stomach beer without vomming.
We fit in another couple of cultural activities in our week – firstly, a day trip to the My Son ruins, which are relics from the ancient powerful Cham Empire. We hired a cab to take us there/avoid the hoards on tours, and spent a few hours walking around the humid jungly ruins, admiring what remains (post Vietnam war bombing!) of the ruins. Some were more complete than others, and there was some interesting detail/relief work, but the War definitely took its toll on the historical site, with many ruins pretty destroyed! But we had a fun time regardless, stopping to take pictures of sleepy dogs lazing on the statues, and touristy selfies.
We also took a cookery course at a little cafe, where we made stuffed squid/tofu; spring rolls; and chicken in banana leaf and lemongrass. We shared the tasks of doing the cooking and the note-taking, and the food was pretty delicious! We’d hoped to make classics like pho but apparently the broth alone takes days to prepare, so we settled for these alternatives instead!
It was so nice having quality time (and all the lols!) with everyone for a week, and we were super sad to say our goodbyes to everyone at the end of the week. It temporarily felt just like being at home, and the farewells definitely tugged at the heart strings! Rather fittingly, as we took the bus up North to our next location, the heavens opened and we had our first real rain in Vietnam, which we watched through the window rather gloomily, missing our buddies already.
But! Onwards and upwards! Our next location was imperial town Hue…..!