Before I jump ahead to my gushing story of Hoi An, I must mention Dalat and our 17 hour bus ride through Nha Trang. Dalat was an interesting place – not at all like the quaint French village I had pictured. Most surprisingly, it was cold and damp. The guest house we stayed in, “Friendly Fun“, was exactly that. It came highly recommended on Hostel World and rightly so. The adorable owner and her family were welcoming, gave us complimentary beer and cooked us a lovely breakfast the following morning. However, we aren’t the ‘adventure-sports’ types and therefore missed out on the only real attraction Dalat has to offer – canyoning. Thus we left Dalat as swiftly as we arrived. Our extremely long bus journey took us through a place called Nha Trang which, in my opinion, was pretty tacky and unappealing. I’m sure it offers a good night out, if that’s what you’re looking for, but not a place to soak up any kind of real Vietnamese culture. The 17 hour bus included two stops for the toilet – there’s something deliriously funny about a line of 10+ girls squatting for a wee at the side of the road at 2am, attempting not to be seen or to pee all down their legs! Back on the bus, a sleepless night ensued.
Finally, we arrived in Hoi An. Hoi An was probably my favourite place in Vietnam. It is a historic, riverside town bustling with people and bursting with fantastic markets. We got stuck for 10 minutes trying to walk across a bridge which was swamped by a mixture of mopeds and pedestrians – busy is an understatement. We stayed in a hostel called Hideout which was comfortable and easy-going.
Firstly, we explored the markets and meandered through the backstreets through authentic shops and gorgeous cafes. It was in Hoi An that we developed our love of sweet iced coffee and haggling. On our first day in Hoi An we toured the town, appreciating the Old Town architecture, temples, pagodas and houses. The Japanese covered bridge was a particularly beautiful sight, reaching across the central river in Hoi An. We also experienced authentic lotus tea and purchased some (not-so-authentic) silk kimonos. This area is famed for its silk so it is well worth shopping around for something special. Hoi An is also known for making tailor made, high quality clothes – something we didn’t have time for but I wish we had.
For me, the highlight of Hoi An was the Red Bridge cooking school. Red Bridge is a beautiful restaurant on the riverside which offers very reasonably priced, entertaining and memorable cooking classes. We booked online and later set off to find to cafe where our culinary journey was to begin. After complimentary pineapple juices, we were given a guided tour of the food market – from fish to spices, rice to noodles and much more. Our senses were overwhelmed with delicious smells and intriguing sights. Next, we took a boat trip down the river towards the restaurant. Upon arrival we were introduced to the chef and taken around the herb gardens (this included lots of jokes about a herb called ‘morning glory’ – let your imaginations make up the rest!) Once we reached the outdoor cooking area, we were each given our own stove and stash of ingredients. The recipes varied from melon salads to aubergine stews and zingy spring rolls with peanut dipping sauces. This fantastic half-day course ended with a communal meal where we enjoyed getting to know our classmates, sharing our culinary creations and being treated to some professionally made fish dishes. What can I say – it was perfect!
From here, we went back to the center of Hoi An to watch a traditional, ancient performance by local some Vietnamese dancers. Other memorable parts of our Hoi An experience included lantern making at the Life Start Foundation (an incredible charity for disadvantaged and disabled Vietnamese women) and a trip to the Marble Mountains (mountains made of marble- obviously) where people come to worship and pray. There was one cave in the Marble Mountains which was spectacular, but the place itself was not as impressive as the guide books make it sound – but still well worth a visit as it is not far from Hoi An.
We also took a tour to My Son (pronounced Mee-Surn). My Son is home to beautiful temples which are now ancient ruins. Our tour guide was a questionable man with dark aviators and a severe lack of knowledge about anything. Some Australian women who were particularly tired of our tour guides ineptitude announced, “Ah God, he’s giving me the shits!” – a phrase I’ve not heard before but pretty much summed up our sentiments exactly. Nevertheless, the location was incredible.
Our final night in Hoi An was spent at a gorgeous restaurant, covered in brightly colored, luminous lanterns. I tucked into a great big bowl of steaming beef pho and we happily chatted about our new-found love of Hoi An. Hopefully that won’t be the last I ever see of this magical, cultural town.
Find out more about Hoi An: