The coastal Vietnamese town of Hoi An is known for its sleepy atmosphere and strong French influence. It’s a great spot to relax between bustling capital cities, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do.
In fact, the reality is quite the opposite. Here are just a few suggestions to get you started.
1. VISIT THE BANH MI QUEEN
If you’re new to banh mi, picture this: an unbelievably crusty baguette, filled with pork, salad, egg, and a number of mystery fillings that somehow make the roll not only indubitably Vietnamese, but so delicious that a regular sandwich will never satisfy you again.
A trip to Hoi An would be incomplete without a visit to Madam Khanh, the Banh Mi Queen: a fierce older lady who rules her shop like well, you know. Her cart is a 10-15 minute walk from the centre of town (or a short taxi ride), and is open for business every day. It’s less than $2AUD per roll, with an extra 50c or so for a beer. Cheap, delicious bliss.
2. GET SOME NEW THREADS
One of Hoi An’s biggest tourist drawcards are the tailors that line the streets in the centre of town. Fancy suits and dresses, t-shirts, bags, leather shoes whatever you want made, someone can make it happen.
Items that are pricey back home, like suits and gowns, are drastically cheaper, and everyday clothing can be anywhere between low and average price depending on the quality you are after and detail required. The best part is, almost all tailors in Hoi An offer free fittings and adjustments until it is perfect.
If you do plan on getting clothing made, make sure you do your research and shop around. Try a few different shops, get quotes before settling (and try to haggle), and ensure you ask how quick their turnaround is (most are around 24-48 hours).
3. GET COOKIN’
Cooking classes are a tourist rite of passage in Vietnam, and you can do one in any city. But, there’s something about the soothing pace and slightly less commercial feel of Hoi An that makes it the perfect spot to get out the chopping board and learn what on earth is actually in a bowl of pho.
There are many different classes on offer some are done by private providers, others are offered through restaurants in town. Ask your accommodation if they recommend a class, try out a few restaurants, or ask friends for suggestions. Gioan is a good choice (ask for Ms Vy, she sings Abba songs); their kitchen is on the riverfront, and they offer private classes. They also allow you to choose your own menu, which is generally 3-4 traditional dishes for around the price of a standard meal.
4. EXPLORE THE RIVERSIDE
If you’re wandering through the centre of Hoi An, you are likely to pass by the shore of the Thu Bon River. There are hundreds of market stalls lined up next to the water: jewellery, trinkets, clothes, seafood, ect. You name it, you’ll find it there.
Buy some tamarinds to crack open and chew on, grab some presents for family members. Pretend not to be interested in the cheesy tourist shirts (‘Good morning Vietnam!’) and then buy one in four different colours. Avoid the ladies who ask if you’d like your nails done on the side of the road, and as the locals suggest, hold onto your bag tight. Take up a shouted offer for a boat ride.
If you tire of the hustle and bustle, duck into one of the cafes along the riverfront. Sit down out of the heat and grab a drink, or order some “Cao Lau” the delicious traditional noodle dish of Hoi An. Wait for the sun to go down, and watch the streets light up with colourful lanterns.
5. TREAT YOURSELF
You’ve stuffed your fact with baguettes and noodles, you’ve bought as many clothes as your baggage allowance can take, and you can’t quite face another market stall. Now, dear traveller, it’s time to treat yourself.
Pick a quiet cafe in the centre of town, and try some sweet Vietnamese coffee. If you’ve been there, done that, and are feeling a little adventurous, find somewhere that does egg coffee Cafe 57 is a favourite. Just make sure you prepare yourself: it’s condensed milk, sugar, coffee, and raw egg (yet somehow, delightful).
If you fancy something a little more hands on, get a massage. Pandanus Spa is a good pick they offer traditional massage, and almost any other relaxation treatment you can think of. Or, head to one of the temples in town (Quang Trieu and Fukien Assembly Halls are much-loved) and get some peace and quiet.
Feature image c/o Khanh Hmoong, Flickr