Visiting Hoi An

Hoi An, Vietnam – 11, 12 & 13 April 2018
Our flight to Da Nang was perfectly pleasant and passed quickly. Arrived on time with all of our luggage, bought local SIM cards right next to baggage carousel and were soon off to our home for the next five nights, the Lantana Riverside Boutique Hotel.

There’d been a bit of a mix-up with our room, insofar as it was not available the first night of our stay due to overbooking. It was a bit irksome, given that I’d bought and paid for the Lantana Suite months ago – but it’d been a long day and the alternative room we were provided was more than adequate. Ak and I both slept soundly that night. We were moved into our originally booked room the next afternoon and it was a nice upgrade, thanks to a better layout and a nice view of the river.

Ak and I both felt a little unsure about Hoi An at this juncture – not unhappy with it per se, but it was also not as we’d pictured it. What little we’d seen on the ride in made it seem more touristy and less charming than I’d thought – but we’ll see if that holds true. And as nice as our hotel is, I’d probably prefer something a bit closer to old town were I to visit again.

Wednesday morning we were up early for a trip to visit the temple ruins at My Son. It was a nice small group: our guide, the two of us and three people from France. The drive out was about an hour and we spent maybe 90 minutes or so taking in the sights. Frankly, it was just about the perfect amount of temple ruins for this philistine – and compared to someplace like Angkor Wat, it was wonderfully uncrowded. The ruins themselves are interesting and learning about their construction and conservation was great. A really nice morning!

On the way back into the city, we stopped at a place for local handicrafts – which in actuality was mostly a shop trying to hard-sell us clothes, lanterns and silk ware. Not the end of the world, but certainly not my favorite type of tourist experience.

After wrapping things up and having a bit of a lie-down, we headed into the center of Hoi An to meet up with our food tour for the afternoon. Our guide was Emma and we were joined by one other traveler, a German woman closer to my age than Ak’s who was about halfway through her three month backpacking tour of SE Asia.

As we ambled about we stopped and had beef noodles, Madame Khan’s world famous (and deservedly so) banh mi, black sesame pudding and pork dumplings from White Rose – to name a few. We wrapped things up at a local home where we helped to prepare and cook spring rolls and savory egg pancakes before tucking into them along with a couple of cans of beer. It was a great way to spend an afternoon and a really fun way to get some local insight into Hoi An’s food. Emma was a wonderful guide – teaching us not just about the food we ate but about everyday life in Hoi An and Vietnam.

Walked around Old Town for a bit and had some really tasty cocktails at Q Bar. I was especially enamored of the gin/cucumber/lime concoction they offered.

Another early start on Thursday for ANOTHER food tour, this one run by an ex-pat Aussie. When he came to collect us at 7AM and had not presented ourselves in the lobby (we were literally in the elevator on our way down) he had hurried into the breakfast room to ensure we’d not disobeyed his very explicit instructions to not eat anything before the tour. And this was no joke – when we were presented with the menu later, there were over 40 different dishes for us to try!

Four other Aussies joined us on the tour and the first part of the day was spent with Ms Sen, a local woman who took us through the market and then to a variety of stands and shops for all sorts of tastings. Our favorite of the morning was mì gà – essentially chicken noodle soup – with a golden broth that was sublime. We also had some outstanding banh mi here. Oh, and barbecue pork. And after a short walk we had some super delicious ice cream – coconut for me, taro for Ak. Uh, and I also had a coffee ice cream. They’re very small!

The latter half of the morning was spent back at the tour company’s HQ, all of us seated around a table sampling a huge variety of local foods while Neville regaled us with his stories, opinions and history.

It was all good tour, though also quite A LOT of food. As much as I enjoyed this tour, it was perhaps just a bit much by the end. I have to say, the tour we took yesterday was more interesting and more fun – I suspect largely since it felt a lot more like a local perspective on things rather than that of an ex-pat Westerner.

Surprisingly enough though (OK, not all that surprising), we were hungry again by 5PM after wrapping up the tour at noon. After stopping for a quite lovely massage at La Luna Spa, we had dinner at The Seashell, an outpost of the well-reputed Nu eatery here in town. The food was Vietnamese fusion – and TBH, we’d both’ve preferred something a bit more authentic – though the orange chicken rice bowl was delicious and I had a quite tasty glass of wine with dinner. Wandered around Old Town after dinner a bit, but made a relatively early night of it.

The next morning, we taxied into Old Town to Heaven and Earth Bike Tours for a tour of the countryside, along with our guide Tram and a lovely Welsh couple called Caroline and John. We started off with a boat ride (along with our bikes) and I had a chance to do perhaps the straightest and male-est thing I’ve ever done: chatted up John about his photography equipment. Happily, he offered me some excellent insight – and I really do need to save up my pennies and replace my bulky DSLR. I was quite envious of John’s compact little Lumix which he told me provides excellent images and has interchangeable lenses.

We covered about 14 km before lunch at a local homestead – though we stopped several times along the way, including at the home of one of the guides who rode part of the way with us. Her mother makes rice noodles in her village and we got to see the process and sample her wares. Amazing!

We pedaled through rice fields and shrimp farms – and passed by a duck farm where a few hundred ducklings hustled out of our path and into their pond. We also saw water buffalo, plenty of cows and dogs and a nice variety of local birds. And all along the way friendly locals yelled “Hello!” as we rode by.

As lovely as all this was – and as delicious as our lunch was – the heat of the day proved a bit much, so Ak and I decided to call it a day and to pass on the 9 km remainder of the ride. And special thanks to our guide Tram and fellow tourists John and Caroline who were all patient and supportive when we found ourselves really needing to slow the pace of the trip toward the end, thanks to both the heat and general exhaustion.

Despite pooping out, we really loved this tour. Getting away from the center of Hoi An and out into the quieter countryside was a nice change – and again, like with our first food tour, getting perspectives from a local resident offers so much more insight into local life. It was a really fun ride.

Made it back to town and then to the hotel for a lie-down and some electrolyte-laden sports drinks and we seem to have made a full recovery from the day’s exertions. Heading into town for early dinner and cocktail. Tomorrow: cooking class!

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