Delightful visit to Hoi An – beautiful architecture, sea of lanterns, quiet beaches, ancient ruins and above all exquisite dining!

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Asia » Vietnam » South Central Coast » Quảng Nam » Hoi An
August 16th 2013
Published: January 22nd 2014
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How long does it take to cover 100km by bus in Vietnam? Well... Apparently it takes 5 hours! First of all it took a while to leave Hue itself as we were circling around the same streets and stopping at every corner and picking up people. Aaaah… They sure teach you a lot of patience here. One thing that I can’t comprehend though is why we were speeding for the first hour or so, dangerously overtaking everything that was moving on the road, only to slow down so bad for the next few hours that even bicycles were passing us by? Ah well… At least we got to Hoi An in one piece… There were a few offers from nearby guesthouses so we decided to check one out – bad decision this time though… It sure was cheap but was also very dark and damp and since we were planning to spend here a few nights, yep! it was better to look for something else… What can I say? Walking around with our backpacks on in more than 35 degrees wasn’t exactly fun and since we took a few bad turns and ended up on the wrong side of town – I still blame it on the map! 😉, the frustration was reaching sky to say the least! It was time to change strategy! I stayed with our stuff and Grant went looking for a guesthouse – much better solution! Aaaah! The advantages of travelling with someone! With a special someone for that matter! 😊 And in no time at all, we had a nice place to stay and could freshen up a bit and rest... Rest our shoulders from carrying the backpacks that is as the sun was shining, it was a beautiful day, so there was no point in staying inside and staring at the four walls of our hotel room.

We asked a guy at our hotel what day the lantern festival was and it looked like we were here a bit too early… Ah well… First we had to check out the town to decide whether it was worth it to stay here a few more nights than planned or not… But when we asked him what was there to see here, he said that most of the people come here to do some shopping as they apparently had tailors all around… Well, that’s not exactly what we came here to do, so we would just have to figure out on our own where to go and what to do for the next couple of days. But first things first – time to explore the town a bit!

We didn’t have to walk too far from our place to realise what the guy at the hotel was talking about when he mentioned shopping – lots of shops with clothes and shoes all around! We only had a pick here and there and straight away were asked to come in and they were ready to take our measurements right there and then! As nice as some of the things were – first of all no space in the backpacks and then did we really need these things??? Naaaah… Besides I’d rather just try something on and buy it straight away rather than go through the process of measuring and waiting for the final product only to realise that it’s not exactly what I wanted in the first place… Soon after we were ‘attacked’ by Easy Riders – a bicycle ‘gang’ that can be found all around actually offering touring services. The usual story begun with relatives in Australia and all that… Pretty funny actually! We exchanged a few laughs, took a few pictures with the guys, politely declined their offers and headed further. Pheeew… We managed to get to the old town without buying or signing up for anything though – pretty tiring stroll and we only walked two streets! 😉 Once we entered the old town I knew that we would easily be able to stay here a few nights… Ok, it was pretty crowded, and it was loud, but it was absolutely beautiful around as well! Loved the warm coloured old buildings, lots of flowers hanging here and there, not to mention the lanterns – in the shops, on the houses or ready for sale from many sellers by the river – old and young! Some very young actually… We’ve read before about the combined ticket for the local attractions but decided to give it a miss that day and just wander around and take it all in. As we were strolling along the river we passed by a boat offering ‘fresh’ beer? Hmmm… We were curious as to how fresh it could actually be and decided to give a try in the end. And it looked like we came there at the right time as who did we find there? Our friends from Sapa – Nancy and Kenneth! We joined them for a bowl of beer – yep! that’s right! As the beer was served here in ceramic bowls! And poured from a plastic bottle with a homemade sticker on it – fresh or not fresh, it certainly was homemade! We had a lovely evening with our friends having a few bowls each and listening to some live music – it begun with one guitar player, but after a while we had a whole band in front of us! As the musicians started showing up we had to give up one of our ‘chairs’ as apparently it wasn’t a chair at all but a drum! Oops! On the way to our hotel, we stopped to have a bite to eat. We already loved the food in Hue much better than in Hanoi, but looked like we were here for an even better treat! All the different tastes and flavours! Yum! Yep! We were going to like it here for sure! 😊

The next day instead of walking around town, we decided to check out the beach. It looked like we might have used up the good weather for now as it was quite overcast that day… At least we wouldn’t get burnt right? Perfect beach weather I would say! We rented two bikes from a lady across the street – the moment we walked out the door she was waving to us with such a big smile, that we just couldn’t resist! The beach was really close by so we didn’t have to fight through the traffic for too long. As we were getting closer to the beach, suddenly out of nowhere quite a few people started running in our direction offering their ‘parking’ services. Haha! Seriously we had to be really careful not to bump into them and zigzag in between them to get through. We chose one place, paid 5,000 dong to park our bikes for the day (first they wanted us to pay 5,000 per hour!) and headed to the beach, only to be bombarded with offers from the ‘chair’ girls… Aaaaah… Good that I was wearing my ‘patience’ pants, haha! All of them seemed to have had the same offer though – free chairs… if you eat at their place afterwards that is! We knew that eventually we would have a bite somewhere anyway, so why not here then right? I have to say that I really do love the beach but it’s quite impossible for me to sit around and do nothing or even worse – lie down and try to get some tan, it usually lasts 10 minutes or even less and I’m ready to do something else already… But after being a while on the road I do have to say I have learned to do nothing, not being rushed, just sitting and observing the world around me… There weren’t exactly a lot of people around, so people watching wasn’t exactly my main activity that day, but nevertheless there were a few interesting personalities that consumed my attention. 😊 Right next to us an older British lady (judging by the accent that is) was having difficulties placing an order for lunch. It seemed that everyone on the beach knew what she wanted to eat except the girl she was ordering from, haha! First she was just talking louder and louder and slower to the girl but since it didn’t seem to work, she called a friend for help in the end. ‘Darling, do you remember these lovely clams with lemongrass and chilli I had the other day? Yes, yes… Can you explain to the lady here exactly what I would like, please?’ It was going on and on but eventually she seemed to have gotten exactly what she wanted and was encouraging everyone around to try it as well. We had a bit of a chat with that lady later on and it turned out she was teaching English in Hoi An. Very unusual sight for me to be honest – she was well in her sixties (or even seventies?) and came to Hoi An on her own (kind of… she brought her dog with her from overseas as well). You don’t really hear about many Polish retirees spending their time like that. Too bad… There is still room for change right? Whatever makes people happy… Her doggy was getting a lot of attention from the people around as well – seeing a pet dog in Vietnam? Pretty unusual for sure! She said that she wouldn’t go anywhere without her precious doggy and even though it cost her more to bring him there than pay for her ticket, she just couldn’t do it any other way. Only now she had to keep an eye on him in case somebody saw him and wanted to taste him… Haha! We heard so much about the clams that in the end we just had to taste them and it certainly was a good choice – lovely lemongrass flavour with a little chilli kick to it, yum! In the evening we walked around Hoi An, paying special attention to the market this time – what can I say? I was in heaven! Conical hats and grannies all around! 😉 Then another lovely evening – watching people placing lanterns on the river, then placing them ourselves (still gathering those blessings!) followed by a delicious meal... Lanterns were popular not only during full moon it turned out – guess it was working for both, tourists and locals… I was only wondering whether the full moon festival would be any different to what was happening here every evening already?

The following day we decided to rent a motorbike and head to My Son to see what the remains of the Cham kingdom. Our friend from across the street was more than happy to rent us a bike, her bike to be exact – I even got her helmet! She drew a map for us as well. It was quite precise actually – after 10km turn left, then after 6km right and so on… We’d better keep an eye on the mileage then! We had doubts whether the map would lead us to the place, but it did! Without the map it could have been quite tricky though! But we made it! Some of the sites were very well preserved while the others got almost totally destroyed during the war. It’s amazing that these temples survived hundreds of years of neglect and were destroyed just like that in the matter of seconds during the ‘civilised’ era… Still there is a lot of work going on around, restoring some of the old buildings. There was a very interesting exhibition just at the entrance to the complex where we could find all sort of information about the buildings as well as the ornaments and figures found on the sites. You could see how the restoration project was progressing as well. Really amazing what they can put together from a pile of rubble!

The evening was beautiful once again – lovely sunset, lanterns floating on the water, walking around enjoying the surroundings and each other’s company… Aaaaah… This place just seemed to have love in the air! Haha! It looked like the closer it got to full moon, the more young couples were getting married around here as that day there were photo sessions all around! Once again we tried some of the local specialities and what can I say? We haven’t been disappointed so far!

Since we were in Hoi An a few days already, it was time to actually see some of the recommended sites in the old town I guess. 😉 We definitely wanted to do that, but the days seemed to be flying by… There was just no point putting it aside for any longer. So we got our tickets and set off to explore – Japanese covered bridge , a few of the old houses, Chinese meeting hall and we got just on time to the cultural centre for the dance show. After walking around the charming streets and paying a visit to the market again, we went in search for a nice spot to eat – so many places around to choose from! We picked one of the restaurants by the river and it looked like we found our favourite dish! Cao lau, mmmm… Looked like a normal noodle soup with some pork in it, but was so much more than that! Thick noodles, roasted pork, lots of herbs and greens… The flavours mixing together! Yum! Add to it some nice wontons and white roses (little dumplings) – a perfect combination, simply delicious!

The following day – the Full Moon Festival! Obviously it was going to start in the evening, so we still had a full day to fill. We just decided to take it easy, rented the bikes and headed to the beach. On the way back, the last part of the way heading against the traffic, we started wondering what’s the point of setting any traffic rules here if nobody abides by them anyway (including us in this case, but then we just followed few other bikes heading that way, so we should be excused right? 😉). Once we gave back the bikes we stood for a while on the side watching the traffic and seriously not one bike that passed us by was fully abiding by the rules! Missing helmets, broken lights, too much stuff packed onto the bike, too many people on the bike, going against the traffic, speeding, you name it… Despite all this though, it still worked!

In the evening we headed to the old town of course to check out the festival. There were certainly more people around and more people were selling lanterns but beside that no difference to the previous days. Maybe it was starting a bit later? After all the sun was only setting now…Time for some food then first? 😊 What better way to start the Full Moon Festival than with a portion of tasty Cao Lau! Soon after it became dark… It became really dark actually! The moon was reappearing once in a while through the clouds and it looked like the moon would be the main light shining over the town that evening as there were no street lights on at all! More and more people started appearing everywhere as well – seriously it’s been a while since I’ve seen crowds like that! It looked like half of Vietnam showed up for the festival! Definitely foreign tourists were a minority here that night… Keeping in mind that I had to pay a bit more attention to my camera and purse (yep! that would be the right order! 😉) we strolled around squeezing through the crowds, still it was nice to see the town coming to life like that. All along the river people were buying lanterns, lighting them up and setting them on the water. Also more boats than usual started appearing on the river, some of them dangerously overcrowded though! No wonder everyone taking the boat ride was wearing safety jackets… We did notice that the prices of lanterns have risen from one day to the other quite considerably as well! They were selling like crazy though! So many of them scattered all around on the river! Quite an incredible sight actually! It made me wonder how this place would look like in the morning… Would there be someone to clean all the mess? Hopefully… I have to say that there wasn’t really much difference between this night and the previous nights – it was just made on a much bigger scale! Still we definitely didn’t regret staying here those few additional nights. At least we knew what it was all about now!

Since we were leaving in the evening we still had a whole day to say goodbye to Hoi An. I was very positively surprised to see that there were a few boats on the river scooping out the burnt out lanterns, not to mention that looking at the streets you would never suspect that hundreds (if not thousands) of people were taking part in the festival here the previous night! Really impressed how they dealt with that! We wandered the streets for the last time, making use of our ticket and visiting another two old houses. Even though we walked these streets a number of times now, only on our last day we came across a lovely shop with all sorts of old relics – vases, coins and many other things fished out from the sea. Incredible collection of items! We said our goodbyes to Hoi An with a bowl of fresh rice beer and a portion of Cao Lau (yep! what else?) and were ready to head further south. Next stop: Nha Trang!

Additional photos below
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fishing boats on the river near Hoi Anfishing boats on the river near Hoi An
fishing boats on the river near Hoi An

gotta love the round ones!
lovely fresh lunch by the beach, yum!lovely fresh lunch by the beach, yum!
lovely fresh lunch by the beach, yum!

clams with lemongrass and chilli - absolute must!

22nd January 2014

Hoi An
Loved your description and observations of your time in Hoi An. The food looks great also. We enjoyed our time in Vietnam but didn't make it to Hoi An. Maybe another time.
26th January 2014

Thanks for reading guys. I definitely recommend Hoi An. It is like they say - pretty crowded and touristy, but I think everyone can find there whatever it is they are looking for, even peace and quiet. Regards

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