Where do I start with Hoi An? The delightful little historic town of Hoi An is famous for many things with two of the most important being food and shopping. It’s become a backpackers right of passage to splash the cash on tailor-made garments during their visit, many which can be made up within a few hours. I hate shopping so for me shopping for a new dress was a stressful experience, but despite this I loved Hoi An, so much so we extended our stay another night.
Although we had planned to stay three nights, plenty of time for something to be made, I wasted no time putting in my order in fear of it being rushed. I picked the wackiest material and made up a design out of thin air. Both these factors and the issue of trying to explain my made-up design to someone who didn’t speak English was never going to end perfectly. However, I came away with a custom-made dress which although not perfect, is nice and a new pair of leather sandals for just £15 for the two.
Now on to the important part, the food! Not only did we make full use of the free buffet breakfast at the Sunflower Hotel every morning, but we also ate our way around the town sampling the local dishes; White Rose (pork and shrimp dumplings), hoanh thanh (fried Wong Ton) and Cao Lau (noodles and pork in a broth). Hoi An’s quaint streets are lined with street food vendors, selling a variety of foods from the ever so popular Banh Mi found throughout Vietnam to unusual mung bean cakes.
Everywhere I went I found a different sweet treat and made it my mission to try them all. Not only did I spend a fortune on cake, I managed to work my way through 15 over the four days I was there! I didn’t think much of the desserts filled with mung bean or the greasy doughnuts found on every corner but I did love the glutinous rice balls filled with peanuts and the shredded potato mixed with coconut, chilli sauce and peanuts.
Another of my food highlights of the trip was a cooking demonstration with Huynh from Coconut Tours. This involved a trip to the local market to pick up some fresh supplies followed by a cycle though the countryside to the beautiful Tra Que Vegetable Village where Huynh’s grandparents live.
The scenery was stunning and when we arrived we enjoyed a refreshing homemade drink by the beautiful river. We were expecting a cooking class but it was more of a demonstration which I didn’t mind as I’m not much of a cook and I still had the chance to have a go if I wanted to.
I helped cooked some of the regions most popular dishes including pork spring rolls, mackerel baked in banana leaf and savoury pancakes. All the cooking was done in Huynh’s grandparents house and we all sat down to share the dishes. Afterwards we moved to a table next to the river for even more food cooked by the family and served with Nuoc Mam (fish sauce) which is made by fermenting highly salted fish in large ceramic vats for over 12 months!
We even got a free massage too!
When booking we asked our host Jimmy if we could cook a curry and something sweet for me. By the time our class had finished we were adamant that he had forgotten our request but to our surprise he let us stay and cooked the most fabulous tasting chicken curry and banana and coconut soup for us.
I was blown away that he had remembered and gone the extra mile for us. Our half day class ended up lasting the whole day and after food we took a walk around the village’s vegetable and herb garden and helped the local farmers plant some herbs. It was tiring work but gave us a fantastic insight into daily life, in which all the families in the village help grow the herbs and vegetables and are able to help themselves whenever they need.
I had booked a bike tour with some university students from Hoi An Free Tour to Kim Bang Village close to Hoi An. We visited a couple local families, many who have their own temple, and went to a boat workshop where we learnt that eyes are painted on the front of boats to give them a soul.
The students were so kind and even joined us for coffee afterwards and helped retrieve Kevin’s bike when someone mistakenly took his instead of theirs, Kevin was fuming to the amusement of us girls. Whilst trying to resolve the bike situation, we enjoyed a flavoursome but overly greasy Banh Mi from Madame Khanh the Banh Mi Queen which according to Trip Advisor is meant to be the best in Hoi An.
Whilst in Hoi An it’s worth hiring push bikes to explore the surrounding area. On our last day we cycled to the beach which was lovely and such a contrast to the grand architecture and culture found in the town. The evening was spent shopping (again!) spending far too much money on clothes and shoes in local shops, many which are nicer and far cheaper than those custom-made!
A trip to Hoi An wouldn’t be complete without a walk along the river at night. Lined with restaurant and bars the riverfront comes alive at night in a burst of colour from floating lanterns. It is spectacular. I watched some locals play a game with a similar concept to bingo but with three words instead of numbers. A word is picked and performers sing a song with the word in it. Everyone has to listen carefully and shout out if the song contains one of their three words. This is one of the many interesting local games I’ve come across in Vietnam.
I’m going to end with a quote from my friend Phoebe who perfectly sums up our time in Hoi An (and the majority of my trip so far!) “As I travel the world my lady bits gain a tasty experience of a shrinking wallet and an expanding waistline. So in simple terms I’m a poor fat lady who knows a little bit more about the world than she did before”.
Living life loving travel,