My next destination was the lovely town of Hoi An. From Nha Trang, I took a train to the city of Da Nang, from there it’s a 20-30 minute cab ride into Hoi An. My verdict on the train is that it was comfortable enough, but the tracks in Vietnam are pretty rough, so the train shakes around more than is the norm. A picture of the soft seating car:
Without a doubt, Hoi An would make it into my top ten list of cities/towns in the world. For you snobs who avoid places with tourists, get over it, the town is visited by plenty of tourists because it is awesome. But tourism hubs within the town can be avoided. I stayed at a fantastic place, Countryside Moon Homestay, which was a 20 minute walk away from the centre of town, but only 5 minutes away on a bike. For $15 CAD a night (tax included) I had my own room (with a TV), huge bathroom, breakfast, and unlimited access to a number of bikes—not to mention the fact that the family was absolutely lovely. I could have easily spent a month at that house. Some pictures of my first walk into town:
I should mention that Hoi An is also known for its cheap and good tailors. You can get a tailored wool suit made for $150 USD, $200 for cashmere and $300 for silk. I got a cashmere suit made as well as a pair of custom made shoes ($75 USD).
Hoi An is known for its amazing food. My first meal in town was at Mai Fish which based on the locale alone is worth a visit. It has a handsome patio right across the street from the water.
The famed white rose dumplings (banh bao banh vac) of Hoi An. They consist of shrimp in a rice dough wonton, topped with crunchy bits of garlic and shallots, and served with a sweet dipping sauce. Legend has it that they are all made by one family in Hoi An that holds the secret recipe:
My second dish, an extraordinary squid in a mango chili sauce:
After dinner I went for a walk around the various canals. At night, the main part of town is divided into the fancy restos and some outdoor market food stalls north of the main canal, with the cheaper bars on an island just to the south. A view of the island from the other end:
The famous Japanese covered bridge at night:
The market on the northern side of the canal:
I spent my first evening on the small island to the south. These are the super friendly people that I met that night:
The following day I booked a trip to the nearby ruins of My Son. The UNESCO World Heritage site contains a number of abandoned Hindu temples constructed between the 4th and 14th centuries C.E., making it one of the longest inhabited religious sites in southeast Asia:
We stopped by a wood carving workshop on the way back into town:
I went for a walk around town in the evening when I got back. The town has a nice combination of old French buildings and Chinese temples:
The old part of the town is covered in beautiful Chinese lanterns which are lit at night. I tried really hard but never quite captured it properly with my camera.
A picture of my dinner joint for the night, Morning Glory. Good food but unfortunately I got seated in a room with no windows and no exaggeration, with no less than a dozen kids screaming their heads off and banging on plates. Not exactly a relaxing experience:
A shot from my walk home at night:
The following morning I started bright an early on an itinerary involving a boat ride on the river, some paddling on a traditional round boat, and a two hour cooking class. The first picture below shows a traditional fishing net on the river. They lower it into the water, wait about 15 minutes for fish to get comfortable swimming by, and then they pull it up again:
That’s me in a round boat. I was told that the purpose of the round boats is to easily navigate narrow canals where turning around on a boat would prove difficult. I’m not too sure about that especially given that the boats are horrendously unstable and paddling them is even worse. I saw some locals manage to paddle one on their own, but it looked awkward. Paddling it with two people is not much better—since the boat is round the two paddlers have to be perfectly synchronized in terms of speed and strength of pulls. Any variation between the two, and the boat spins around:
Videos of the boat ride:
A Vietnamese version of a piñata. A small bowl is suspended on a clay pot. The player gets blindfolded, spun around to get confused and then gets verbal directions from others as to how to get to the small pot. The player then gets a single swing to break the pot. Alas, it is not filled with any goodies:
The cooking class:
I started by making some fresh spring rolls with shrimp and the peanut dipping sauce. This was not as hard as you would imagine.
Cooking the meat for the little fried pancakes that followed:
The pancakes have two pieces of shrimp, small morsels of chicken or pork, bean sprouts, spring onion bits, and a quail egg:
Video of the cooking class:
I had dinner that night at the Cargo Club, located on a second floor with the terrace overlooking the main canal. The meal proved to be tremendously awkward as an Israeli couple next to me was apparently fighting and/or breaking up. The dude took off mid-meal leaving his girlfriend sobbing. The class act didn’t even leave any money before he took off, sticking her with the bill.
Cau-lau, a dark pork broth with noodles, slices of pork, bean sprouts, assorted greenery and croutons:
I just explored the streets of Hoi An for my last full day in town, and I rented a scooter to go off to some of the places are little further away. This is the one town in the country where riding a scooter was not absolutely terrifying:
There is a beach near Hoi An, about a 20 minute ride away on a moped. It’s pleasant enough, but the caliber of the beach isn’t particularly great so don’t factor in beach time as a part of your visit to Hoi An unless you have low expectations. I’ll finish this post with my shots from the beach area: