Now that we’ve been there, I’m a little disappointed that it took us so long to visit Vietnam, but I suppose kids, dogs, horses and a farm are all fairly effective brakes on one’s travelling plans. And while, once I got there, I had every intention of lying around in the resort, the Han Market at Da Nang was not the only place I visited. Loads of friends told me I just had to get to the pretty town of Hoi An. So I did.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hoi An was a major trading port back in the 15th century. Sitting beside the placidly rolling Thu Bon river, the city has managed to retain the graceful charm of it’s past, while avoiding the frantic traffic that one finds elsewhere in Vietnam. The name Hoi An means “peaceful meeting place” and nothing could be more apt for this quietly elegant town which seems almost dozy after the wild streets of Da Nang.
Here you can walk the streets without fear of being knocked over and, if the heat proves a little too tiresome, there are plenty of cafes and restaurants to drop in to. In fact, we had some of the best food we ate in Vietnam in one or two of these spots. We had lunch in Hoi An twice – yes, so much for lying around in the resort – once in the Morning Glory and once in the Mermaid. Both were highly recommended to us and both served exceptionally fresh food at outrageously cheap prices. The Bloke and I fed ourselves handsomely and both enjoyed large, icy cold beers for less than $25 for the two of us.
Of course, there are also the street food vendors who, like the rest of the populace, seemed to be among the friendliest and most good-natured people I have ever come across.
Like the rest of the country, Hoi An is hot and steamy, but remarkably clean. It seems to have escaped the ravages of water and air pollution that curse many other Asian cities. Peculiarly, the locals seem to think otherwise and a huge proportion of them get about in long sleeves, long pants, thick socks and with scarves wrapped around their heads and mouths in what I can only assume is an effort to stay clean. Given that I was “feeling the heat” (men and horses sweat, ladies feel the heat) from the moment I stepped out of the airconditioning and swooning by the middle of the day, I found this a little perplexing.
We were staying about a 40 minute drive away, in Da Nang, but here’s plenty to do around here, so next time I’d aim to spend a few days in the town where there are any number of B and B’s, guest houses or hotels. As I said, the local food is fantastic and there are several different cooking schools which hold classes for tourists in the town. If you are into shopping, then Hoi An won’t disappoint as it is also known for it’s low-cost tailors and shoe makers. Take favourite clothes to be copied or pick something on the spot and it can be finished and delivered in a magically short amount of time – however, it does pay to get a recommendation from someone to ensure reasonable quality workmanship.
In case just wandering the pretty streets and stopping periodically to refresh yourself doesn’t appeal, it’s simple and cheap to get out of the old quarter and explore the region by bicycle, motorcycle or kayak, alone or with a tour group. There are plenty of small shops offering tours all around the town. The Thu Bon river is still essential for food and transport so, for the more lethargic among us (yes, I’m including myself there) a languid boat ride up the river is the perfect way to watch local life while staying in a more relaxed zone.