Beeping horns… that was pretty much all we heard on the 4 hour bus journey from Hue to Hoi An on 11th January 2018 and that was just from our driver! I could sometimes see out of the front window from where we sat (on yet another sleeper bus despite it being 1pm) and I honestly don’t know what he beeped at half the time!
Anyway, we drove through a tunnel that cut through cloud covered mountains and out of the rain to actual rays of sunshine! The brightness outside gave us hope that we would continue with this type of weather (or better) for the rest of our journey through Vietnam. We stopped in Da Nang to drop off and pick up passengers and then headed on to Hoi An. We arrived in Hoi An at around 5pm and checked into our hostel called Sunflower Hostel which had good reviews on Hostelworld. The hostel used to be a hotel and so was huge with dorm rooms, a bar and a big buffet breakfast. It was overcast but wasn’t raining so we were able to go out without getting wet for the first time in days. It was a bit warmer but still jeans and jumper weather so I’d have to wait a bit longer before I got back into my shorts.
Just after we arrived, the hostel gave free rice spring rolls to the guests. We very much exploit getting free food and so went along. It was kind of like a cross between a wrap and a spring roll as you made it yourself then they had peanut sauce for you to dip it in. They weren’t bad!
After eating all we could we headed out to have a look around. It was dark when we left and so we headed straight to the focal point of Hoi An, it’s Old Quarter. The old quarter is where the majority of the tailors (Hoi An is famous for having clothes made) and restaurants are. We didn’t get anything made as we weren’t sure how long we were going to be spending in Hoi An and didn’t know what we (and really I mean just me) would get made. I have been to Hoi An before and had clothes made so it wasn’t a crucial part of the trip for me whereas it probably would have been if it was my first time there seeing as they can make pretty much anything. Hoi An is also known for its food and we had another run of good meals here. I don’t think we’ve had a meal in Vietnam that we haven’t liked which has been good and we made sure to try some of the Hoi An delicacies such as the fried wontons (bottom, left picture) and cau lau (top, right picture). The fried wontons are crispy rice crackers that have meat, shrimp and vegetables on top (we got ours without the meat so I could eat them too) and are very tasty! Cau lau is probably Niall’s favourite meal in Vietnam so far and is a noodle dish with a soy sauce base, vegetables and pork. Something about the sauce is really good and I was also able to try it too as a restaurant did a tofu version for me. As always, I also ate a lot of noodle soups.
Hoi An’s old quarter is a very pretty place which consists of a few streets on either side of the river connected by a intricately patterned bridge. At night the bridge is lit up and has lanterns hanging from it and this was how we first saw the bridge when we arrived in Hoi An. I really like the bridge and I love that they light it up for the evening each night. Every evening there are also lots of people selling paper boxes with candles in that you can float down the river. It looks really pretty to see the flickering colours in the water as the candles float downriver. One downside to this is that they also offer boat trips onto the river to drop off your floating candle and when we first arrived their must have been a tour group or cruise party in town because all you could see was boats and life jackets on the river. Thankfully, the next night we got to see a much more peaceful river which meant we could enjoy the view of the floating candles a lot more.
Something that we were also able to enjoy in our evenings in Hoi An was having cocktails. We haven’t really had the chance to do this on our trip in Asia yet either because it would have cost too much (like in South Korea or Japan) so we jumped at the chance to exploit the happy hours around. Nearly all the restaurants and bars offer a happy hour for you to enjoy and we were able to hop to a few different ones to enjoy the drinks. We love how most of them use real fruit in their drinks which makes them even nicer.
On our first night we found a place that had a deal which gave you cocktails for 35,000 dong (£1.15). We stayed here for a couple of drinks as it also had games of giant jenga that we could play as well as Mr Bean on tv! We then got a Bahn Mi for our tea which is a Vietnam sandwich that are sold from little stalls on the street and are your choice of filling of either meat, egg or cheese (which is laughing cow spread) and then sauces, salad leaves and vegetables. All of the Bahn Mi’s we have had have tasted good and they’re really cheap so good for when you’re not too hungry or for our bus journeys. We ended up bumping into some people we had met in Halong Bay from Groningen in the Netherlands and so had a few Singapore Sling cocktails with them as they had managed to get an extended happy hour at the bar they were in. It was a really fun night.
On our next night we found a really cute little restaurant that did the best mango daiquiris I have ever had. The place was called Nostalife and was down a side street off the main road and apparently the food was also amazing. Everyone who was in there when we arrived was raving about the meal they had just had but unfortunately we had already eaten. It was raining when we were here so we used that as an excuse to have more of their daiquiris before we ran back through the rain to our hostel (and got very wet).
We spent our days wandering the streets and sitting in restaurants along the river, people watching. The streets are very pretty with many of the buildings painted a mustard yellow and lanterns hanging on wires across the street. Throughout the old town the shops are either tailors, galleries or selling anything from leatherwork, pashminas and silk dressing gowns. We really enjoyed just wandering around and seeing what was on offer everywhere.
The river is the focus of the old town and, during the day, many boats are harboured ready to go out later that evening. The town is a lot quieter which we liked but still had a good atmosphere, the type you’d expect from a marketplace for example. From the last time I came to Hoi An, one of my favourite spots is anywhere by the river where I can just watch the boats and the calm water. We found a place that did 5000 dong (16p) fresh beer and allowed us to sit and people watch for a couple of hours by the river. Many places offer fresh beer throughout Vietnam and it’s called Bia Hoi which is brewed locally daily and distributed to the restaurants to be consumed that day – once it’s gone, its gone!
Hoi An also has a number of temples and old-style houses you can explore by purchasing a ticket in one of the travel or tourism offices. We didn’t bother with this as we were happy wandering around and relaxing with a beer but, even from the street, you could see quite a bit of the temples and the detailed buildings which were nice to see. We had been fortunate to get a clear, dry day on our full day exploring (12th January) and only got rain that evening but on our second day before we got our night bus to Da Lat it rained quite a lot which still made the place look pretty, especially from the dry comfort of a riverside restaurant.
Probably my favourite bit about Hoi An is the lanterns. They hang over most of the streets and they can also be bought by a number of stalls throughout the Old Quarter. I love them. They’re all so colourful and in the old-style setting they make the place look magical. If we weren’t on such a long trip I’d have definitely bought some to bring home to enjoy all the time as they’re so nice. They have so many different colours and some shops or sections of streets have colour coordinated the lamps – it definitely beats a street lamp!
Hoi An is a very pretty place even in the grey overcast of a Vietnamese winter’s day and we had a good time here. The food is great, if you wanted clothes you would be spoilt for choice and they have some great cocktails. It was my favourite place when I last visited Vietnam and it’s still up there as one of my favourites now! As his first time there, Niall also really enjoyed it and I imagine it won’t be our last time visiting Hoi An.
Sending Love x