We’ve had a great time staying in the gorgeous town of Hoi An in the middle of Vietnam. The ancient town has UNESCO World Heritage status, and accordingly all the old buildings dating back from the 15th-19th century are in beautiful condition and have been preserved.
Wandering the streets is like going back in time, especially in the Old Town where only pedestrians and bicycles are permitted. It’s magical at nighttime when thousands of lanterns are lit up in the city streets and people put floating candles into the river.
We stayed for a week in Hoi An and here’s what we got up to:
Wandering the Old Town
We spent a lot of time just wandering through the streets and alleyways of the Old Town, soaking up the atmosphere, admiring the ancient buildings and enjoying the lanterns at night.
A complete fluke but we were lucky enough to be visiting Hoi An during the full moon. All the lights in town are turned off with only the lanterns on to guide the way.
You can buy a candle for $1 and make a wish, then let it go down the river along with hundreds of others. Sophie especially loved it, as it’s like a scene out of Tangled where Rapunzel goes to see the ‘floating lights’.
During full moon there were hundreds of Vietnamese families all enjoying the festivities along with lots of street vendors linking the pavement cooking and selling local delicacies. The shopkeepers all put out a small table of offerings outside their stores – flower garlands, incense, small bits of food and even cigarettes.
Visiting the ancient Hindu temples at My Son
We did a day trip to My Son (pronounced Mee Sun) to have a look at the Hindu Temples dedicated to Shiva, that were constructed by the Champa kings between the 4th and 14th centuries. It’s thought that My Son is the longest inhabited archeological site in IndoChina but sadly it was heavily damaged by American B52 bombing during the Vietnam war.
The tour was ok, but a long day for the kids who are getting a bit over seeing old ruins (fair enough!) We annoyingly spent an hour driving around Hoi An in a minivan doing guest pickups before we even got on our way, and it’s a 1.5 hour drive to My Son. For some reason we always seem to be the first people to get picked up on day tours and bus transfers, which means extra time sitting still for the kids! Oh well.
Once we had finished the tour at My Son we drove halfway back and transferred to a boat to travel the rest of the way back to Hoi An along the river, which was nice to see from a different viewpoint.
Cooking class at Redbridge Cooking School
The girls decided to do a cooking class which was a fun day learning how to make some Vietnamese dishes. First off we did an interesting market tour where we learned about different fruits and vegetables of the region, how to look for fresh meat and seafood if you’re buying it at the market, and some of the spices that are used in Vietnamese cooking.
Then we got on a boat and went down the river to the Redbridge restaurant and cooking school.
We learned how to make:
Vietnamese pancakes (Banh Xeo), a delicious omelette with herbs and salad wrapped in a rice paper roll
Seafood salad with Vietnamese herbs (Goi Hai San Trong Thuyen Thom)
Rice paper from scratch with which we made fresh spring rolls and handmade sweet chilli sauce
Quang Noodle Chicken (Mi Quang Ga) – a chicken and egg with noodles dish (forgot to take a picture!)
We also had a terrible attempt at vegetable carving – a cucumber fan and tomato rose. The tutor made it look so easy!
We really enjoyed the day cooking and sitting down afterwards to eat it all. Sophie was a big help in the kitchen 🙂
An Bang Beach
It’s dead flat in Hoi An which makes it ideal for bike riding. We got some bikes for our accommodation one day and did a 12km cycle out to An Bang beach, a lovely stretch of golden sand lined with sun loungers and restaurants.
An Bang is part of the wider stretch of beach known as ‘China Beach’ by the American forces during the war, and where they used to go for their R&R breaks.
The kids had a great time building sandcastles and playing in the surf – we were only paddling though as it was pretty rough and had a strong undertow.
The cycling was heaps of fun, down little backstreets and the backwaters of the river. It was so pretty with the waterways lined with coconut palms and rice paddy fields, with modest houses and with a couple of cows tied up, you got a small taste of what rural life in Vietnam is like.
Catching up on personal grooming
In case you haven’t already seen it, the boys had an entertaining trip to the barber. Sophie also completed her walking star chart and got a manicure and pedicure – free, because Mum also had a pedicure for the grand sum of $3USD / $5NZD
Going to the tailor
Hoi An is renowned as a place for getting clothes made, with good quality for low prices. Yep it’s cheap. So even though we’re on a budget, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Before we left on our trip, it seemed like once a week that Mike would come home from work with a hole in one of his business shirt sleeves or trousers and we kind of laughed that everything was crapping out and it was one of the signs it was time to go travelling. By the time he finished work he was down to one shirt and pair of trousers!
We were recommended Bebe tailor by the place we are staying and it has a really good Trip Advisor rating, so we decided to go and have a look. Needless to say Mike is now the proud owner of some new work clothes for way cheaper than you’d buy at home.
They can also make a pattern from a picture, so I looked up a couple of my favourite Karen Walker and Kate Sylvester dresses that I have on the internet. Sure enough they whipped them up in 24 hours for a fraction of the price I paid at home.
Best of all it’s all made to measure so everything fits perfectly. We’re shipping home via seamail so we don’t have to lug it all around and it was pretty reasonable if you’re ok to wait 3-4 months.
The girls there were really lovely and loved our kids. While we were getting measured and adjusted they took the kids off for a tour of the shop and they got to meet all the machinists who gave them some fruit and biscuits.
Eating and drinking
The food here is amazing, and we’ve really enjoyed checking it out. I started to write the details here, but it’s all so good I’m going to write a separate post on it as I’ve got too much to say!
So that sums up our fun time in Hoi An. Now a 14-hour overnight train ride to Hanoi awaits….