If I’m totally honest… the first time I’d heard about Hoi An was in watching The Bachelor. As in Juan Pablo, a.k.a. worst Bachelor in the history of the show. That said, he had great taste in destinations for his international dates. Oh man, I need to watch better TV.
Reality TV addiction aside, I had been taken with Hoi An’s stunning old town, the allure of having custom made clothes (which didn’t end up going so well) and the lanterns. I was happy in my trip-planning that Hoi An was an easy stop along our route down the coast.
I won’t break down day by day for you, but I did want to share some of my favourite things we did and the favourite places we ate (because, let’s be honest, travel without eating isn’t worthwhile).
Things To Do
My Son Sanctuary
This UNESCO world heritage was definitely appealing as a birthday activity. We booked a tour at a local travel agent for $9 USD per person including the mini bus there, a guide, and a boat trip back including lunch. The guide? A little bit useless. The boat trip and lunch? Jam-packed with people, and the lunch was lukewarm stir-fried vegetables with rice. My Son? I actually really enjoyed it. The ruins aren’t extensive because of “the American bombs” as we were told so many times they wanted to make sure it was engrained in our brains. This isn’t Angkor Wat, but the ruined temples with vegetation growth are impressive nonetheless.
We bought a fancy camera for the trip, so we thought why not try and be arty? We even created a little contest for the blog for our visitors to pick their favourite, then we revealed who took which photo.
Morning Glory Cooking Class
After a beautiful birthday dinner at the renowned Morning Glory restaurant, we needed to know their secrets! We signed up for their one day market tour and class. Let’s just say we tried some interesting local food. It was a completely different school style to our experience in Thailand, but good nonetheless. The food was to die for and my stomach was stretched to capacity. Om nom nom.
Okay, so we didn’t buy clothes, but we did buy stuff! I am a sucker for a book store, so Artbook did me in. We found really cute, graphic movie posters of some of our favourite movies – Roman Holiday for my mom, The Shining for David (a match made in cinematic heaven). David also indulged in his love for the Gingko store, which designs and makes t-shirts in Vietnam. They are all quirky designs, mine of the mangled telephone wires for Vietnam Telecom, and the material is really high quality. The prices are comparable to home, but like I said, good quality.
Explored the Old Quarter
You have to buy a book of tickets that gives you access to the five main sites in the Old Quarter. It costs 120,000 Vietnamese Dong ($6) and goes to supporting the restoration of the old town. Shamefully… we only made it to two of the sites. Here’s the thing… the tickets don’t say which sites they are or where you can find them. We wandered for a full day and if we were asked for a ticket, we produced one. Obviously I know we went to the Japanese Covered Bridge, but otherwise we explored a few temples and older buildings that were stunning.
Meet Up With Fellow Travelers
The magical thing about travel is when you meet people whose company you enjoy and then you unexpectedly run into them again. On our tour of Halong Bay we met an interesting couple from Israel. While in Sapa, waiting for our mini bus to pick us up, the same couple wandered into our hotel coincidentally to buy bus tickets. They were going on to Hoi An in a few days (as were we), so we exchanged emails. It was great to meet up in Hoi An, have a few drinks and talk. We talked and laughed loads, and for me it was a very special evening.
Where to Eat
Oh, the om nom noms. We weren’t super active in Hoi An. It’s not the place that you go to for marathon treks or kayaking. You shop and you eat. And maybe you go to My Son. So… food.
We found La Tonnelle by complete accident. At first I thought it was a guesthouse… perhaps because the sign says guesthouse, but we saw telltale signs of a menu on a table so ventured in. It is adorable with different seating arrangements and hanging vines. Granted with all the greenery you get bugs, but this is the plight of Southeast Asia. The food was pretty reasonably priced. We ordered white rose dumplings and Cao Lau, local specialties. The only odd part was that it seemed to be brought in from a restaurant across the river. A man with a red Mango Mango t-shirt (a restaurant that we knew to be well out of our price range) arrived tray in hand, then our food magically appeared moments later.
When you order Vietnamese white coffee it seems to vary dramatically from place to place. Some places seem to consider 3 in 1 instant mix to be Vietnamese white coffee. I want to know what these people are smoking. Café Nam was a cute little café we found while lost and in need of a caffeine fix. The iced white coffee was syrupy and delicious. Eventually I’ll have to give up the condensed milk, but for now I’ll bask in its glory. Two coffees came to the bargain price of 27,000 Vdong ($1.40 ish).
How can I count the ways that I loved Morning Glory? This is hands-down the best meal we’ve had in Southeast Asia. I’ve waxed poetic on it already, so won’t repeat, but honestly it is worth the hype. Ms Vy, the restaurateur, owns four restaurants in Hoi An, so I’m sure the others are up to a similar level of sinful snuff. It’s pricier than your budget meal, but for $30 for a two person meal (2 beers, 1 mojito, 1 appetizer and 2 mains) that blew my taste buds… well, I had no qualms about parting with those dollars.
This café / restaurant is conveniently located right above the bookstore that we spent a small fortune at. Spending sprees should always be accompanied by coffee and banana fritters, am I right? Dessert was tasty, so if that’s anything to go by, I’m sure the rest of the menu is yummy also.
Before and Now
This place was just… cool. The art on the wall made us laugh or smile. The cakes were what pulled us in, teasing us off the street with their extra calories and rich textures. Their Vietnamese coffee was delightful, too. I can highly recommend the chocolate banana tart, and David enjoyed his tiramisu (even though he said it didn’t taste like tiramisu). GREAT bathrooms too. Always a bonus in SEA.
Where To Stay
Totally depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re wanting to stay with other backpackers, I can’t really help you out. David and I opted for a quiet little guesthouse called Inn Vesper Homestay owned by a really nice family. The cost was about $18 CAD per night, much less USD, included breakfast and the woman who runs it can book your train tickets by phone. We saw reviews online that complained that you couldn’t hang out in the living room as the family were there. That may be true, but the rooms were clean, spacious and had great bathrooms (not the norm for budget guesthouses in SEA). It was a 10-15 minute walk from the old town, but I never felt unsafe.
Have you been to Hoi An? What were your favourite things to do? Places to eat?
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