* We were in Hoi An, Vietnam from June 9-13, 2015
Hoi An was by far our favorite city we visited in Vietnam. And it wasn’t so much a city, as a charming, quaint, romantic hamlet. It all started with the Camellia Guesthouse, an accommodation we chose because it had a few stand-out, awesome reviews on TripAdvisor. Plus, we were pumped to just find an open room in this busy tourist town! Taking another look at TripAdvisor today, of 215 total reviews for the place, 206 are excellent and 9 are very good. That’s quite a record, and it wasn’t like the accommodations were five star. The location was questionable, just outside of town by a 15 minute bike ride or short taxi ride, (but not really walk-able) and although the rooms were very nice, clean and spacious, and had AC (literally a life saver when it’s 95 and humid out every day) they were nothing above and beyond the $35/night four star quality we had been regularly getting in Vietnam. No, what made it so memorable for us, along with apparently the 215 others who have since reviewed the place on TripAdvisor, was the family that ran the guesthouse (and lived there).
They were so incredibly nice and engaging, even though their English was medium at best (except for their niece Hoa who spoke better English). We thought Hoa, which means “flower” in Vietnamese was a very pretty name, but wouldn’t translate well as an American name. Think about it. Their breakfast everyday was killer with eggs and melt in your mouth French bread that became a phatty egg sandwich for me every morning, and not to mention the fresh juice and coffee. They gave us lots of tips for exploring around town, like where to get clothes and shoes made (there are at least a hundred tailors in town), where to find the deserted beach, where to eat, and the biggest perk was the free bikes for use during our stay.
The family also insisted that they make us dinner on our last night. Camellia wanted to prove that her Cau Lau, which is a Hoi An specialty noodle dish, was the best in town. Apparently only one family has the secret recipe for the actual noodles, which has been handed down through generations, and they sell the raw dough noodles at the local market every morning. We bought a couple bottles of wine to show our thanks, and in return we didn’t just get Cau Lau, but a four course meal (with veggie options for Lindsey) and they gave me a silk tie and Lindsey a silk scarf as thanks for staying with them. Ridiculous!
A 15 minute bike ride in any direction from Camellia brought us to drastically different scenes. If we rode east through rural, countryside villages, we could chill the day away on stretches of beautiful deserted beaches. Just 10-15 minutes north, we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of beautiful rice paddies and farms. And to the west was the beautiful town of Hoi An, a southeast Asia historical trading port, set on the banks of a river, established in the 15th century. The historical buildings throughout town combine architecture from various ethnic groups who came to Hoi An to trade at the harbor. The mix of ancient Japanese bridges, old Chinese homes, and yellow French colonial architecture, make the cobblestone streets of this town seem like a living museum. The main old town area is blocked off during certain times of day to any cars or motorbikes, and walkers and bicyclers like us got to enjoy quiet exploration time. The streets are lined with artisan shops, food stalls, upscale (yet not expensive) restaurants, massage shops, and family apartments that open to the streets and alley ways. Everything seemed to be in a bulls-eye pattern around the main market. At night, the place shines with lit bridges and beautiful lanterns.
Hoi An Highlights…
- We got matching custom shoes made for our wedding. We were measured, we picked out the fabric and style and 2 days later we had our shoes, that we had to carry in our backpacks for the rest of our trip!
- We biked around town feeling like locals. It was quite a workout on the old bikes we had, especially in the crazy heat, but it was really cool though biking in and out of town like a local, to historic areas, and even on longer rides to and through the rice paddies and to the beach.
- Bahn Mi Phuong. Oh mama, thank you Anthony Bordain for visiting this Banh Mi sandwich stand and encouraging the owners to carry on their yummy tradition. And a veggie option for Lindsey too! Sometimes things are just right in the world.
- Hoa, at our guesthouse, directed us to Hidden Beach which appropriately is hard to find. You go down a narrow path off a main highway for 2 minutes and arrive at a small bungalow restaurant on a deserted span of sandy beach that puts out a dozen or so chairs and umbrella to enjoy the ocean breeze on a hot day. The only cost of hanging out there is buying a freshly cut coconut to sip on.
- We took a fun cooking class where they brought us to a local market to buy the ingredients, and then took us by boat down the river to the cooking school. The highlight of this highlight was Lindsey trying to flip a banh xeo rice wrap in her pan like a chef would an omelet, and missing the pan. The whole thing splattered all over the floor, and the teachers all laughed at her. I would like to point out that I made my flip, no problem.
- We had amazing meals at 2 restaurants that had come highly recommended, Morning Glory and Secret Garden. If you’re ever in Hoi An, at either of these spots, definitely try White Rose dumplings, a Hoi An Specialty.
- Massages! We had after dinner massages one night and they were amazing!
Not So Highlights…
- AC was not easy to find there. We spent a lot of time in our guesthouse cooling off during the 95 degree days. Anyone who’s smart enough to open a café with AC there can make some big bucks.
- We had our first experience navigating through Chinese tourists. If we only knew what was coming when got to China 2 months later.
To see the full album of Hoi An photos click here.