Our recent trip to Hoi An was one of those wonderful, magical weekends where everything goes better than expected. Despite the heat it was a welcome break for both my husband and myself.
From Hai Phong (our home) we flew directly into Danang which is at the mid point of the country, 500 miles from both Hanoi and HCMC. As we drove from the airport through Danang we were astounded by the beauty of the ocean as it opened up in front of us. Palm trees, white sands and turquoise waters lightly touched with white from the waves. It reminded us both of when we lived in Santa Barbara, for what we like to call our three year honeymoon.
This trip was a celebration of my birthday, Father’s Day and to rest after a busy time at work for John. Rest we did not do as there was so much to see and experience. We had several items on our to do list and they included; stop at tailor to get some clothes made, spend time on the beach, and eat our way through Hoi An. We were able to get all and more accomplished.
There are so many hotels and homestays in Hoi An that it was difficult to make a choice. This time we opted for a homestay that we found through AirBnB, Village Moon Homestay. The homestay was located halfway in between Hoi An and An Bang Beach, about a 10 minute bike ride to either. We were welcomed by the gracious staff with a cool drink and cold cloth and then taken upstairs (third floor, no elevator) to our room. The room was lovely – wood floors, ceiling fan, large bathroom with soaking tub and a balcony off the front and rear of the room. If it had been a little cooler we would of foregone the A/C and left both doors open for the breeze. But it was warm. We quickly changed and after a quick discussion with our host about the recommended (and not recommended) tailors we hopped on one of the many bikes they had available and rode into town.
It was warm, but the bike ride was easy. We quickly found Anthony Bourdain’s favorite place for Vietnams famous sandwich Banh Mi Phuong and ordered a couple sandwiches, along with a couple of Larue’s, which is the local beer. We did not get the one with everything on it that Anthony recommends, only because we rewatched the video after we ate there, a mistake but not a bad one. We both got the BBQ sandwich. It was heaven. We immediately decided we had to go back and get another one, but sadly didn’t have enough time.
Our next stop was a visit to Blue, Ms Tam Tam’s tailor shop. There are so many tailors, and so many reviews to read that I was overwhelmed and very thankful for the recommendation. Street after street of tailor shops with all kinds of styles to look through. We opted to go with the suggestion of our host. I had been planning for weeks what I was going to get, some casual pants that actually fit me and a long sleeved cotton blouse to protect me from the sun. I considered a silk dress but wasn’t able to find a style ahead of time that I wanted. John needed a couple pairs of pants as the ones he brought from the USA were all too big, and a couple of short sleeve shirts to wear to work. It’s hot here.
They tried hard to talk us into more and John’s one shirt and one pair of pants ended up being two shirts and two pair of pants. I ended up adding a linen dress. It is so good to have at least a little bit of an idea of what you want. I could show the tailors pictures and then all we had to do was pick out the material. All the decisions can be a little overwhelming when you are surrounded by cottons, silks, wool and linens in hundreds of different colors and prints. I can’t buy clothes that fit me in Vietnam and always need to have anything I want made. As any fifty something techie wannabe, I started a Pinterest board and whenever I see something I like online I add it. We spent $300 for the seven items, plus I bought myself a hat, sun dress and jewelry from other vendors, it was my birthday after all (so much for going minimalist). After our initial fitting we headed back to the homestay for a shower, nap and to prepare for dinner. It took one more fitting and a few adjustments to all items before we were done.
There were so many good places to eat that I can only mention the highlights and one of those was Streets. Streets was started by Neal Bermas and his partner Sondra Stewart as a way to help impoverished children. Our visit there included wonderful food, great conversation with Mr. Bermas and the staff and ended up with all the staff signing a copy of the Streets cookbook for us. Neal’s goal is to help the kids get better paying jobs which would be in one of the many 5 star resorts, so it is a 5 star restaurant at a fraction of the price.
Our second day we rode from our homestay to the Tra Que Vegetable Village. I always worry about what I eat in Vietnam. There are so many wonderful fruits and vegetables but you never know how they are grown, i.e. how many pesticides are used. I was so excited to find that the Vegetable Village is an organic farm. In talking to Neal from Streets he believes it is that way because the farmers are so poor they can’t afford the pesticides and someone was smart enough to turn it into a tourist destination. The village offers tours and cooking classes. A side note is that many of the restaurants save their cooking scraps (not table scraps) and the farmer’s pick them up to feed the farm animals. So we are assured that the animals are being feed organic also. As we rode through the gardens we could smell the heavenly smell of garlic being kissed by the sun. If you haven’t had the chance to smell that you need to. Indescribable! From there it was a short ride to An Bang Beach.
We rode at least 7 miles each day we were in Hoi An. There are many hotels in town, but the homestay worked well for us. It was so quiet at night. We would sit on our balcony while John had a cigar and watch the gecko’s running along the exterior walls. On the second night we were joined by a young couple from England who were at the tail end of their 4 month tour. They kept us late with the tales of their travel from Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Midday on our third day we moved to a hotel on the beach, Hoi An Beach Resort. Once we arrived we promised ourselves that we would really relax, which we did. When we checked in we found out that we were upgraded to a deluxe room and they brought me birthday cake for my birthday! We swam in the pool and then the beach. We went to a delightful beach restaurant that evening and listened to live music under the stars. We came back to the hotel and got up early to swim in the ocean one more time.
During our trips to Vietnam in 2006 and 2007 one of our favorite spots was Hoi An and this visit reminded us of that and more. Hoi An was one of the only places that both sides agreed was worth preserving during the American/Vietnam war. For a little more history; Hoi An was once a port city and the commercial hub for trade routes between China, Portugal, France and Japan. You will see snippets of Hoi An in the Quiet American, one of my favorite movies.
Another wonderful way to get to Hoi An is to fly into Hue and drive over the Hai Van Pass with its breathtaking scenery. Driving into Danang you see the white, white sand made famous in the TV show China Beach.
A few more dining options:
Cargo Club & Morning Glory – owned by the same person, Ms. Vy who also does cooking classes in Hoi An.
Soul Kitchen – Beach restaurant with great ambiance at An Bang Beach. A little hard to find but worth the trouble.