Where else in the world can you combine a town of tailors, historic colorful streets, and beautiful beaches lying just a few kilometres away?
One of the most unique and enjoyable places we visited in Vietnam was the town of Hoi An.
Formerly a shipping port, the town of Hoi An has transformed into a hotspot for custom-made, tailored apparel.
Want a new pair of shoes? Or a new suit? They will whip one up for you in less than 24 hours, for just a fraction of the cost in other parts of the world. The hard part will be deciding on which fabric to go with.
While debating whether or not to have an item of clothing made, we were cheekily reminded by a tailor that “there’s no Hoi An in Canada.” This, we though, was very true.
Here’s what we loved about Hoi An:
Its historic beauty.
The streets of Hoi An speak of the town’s rich history. Aged buildings stand, colorful as ever, with marks of the past to tell of Hoi An’s stories. The weathered walls and long-standing shops overhung with brilliant, pink flowers are quite a sight for the eyes.
Riding our bikes through the streets of Hoi An felt like being in the midst of an Asian fairy tale.
The lush vegetation.
While we were in Hoi An, the streets were lined with blossoming pink flowers, which hung over the shops. Maybe we just lucked out and came at the right time of year, but the blossoms were everywhere, and the whole town felt lush and tropical.
When you’ve spent enough time trying on wool coats in 35 degree heat, retreat to the beach!
Hop on your bike and pedal just a few kilometers to the more touristy Cua Dai Beach, or out to An Bang Beach (as we did), which is more popular with locals and expats.
We were pleasantly surprised with the cooler water temperatures here (compared to the bath-like waters of Thailand). A dip in the water proved wonderfully refreshing.
From An Bang Beach, fishermen ride in and out on Vietnamese Thung Chai, round “basket boats” made from bamboo. I had read about Thung Chai in a New Zealand School Journal article while teaching over there, and was consequently pretty excited to stumble upon them in real life.
The night life.
At night, the streets of Hoi An are lit up with colourful lanterns. Stroll along the Thu Bon River to see the lantern-lit streets, and float your own lantern down the river if you wish. There are numerous dining options along either side of the river, most of which serve delicious Vietnamese or French cuisine.
There was just a different vibe here: It was much more peaceful.
Hoi An was much quieter and calmer than the bigger cities we visited to the north and south. Within the walls of the Old Quarters, motor vehicles (including motor bikes) were not allowed; only foot or bicycle traffic was permitted. This cut down drastically on the noise.
Having visited many larger, much more densely populated cities in recent weeks, the tranquility of Hoi An was very much welcomed.
Unique dining experiences.
Reaching Out Teahouse.
Reaching Out is a social enterprise geared towards empowering people with physical disabilities. Beneath their artisan gallery of locally, fairly made arts and crafts is a tea house, which functions as a ‘silent cafe.’ The cafe is run by people who are primarily deaf or mute, and the setup allows you to enter into their world.
As soon as you step through the door, speaking is no longer an option. Note pads and blocks with common phrases are available on each table to aid as communication tools. The silence, supposedly, allows the other senses (such as taste) to be heightened, and perhaps fosters empathy. It was a unique (and serene) experience.
We had the pleasure of dining at Streets Restaurant Cafe one evening. STREETS International is an innovative social enterprise initiative with the purpose of operating sustainable programs for street kids and disadvantaged youth in SE Asia and throughout the world.
The Streets Restaurant is an important part of the program, as participants spend part of each week applying what they learned within the restaurant setting, gaining practical hands-on experience. All the revenue from the restaurant goes to supporting the Streets program, which is making a difference in the futures of the youth of SE Asia.
The pomello salad and pork ribs were excellent, and so was the overall experience.
An unwanted guest.
Oh, and there was that time we were joined at dinner by an unwanted guest.
We had our first and only SE Asian rat encounter while dining at a lovely restaurant, which happened to be outdoors next to the river in Hoi An. The food was very tasty, but due to the unwanted guest rustling in the bushes just a few feet away, we finished our meal quickly and made a swift exit.
Fruit of the exotic sort.
In Hoi An, we tried a few fruits for the first time: fresh lychee and a cousin to the lychee known as rambutan (which looks like a spiky strawberry on the outside.) Both were quite enjoyable, but out of the two, we probably preferred the rambutan.
Our favourite meal in Hoi An was within our last few hours there. We had passed by this enchanting patio a number of times, and were intrigued by the hanging vines and relaxed, patio furniture. We were so glad we stopped in to relax and savour our last moments in Hoi An at La Tonelle Restaurant.
Highlights of the meal: Crispy wontons home-made by a local family (a signature dish of Hoi An), papaya salad with shrimp, and crispy spring rolls. The whole experience was enchanting.
Hoi An. There’s really no other place like it.
Thanks for listening, friends, as we recap some highlights from our adventures from a year ago.
And thanks, Hoi An, for letting us share in your beauty and charm!