Hội An was our fourth stop during our Vietnamese adventures and after a 10 hour sleeping bus trip we were immediately struck by how many beautiful lanterns and colourful flags were strung up around the streets.
Even though we arrived just after 5am (surprisingly an hour earlier than we were expecting) there were still plenty of motocys waiting to meet our bus. They are mostly there to meet the backpackers and with just one or two taxis around we didn’t get many options but the 80,000 VND/$5.33 NZD requested from the driver for the 1.5km trip wasn’t going to fly with us and he wasn’t looking to negotiate so we decided to walk to our guesthouse. At this time of the morning we were surprised at the level of activity with plenty of fresh flower stalls setting up along the route. It was a pleasant walk with a refreshing morning temperature and gave us an opportunity to get to know a little of the area we where going to be staying in for the next 10 days.
We arrived at our guesthouse, Full House 1 Villa (see our review here) at 5.45am and were warmly welcomed by the staff, given some information about the local area (including maps and local speciality dishes to look out for) and advised our room was available. YASSSS, it is such a treat after a night travelling to be able to get straight into your room (and at no extra cost).
Old/Ancient Town – UNESCO World Heritage Site
With our guesthouse having complimentary bicycle use we decided to head into the Ancient Town to have a look around. After a flat and easy 8-10 minute ride we found ourselves immersed in this beautiful UNESCO area and nice to have a few streets closed to vehicle traffic. Of course there were more and more lanterns everywhere and I asked Logan to take a selection of photos as I couldn’t get enough of all the different colours and shapes. We purchased a ticket costing 120,000 VDN/$ NZD per adult with children being free and this entitled us to enter five buildings or points of interest comprising of Old Houses, Assembly Halls, Communal Houses, Museums and the Japanese Covered Bridge; which is where we headed to first. Built in the 1590’s to give the Japanese community easier access to trade with the Chinese community across the river.We visited four other beautifully built houses and buildings with a break for lunch at the colourful Central Markets.It was nice to see the ‘No Smoking’ signs and what looked like a real conservative effort with this and rubbish reduction in the Old Town. The beautiful shopfronts, the gorgeous yellow buildings, fresh flowing flowers and so many different shapes, sizes and colours of the lanterns make it a very easy area to wander around, exploring and getting lost in the history.
Eco Coconut Cooking Tour
We had been talking about doing a cooking class for a while and once in Hội An we found one that was a little more than just a cooking class. The Hội An Eco Coconut Cooking Tour included a visit to the central markets, a boat trip down the Thu Bồn River, a basket boat ride as well as the cooking lesson. We were picked up from our guesthouse after breakfast and took a short trip to the central markets where we had a quick look around with our guide before boarding a boat to journey down the river. We were pleasantly surprised that while there was still some rubbish on the riverbank in areas, there was substantially less rubbish in the actual river than we usually see in waterways throughout Southeast Asia.
During our cruise down the river we transferred into some basket boats for a closer look in the mangroves and around the fishing boats and nets. They were surprisingly stable and we saw a few others getting a good rock and spin from their guides without anyone going in the water. The basket boats were first created by the locals to avoid the taxes that needed to be paid by the larger fishing boats.Back on the main boat we carried on to the restaurant where the cooking class would be held. We were spilt into groups of eight and teamed up with a chef. We had Hang, a very lovely lady that got us all involved, including our boys, throughout the class. We made fresh spring rolls, a big family favourite, to which Braxton made his own version by leaving out the greenery and just having prawns, pork and carrot. Then we completed and ate the remaining dishes – papaya salad with shrimp crackers, bánh xèo (rice pancake) and braised pork in clay pot served with steamed rice.There was so much food and we were well and truely stuffed, and quite proud of ourselves for the minivan ride back to our guesthouse. A very enjoyable day for our whole family with the cost being 650,000 VDN/$43.33 NZD per adult and the children were half price.
Water Puppet Theatre
After seeing water puppet shows advertised in both Saigon and Nha Trang we finally made it to a show in Hội An. The tickets were 80,000 VDN/$5.33 for adults and 40,000/$2.67 NZD for children and shows are on at 6.30pm every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.We decided to head along on a Tuesday and shared the seating with around 40-50 others. The show started right on time and we all enjoyed the different array of short stories portrayed with the puppets as well as the lighting, music and special effects. It was hard to take some good photos as there was no flash photography but we managed a few and some small videos of some of the scenes. Some of our favourites included the dragon dance, the legend of Monster Cù, boat race and the phoenix dance.
It was an interesting and very easy watch that lasted around 45 minutes and the boys really enjoyed it, as did Logan and I.Hội An gave us the first real taste of local Vietnamese dishes with some specialities from just this area. Including, Cau Lầu, comprising of chewy udon-like rice noodles, barbecued pork slices, beansprouts, croutons, and fresh herbs in a pork-based gravy. This local delicacy is only available in Hội An because the noodles must be made with the water from one of the closely guarded ancient Cham wells hidden throughout Hội An, while fresh greens are sourced from Tra Que Vegetable Village. Mì Quảng (Quang Noodles/Vietnamese Turmeric Noodles), originating from Quảng Nam Province in central Vietnam, this is yellow rice noodles served with very little broth and topped with a variety of meat, herbs and local greens. Almost like a dry noodle dish or noodle salad with the broth just there to bring all the flavors together. Banh Bao Vac (White Rose), a shrimp or pork dumpling made from translucent white dough bunched up to look like a rose and Chicken Rice, unlike other Chicken Rice we have had so far as the rice is cooked in chicken stock, pandan leaves and a little bit of turmeric for colour. We found a few versions of these dishes during our stay and have highlighted some of our favourites on our ‘Food Adventures’ page.
I would have loved to have made or been able to purchase some lanterns while in Hội An and even though they fold down quite flat it just wasn’t practical with our tight luggage restrictions or sending them back to New Zealand to sit in storage for however many years. Nonetheless, Hội An stole our hearts with its charm and beauty and it is definitely one of my favourite places so far. Next stop is Đà Nẵng, just a short 30km drive up the coastline.
Average Daily Spend – $106.79 NZD ($65.71 under budget per day)