20 August 2014

The Unexpected - Hoi An, Vietnam

Quite honestly I had barely researched my trip to Vietnam. Between working and panicking that Japan was going to be an alien planet, my research was wholly practical. How am I getting to each country. What should I take? How do I stay safe? How will I keep in touch? Have I got my confirmation? I read many blogs about how and what to pack; philosophical posts about how traveling 'changed' people; blogs about the highlights of Asia, but very little about what to expect of each place. Hoi An swept me off my feet and carried me through the door.

Here's why Hoi An has it all:

The River

The riverfront is lined with shops, restaurants with balconies over looking the water, palm trees and colourful boats. You may remember a certain instagram photo?


The Beach

How did I not know that Hoi An is a short cycle to the beach? And it's a sandy beach, lined with palms, beach cafes, sunbeds and families splish splashing about. It was a little windy for frisbee though I must say. 

The Shopping

Asides from the hundreds of tailor shops that have popped up across Hoi An, it's also a great place to pick up tasteful gifts. There are gazillions of lanterns strung in front of flower framed shops and at night it looks like a Disney Princess Kingdom. There is also the night market and although they are just as keen to sell as the rest of Vietnam, the beautiful setting more makes up for their selling style. You can pick up the normal jewellery as well as calligraphy prints and artwork that is painted right in front of you. The lanterns (below) come in all shapes, sizes and colours and fold small making them easier to transport home.

The Countryside

Bikes are a really good way of exploring around Hoi An - I did so on a trip organised by G Adventures*, but it would be easy to go exploring by yourself. This was probably my favourite excursion/tour/organised trip of them all. We took bikes through the paddy fields to see the local farming and the buffalos at work in the fields. We even got to ride the buffalo for a few minutes. The local produce is consumed by Hoi An meaning much fewer 'food miles', so you can feel good about what you're eating {see below}). The countryside is so quiet & quiant... and yes they really do farm like the photo below!
*I might add that after seeing the farming and the countryside, we then cycled to the beach (see above) and got a boat back at sunset - told you it was good one. 

The Historical Streets

You know a town is going to be pretty when it's a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. There are plenty of traditional houses you can go in to (provided you buy the ticket) but just walking around is beautiful enough. Try going to the Japanese bridge, which is beautiful, particularly at night. 

The Food

Just like the sailors who would head upstairs for a bite to eat while their boat was being unloaded, you too can dine overlooking the river one floor up. There are many restaurants lining the river and many have tasting menus so you can try some local specialities. 

The Coffee

A vietnamese coffee is strong... no, I said strong... and sweetened with condensed milk. Iced. It's so so refreshing and not at all bitter. If I were to pretend I'm a real coffee connoisseur, I would say that their coffee has almost a smooth, chocolatey taste. Sounds crazy but it's the only coffee I would consider drinking black; surely that says something?

The Nightlife

Despite being popular with a plethira (great word, great word) of tourists, there is a surprisingly hopping night life in Hoi An. Bars along the river will play your requests - even Taylor Swift... no kidding. If you're to the North of the river, you may want to pay the little lady to take you across in a tiny fishing boat. It's an adrenaline inducing ride for people like me, but amusement levels do increase if you've been drinking Vietnamese wine with dinner. Which come to think of it, is worth mentioning - there is Vietnamese wine (hurrah) and it's not too shabby, finally making it an afforadable drink for the night. Below is my "this-better-be-worth-it-or-rest-assured-I'll-haunt-you-in-the-afterlife" face.

Unlike many of the destinations I visited, Hoi An is a great standalone destination, even for a 2-week holiday. It appeals to any generation thanks to its history and location, so why not consider it with your family? 

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