We began our Vietnam journey in Ho Chi Minh City highlighting the Mekong Delta and remnants of the Vietnam War. From there we continued northward with our next stop in the quaint town of Hoi An. We decided to take a quick flight up to maximize our time exploring and avoid the 12hr bus ride to get there. Of note, we did find out later that it is possible to buy an open bus ticket from Ho Chi Minh City all the way to Hanoi in which you are able to stop anywhere along the way and then continue on the journey after spending as many days you choose in each town. Plus, all these tourist buses are sleeper buses so you could even just make the trips at night and do your best to simply wake up at the next stop. Anyway, we landed in Da Nang Airport just after dark and met our driver out front waiting to take us to our guest house in Hoi An. It was about a 40minute drive from the airport in the pouring rain, which was a prelude to the next few rainy days.
Soon enough, we arrived to our guest house, Vy Hoa Villa, located about a 20 minute bike ride from the downtown area. We were welcomed by the kind owners and shown to our room where we were given a slight introduction in very broken English with a lot of pointing and laughing…it was comical to say the least. We rested well that night then met the morning staff for some tasty banana pancakes and got the full English introduction.
From there we set off on the hotel’s free bikes riding into downtown Hoi An. This particular city is one of Vietnam’s historic trading ports. It’s well preserved streets, as Wikipedia puts it, reflect a unique blend of influences indigenous and foreign. To me, it was almost like a “real life” exhibit from Disney World as we rolled down the various streets and pathways through the city. Having gathered a list of places we wanted to see and restaurants we wanted to visit from our new travel companion, “Southeast Asia on a Shoestring,” we were excited.
However, as I alluded to before, the rain hardly let up so we had to find a bit to do indoors to escape the heavy downpours. We decided to make our first stop at a custom tailor. With a plan to attend a wedding in Hong Kong near the end of our round-the-world journey, we decided it would be good to get custom outfits in Hoi An, which is well known as a center for custom suits and dresses for tourists passing through. The competition is fierce and every “local” seems to have a relative in the business. We couldn’t sit down for a Bahn Mi without a server handing us a card for her “sister’s” shop a couple blocks away. It’s understandable though as the economy survives on tourism. To make is simple, we had previously clicked through a couple reviews online and took the suggestion of our guest house to visit Tuong Tailor at 67 Tran Hung Dao. (Be warned, when a store has good reviews an unrelated store will open with the same name to try to lure customers in, so pay attention to the addresses when searching). As we arrived, the staff eagerly met us at the door, helped shake off the rain and gently pulled us into the store. A little hesitant at first with the fear of “rip-off” streaming in my mind, I sat with one of the staff members to scroll through a couple catalogs to find the perfect suit style. We then discussed the options and extras. It didn’t take long or even much persuasion for me to opt for the top fabric, Merino Wool, for 2 custom suits while Whitney selected a couple beautiful dress designs. I guess I went “all-in” again, the only issue was that I was in the best shape of my life and these custom suits had the potential to become a bit snug as I would eventually return to my American diet. Anyway, we were happy with our selections and looked forward to the upcoming fittings.
Afterward, with a break in the rain we wanted to see the rest of the city and the historic sights. Upon entering the town there is a check point where tourists get a visitor’s card that gives entry into the various places. Armed with the list of places we had and the new list on the visitor card, we set off to see them all. From the Japanese Covered Bridge to the Tan Ky House to so many in between, it was truly the experience of wandering through the Old Town that we loved most. The variety of shops lining every avenue kept us intrigued at every corner.
Eventually as evening came, we sat briefly on a riverside boat to have drink while a live acoustic performance drifted in our ears.
Romance was certainly in the air…but soon cut short by another heavy downpour. We scrambled over a couple blocks for dinner at Morning Glory. It was a bit of a wait, but well worth it. Leaving there, we secured our ponchos and rode home in pouring rain to settle in and dry off for the night.
Our next day in Hoi An we continued on our tour of the historic Old Town. The weather actually was a bit better on this day so we were able to stop at Bale Well for lunch. This sidewalk restaurant was actually one of my favorites. It was essentially a set menu where the staff just brings out the different items until we stop eating. Needless to say, we were stuffed at the end of it.
Afterward we took advantage of the surprisingly sunny afternoon and rode down to An Bang Beach. The sea was a little rough and the beach a bit unkempt, but of course that didn’t stop me from getting in for a little while.
After taking a long walk up the beach, we headed home to wash off the sand then continue into town for our now self-made food tour of the best places. We came across the most serene sunset on our way into town, and wandered along the waterway looking for the perfect spot. We ended up at Cargo Club, which was a little more expensive but had the gorgeous waterfront views.
On our third day, we were due for a fitting for our suits and dresses and headed back into town early to stop at Coco Box for a coffee before checking in with Tuong Tailor. What a tasty start to the day!
We then completed our fitting with the infamous tailor lady making her awkward James Bond and G-string comments in the fitting room. I thought it was funny, but see how others may not like it so much.
From there it was time for lunch and thanks to Anthony Bordain’s visit to Hoi An on his trip through Vietnam, we knew exactly where we wanted to go. We joined the line at Bahn Mi Phuong and loved it. We luckily found a small table upstairs to enjoy the meal and left just as a food tour was crowding in to fill the space.
Next, what’s better than an hour massage after lunch…my first thought is a massage when I’m not full, but we did it anyway and thoroughly enjoyed another soothing Asian massage. Rain welcomed us as we left from our massages, but we still managed to squeeze in some sightseeing along the way before rolling back to the guest house for a while.
We had originally planned to head to Da Nang for a couple days, but decided to stay in Hoi An a couple more nights as the weather wasn’t really worth making any moves. Instead we arranged a morning tour of the nearby ruins of My Son and took it easy for the rest of the day ordering in dinner at our guest house.
We met our driver early the next morning for our trip out to My Son, which a cluster of partially ruined Hindu temples dating back to between the 4th and 14th centuries. After having visited the temples of Angkor Wat, we had a sort of familiarity with many of the things we were seeing. Additionally, it was a nice escape from the busy streets of Hoi An for most of the day and with the intermittent rain we were almost the only visitors on the grounds.
That evening we had one final fitting at Tuong Tailor’s and were very happy with our purchases. We were even able to ship the items directly to a friend’s place in Hong Kong so as to avoid carrying anything else on our backpacking trip through the rest of Asia. Once we got our shipping sorted out, we made one final tour through old town at night. We even took time to cross over one of the bridges to browse the small night market. There were so many things we wanted to get, but we were able to resist the temptation knowing we couldn’t carry anything else.
To check off the final restaurant on our list we had dinner at Nu Eatery. There was a bit of a wait, but we were eventually seated. All I knew from what Whitney told me was that this was the place for some incredible pork buns. I made sure we got two orders of the buns in addition to the entrées and we were in heaven as we took each bite. I think I’ll keep this one on my list of places to return to one day.
On our last day we had reserved a couple seats on an afternoon bus to Hue, the next destination on our trip. As you may have noticed in past articles, we rarely board any transportation without a bit of food to hold us over. With that in mind I knew we could get a takeaway Ban Mi from Bahn Mi Phuong and made sure that was on our departure list.
However we had a little extra time and stopped at the Reaching Out Teahouse for a midmorning brew. This particular café is supported and staffed by people with disabilities and we silently ordered on the small checklist at the table. After a sort of meditation at this teahouse we swung by Bahn Mi PHong and back to our guest house to catch the bus to Hue, but not before stopping to snap a few pictures of the beautiful Vietnamese countryside.
Overall, we really enjoyed our experiences in Hoi An, aside from the never-ending rain that is. Even so, the rain may have given us an excuse to slow down for a few days and I think we needed it. This unique old town has so much to see and so many fantastic restaurants to taste I think I could have easily spent a least a couple more weeks here.
For now though, it’s onward to Hue for more Vietnamese cultural immersion, after what ended up being one of our favorite stops in Vietnam.