Saturday, April 30, 2016

Vietnam Adventures: Hoi An

So far, I've chatted about my first impressions of our trip, Hanoi and Ha Long Bay. Click the locations to read the post.

Hoi An was our final destination. We booked 12 nights in this coastal town known for it's beach style resorts and also for its tailoring. I'll be doing a separate post about tailoring and what we bought next week, FYI.

From the people we spoke to, it turned out that staying longer than 5-7 days in Hoi An is unusual. We opted for longer because as part of our trip we desperately needed some R&R down time, and this seemed the best location to do it. But aside from laying around the pool drinking iced coffee and catching up on my reading list, here's a few other things we enjoyed:

Still trying to decide how much I like Hoi An. We're having a great holiday but I find the constant hard sell and being badgered on the streets hard work and off putting. Vietnam is certainly an experience.

Lanterns in Hoi An. I loved the idea of bringing one home but know full well it'll look at best off and at worst tacky back in our London flat.

Walking the Old Quarter, a bit like Hanoi, is lovely. I couldn't have done it every day without being a bit bored, but there's plenty of great looking shops and cafes and in the evenings, part of the town comes alive with a night market selling tourist souvenirs, clothes, toys and lanterns. Beware- everything happens quite early in Hoi An (especially if you're used to living in a larger city in the UK). Restaurants tend to shut at around 2130 and the 'night market' seems to kick off at around 1800, finishing by around 2200.

A recommendation for dinner this evening. Excited for jellyfish salad and squid and stingray and all the good stuff!

Had the best time doing a 4 course cookery class at Vy's Market today. My attempts were mediocre but I still had a blast.

We ate at Vy's Market after being recommended by some people we met on our Ha Long Bay cruise. The concept is very similar to a restaurant we ate at in Hanoi- it brings together street food style dishes (and more) onto a single menu to be enjoyed at your leisure. The biggest difference is that the service here is incredible, the restaurant itself is lovely and big and open, and the various speciality stands around the seating area give it a sense of what the food is all about. We ate here twice, and decided that the tours and classes on offer were definitely up our street which brings me to our next Hoi An Highlight...

Had the absolute best day cycling into the countryside, exploring Vietnamese salads, rice, markets and bean sprouts follows by cooking classes. So. Much. Fun.

I like to ride my bicycle, I love to ride my bike...

We opted for a Countryside Cycling Tour & Cookery Class. It cost $42 per person (including all food and drink, guides, bike hire etc) and was scheduled to run from 0830 to around 1300.

We started at around 0830 in the end, and we set off as a group of 6 cycling out to the central market for a nosey around, followed by rides to local rice fields, plots where herbs and salads are grown and a visit to a beansprout farmer. All at a very leisurely place with drinks stops.

After our little jaunt on the bikes, we headed to a dedicated space about Vy's Market restaurant which was set up for our group to prepare 4 different central Vietnamese dishes (including 2 that are specific to Hoi An) with a chef doing the demos and assisting, and time to eat each course as it came ready. We didn't leave until well after 1400 that afternoon, feeling very full and having had a total blast. This tour was definitely not the cheapest in town, but I think 100% good value. We really enjoyed seeing a bit more of what is produced locally and the cooking side of things was a well organised, professional set up that I enjoyed every second of, as a lover of the kitchen. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it, and it was simple to book with a quick email.

Ms Vy has several restaurants as well as a hotel and the additional cooking classes in Hoi An, and we ate some great food at Morning Glory before heading for a tailoring appointment one evening too. The dishes are more single serving courses than small street food plates, and thoroughly enjoyable. These guys are super popular though, so be prepared to wait or book in advance. This Vietnamese prawn curry served in a whole coconut is worth booking for, and that's without the pork stuff squid we also shared.

Wish I was eating this for lunch today. Vietnamese shrimp curry served in a coconut. My spinach & broccoli peanut noodles with poached eggs is nowhere near as photogenic.

Another restaurant that was on my hit list for this trip was The Secret Garden. It's tucked away on a side alley of Le Loi in the Old Town and although there is a small sign, you really have to want to find it unless you're hyper observant. The setting is a beautiful walled in garden with the restaurant tables set throughout. This is a more 'high end' dining experience, but definitely not over formal. The service was impeccable and it was the perfect place to treat ourselves for our final night before flying home (and the penultimate night, to make sure it was finale appropriate...).

Dinner at the Secret Garden again for our last night in Vietnam was beautiful. The setting is just lovely.

We ate some incredible satay fish, the most beautiful 'Five Colour Salad', and a beef dish flavoured with orange, amongst other things. AS restaurants in Hoi An go, this is at the upper scale of the price range (outside of hotel dining), but we felt it was worth every penny, with both meals we ate there coming in at $50-$60 including wine.

Short and sweaty Vietnamese run ending on the beach. Running in the humidity is hard going!

I managed a minimal amount of running whilst away, there's certainly plenty of places to run if that's your thing. I found the heat and humidity crushing, and because I already find hydration a difficult balance, I opted not to do too much outdoor training. That and having put my shoulder out just before we left, I took the opportunity to rest and recover a bit.

For those interested, we stayed at the Victoria Hoi An resort, booked for us by the independent agent I used for the entire trip. The rooms were surprisingly large, which was awesome, the whole set-up seems popular with families (which was less awesome if you're not keen on children). We found the service was reasonable, bar one guy on reception who was clearly on the take, giving misleading information and trying to charge for things left, right and centre- it appears to be the Vietnamese way.

All the tiny lights

We had a joyously relaxing couple of weeks in Hoi An, and the things we did choose to do, we really enjoyed. What we found was hard work though, was the hard sell. It's difficult to take in much of the old town without someone trying to sell you something every 5 seconds, and it can be difficult not to feel ripped off when purchasing certain things- especially in corner shops which have no pricing. Would we go back? I'm not sure we would. We had a blast, but I don't think there was enough to hold our personal interest to make me want to return. It's a very long flight to get some sunshine and enjoy eating out I suppose.

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