Oh Hoi An, how I love thee. I love your French Colonial architecture and your meandering river. I love your white sand beaches and your fragrant food. I love your lantern scattered streets and your talented tailors. I love your colour-washed walls and your pain-in-the-ass street vendors. Oh how I love thee so.
The love affair started after an 8 hour sleeper-bus bus ride from Phong Nha. Spent, from lying down since 7am (bus rides have that strange effect on me), I pulled up, back of a motorbike, at the luxurious Anantara.
You see, I’d met up with my parents again and thought it was more than reasonable to invite myself to their suite for two night, trundle bed and all. You think after 31 years they’d be good at saying no by now. But luckily for me, I seem to have the power of persuasion (over them at least), as I strolled, backpack aloft, to their 5-star room.
The Anantara is set to the east of the main town, overlooking the Thu Bon River. While its pool is about knee deep and the temperature of a kid’s bath, it provides the perfect setting to unwind after a long journey. The hotel also includes a gym, morning yoga classes, an outdoor library, cooking classes, and a five star restaurant. It also features one of the most insane buffets I have ever seen in my life. As a girl who likes a helping (or 3), even I had a small aneurism trying to decide what to eat every morning – IT WAS JUST TOO MUCH! And I do apologise for the lack of photographs of said buffet, I was obviously distracted stuffing my face.
I was in Hoi An for a total of 6 days, and every day became a glorious repetition of itself: wake up and go to the gym for a quick workout, buffet breakfast (to counteract the workout), beach, tailor visit, lunch, pool, dinner, bed. Repeat. Wild!
I can’t even begin to explain how much I loved the Old Town, it is purely beautiful. Sure it’s a giant tourist destination, but elbow a few selfie sticks out the way and you can feast your eyes on the sumptuous beauty of the city – the Vietnamese truly kicked the French out and kept the best bits of themselves.
I would recommend trying to stay in or near the Old Town. The beach is lovely, sure, but after a couple of hours in the sun, you’ll want to spend the majority of the rest of your day and night in and around the lanterns and lush greenery.
Speaking of beaches, there are two main beaches associated with the town Ang Ba and Cui Dai. I found the latter the better of the two, less tourists and cleaner surrounds made for a more pleasant experience. Sun beds are also only 30,000dong (just under $2) and they’ll serve you whatever food and drink you would like from the restaurants behind.
If you’re looking to get anything made in Hoi An, every second shop is a tailors. But if you’re looking for quality, great service and beautiful fabrics, head to Yaly tailors. With a huge range of fabrics and a wealth of experience, they’ll have your new suit or ballgown (do people still wear these?) complete within two days – apparently they have 300 tailors on staff! I had a silk dress made for a mere $65usd, as well as shirts, shoes and a jumpsuit.
If you’re not wanting to spend a lot and don’t care as much about the quality, most of the other tailors in town will do a half decent job at half the price.
On one of our first days there we also stumbled upon the gallery by acclaimed French National Geographic photographer Rehahn, whose portraiture of local Vietnamese people are raw and magnetic. Do yourself a favour and invest in one of his prints.
It was here I also found the flyer for the Hoi An Photography tour, also run by a French expat Etienne Bossot. I unfortunately emailed way too late and didn’t get to join the tour, but can someone else please do and tell me what it’s like? There are also a multitude of bike tours you can do around the city, if you feel like sweating your balls off on two wheels.
Hoi An was also where my real Bahn Mi journey began. Informed by numerous people about which was ACTUALLY the best roll in the city, I felt it my duty to be the judge of that!
Our contenders: Madam Kahn, Bahn Mi Queen & Madam Phong (made famous by celebrity chef and TV host Anthony Bourdain). The sumptuous, fluffy bread, stuffed with glorious shavings of roast pork, pate, cucumber, carrot, chilli and a wealth of other flavours is a purely sensorial experience. And to be completely honest, I still can’t decide which one I liked more.
Half way through my time in Hoi An I moved my sorry little butt to Paddy’s Hostel and Sportsbar, right near Cui Dai beach. Stripped away from my little piece of luxury, I had lost the energy to try and make new friends, but lucky for me, Irish bartender Brian came to my rescue, as I joined him and some other hostel ring-ins for the full moon celebrations on the river. If you’re there during the full moon, make sure you head down to see thousands of little candle-lit lanterns floating down the river, and join the festivities afterwards.
Unbeknownst to me, Hoi An is a party town. Just head over the bridge and to the Ancient town and you’ll see bar after bar of backpackers drinking buckets of suspect alcohol, balloons being passed around, shisha smoke wafting through the air, and some good ol’ grinding on the dance floors. Oh and don’t forget that joyous hangover the next day!
Don’t rush Hoi An; it is here to be sipped slowly, every morsel tasted with care, each delicate note registering with pleasure.
Additional Hoi An notes:
– Visit the Japanese Bridge – you have to pay to actually go on it but I just took pics from outside
– Lantern restaurant – fusion Vietnamese food
– Morning Glory – famous restaurant and cooking school, Vietnamese food
– Cocobox – salads, sandwiches and smoothies if you need a break for Asian food