Hoi An: A Tranquil Retreat in Vietnam
By Cecilia Yee.
I’ve been to Vietnam several times now and visited different cities each time; this trip, I decided to hit the Central Coast – which turned out to be my favourite part of Vietnam so far!
It’s also now a lot easier to get to Central Vietnam. You can fly direct from Hong Kong to Da Nang with Dragonair. After a 30-minute cab ride from Da Nang airport to Hoi An, I braced myself for the loud music, busy streets and never-ending stream of motorbikes that Vietnam usually offers… but instead was pleasantly surprised to find the town a lot more laidback than the big cities of Hanoi and Saigon.
I rented a bicycle and wandered around the charming old town – a delightful 18th century seaport that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old town is a fascinating blend of temples, pagodas, community houses, shrines, clan houses and shops; you will find a plethora of quaint stores, lantern-decorated restaurants and tailor shops along the main streets, which makes for a very charming feel.
What to see:
The history of Hoi An old town spans over 2,200 years and during that time, Hoi An grew into one of Vietnam’s busiest international seaports. Back in those days, the Japanese and Chinese came each spring, later joined by the Dutch, Portuguese, English and French – and this mélange of cultures meeting in one tiny port has had a real effect upon the local architecture and culture.
One of its most visited sites is the 400-year old Japanese Covered Bridge, a beautiful example of Japanese architecture from the 17th century. Well-preserved traditional merchant houses such as Duc An and Tan Ky are also open for viewing.
Where to eat:
There’s more to Vietnam than bowls of pho! Hoi An is considered the culinary capital of the country, with local specialties including cao lau (noodle soup served with bean sprouts, vegetables and pork) and white rose (steamed shrimp dumplings). When you’re ready to feast, head to Morning Glory Restaurant for lunch, then Cargo Club for dessert. Challenge yourself and learn how to cook Vietnamese food by signing up for a class at Red Bridge Cooking School.
Where to stay:
Hoi An offers plenty of accommodation choices for all kinds of travellers. There are both traditional colonial-style hotels in the old town, such as Life Heritage Resort, and luxurious properties situated near the beach. I highly recommend Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort & Spa or The Nam Hai, a stylish 5-star hotel located on the picturesque white sand beach.
My top suggestion for holidaying in Hoi An? Make sure you hit the beach! Most people go to Cua Dai Beach, which is about 4km northeast of the old town, but I personally recommend An Bang, a more tranquil place to enjoy the sun and sea. It’s about 6km north of the town, or a 20-minute leisurely bike ride from the old town. What makes An Bang special is the sense of community of the people living in the area. There are also a number of beach bars and restaurants offering amazing dishes – look out for Le Banyan and order the chicken stuffed with chorizo, or Soul Kitchen for a fresh seafood barbecue. There’s nothing quite like a delicious meal on a stunning yet quiet beach.
For something more cultural, take a day trip to the imperial city complex of Hue. Depending on the road conditions, you can reach Hue in approximately 90 minutes. Hue is a tranquil city, considered to be Vietnam’s artistic and cultural centre. It is known for its architectural masterpieces, including the imperial citadel, royal palaces, mausoleums and pagodas on the banks of the Perfume River. The complex of royal constructions and traditional monuments built in dreamy, natural landscapes are a marvel not to be missed.