Hoi An- Our Favorite City in Vietnam
After a surprisingly painless overnight bus from Nha Trang, we arrived early in Hoi An and luckily our guest house was nearby and they had a room ready for us. This was probably a good thing as the Xanax hadn't fully worn off and I needed your typical 7 am nap. After a quick doze we easily walked to town and began quickly knocking off items on our Hoi An to do list. Hoi An was frequently listed among the travelers we met as their favorite spot in Vietnam due to its walk-ability, beautiful scenery, food and history. Plus, it’s been ranked by travel magazines as one of the most romantic cities in the world.
We went to the central market for lunch and quickly took down two of the dishes only served in Hoi An, Cao Lau and My Quang. Both delicious noodle dishes with pork, the Cao Lau has a chewier noodle only found in Hoi An and the My Quang is served more al dente. After experiencing Cao Lao the first of what would be many times, we headed to the next activity on our to do list which was a trip to see Mr. Xe and his tailor shop. Hoi An is world renowned for the amount of tailor shops within this small city, Steph once read there were over 400 shops. The one negative of a small city with a bunch of the same thing is all the local ladies want you to go check out their shop. They are all very nice, but we were off to Mr. Xe in thanks to our friends Andrew and Sierra’s recommendation.
We were so glad we took their recommendation as the shop was great. All in all we were measured up and down, sometimes in places I didn't realize we're even important for a suit, and by different people both at their shop and factory. It was definitely a more thorough process than if we just picked a random market shop and tried to save $40. Thinking of our purchases as an investment for our future jobs, I ended up with two suits, 4 shirts, 2 ties and a new pair of dress shoes. Steph got a blazer, dress, a coat and a pair of boots. We definitely were not able to put this under our daily budget but still compared to prices at home, we got tailor made clothes and shoes for a steal.
We quickly learned Hoi An goes through a change from afternoon to evening and that’s when it really becomes picturesque. It’s hard to explain how much the city really transforms, I’ve never really seen anything else like it. During the day the only ones enduring the heat are the local vendors and whiteys like us, come night more people are out and about, there are more food stalls and the lanterns are turned on shining beautiful colors on both sides of the bridge connecting the city.
The next day we rented a bike from our guest house and met up with local university students who led us on a bicycle tour of the Kim Bong carpentry village. It was a really fun and interesting morning, taking a quick boat ride from one side of Hoi An to the village, getting to know the students, and seeing some local trades along the way. We visited one site that built 3 different types of boats and ships, a rice noodle maker that fed us some delicious crackers and tea, we helped to thread and weave a sleeping mat, and lastly saw some very impressive carpentry that is all made by hand. We were lucky to have been assigned two guides that were both knowledgable and friendly and excited to speak English with us.
Just like in Ho Chi Minh, Steph had a bahn mi place mapped out and who knows what hell would’ve rained if we didn't find it. Anthony Bourdain once proclaimed this spot the best bahn mi around and luckily for us it was right around the corner from where our tour ended. The BBQ pork bahn mi was in fact pretty damn good and a favorite of locals as well. As we finished up just as the lunch crowd line was really starting to get long.
Shortly thereafter after we were on our way back to Mr. Xe. This became a common occurrence, going in to check out the first run, getting things adjusted and readjusted. At one point, the tailor was unhappy with the way Steph’s dress fit and goes, “She be right back,” and before I know it they were whisking her away via moped, which I was then told by another employee was to a factory for adjustments. Once Steph returned she told me it was less factory and more little house sweatshops where workers were sewing and hemming away. The alterations took longer than expected but we were happy with how they turned out.
Our next day began with a relatively early start as we had signed up for a cooking class. Stephanie has more on that here; it was a really fun way to spend half a day. Plus everything we cooked up was local and delicious! After a little relaxing back at our place, we explored some happy hour spots before making our way to a tiny restaurant hidden in an alley that we found on tripadvisor. Everything we had was a modern take on Vietnamese dishes and really delicious. We realized though that as budget travelers we need to be sticking with the places in the market or small shops with the little plastic chairs if we are going to eat the local cuisine. The food is almost always just as good and definitely at least half the price if not less. It was a fun experience but the rest of our meals in Hoi An were basic and still amazing.
The host at our guest house raved about the local beach and this seemed like a good last day activity while in Hoi An. We rented bikes one more time and headed out for about a thirty minute ride to the coast. This ended up being a way better than expected find, as the beach was really nice and had restaurants and bars up and down with available beach chairs as long as you ordered something. We were there midday and the beach was filled with western travelers, enjoying a few beers and the ocean. We started wrapping up around 4:30 and witnessed the changeover as you will. As the backpackers and tourists headed back to shower and get ready for dinner, the locals moved on in. What was a fairly empty strip of sand between the bars and ocean began turning into a mini market. Older ladies began setting up their stations as men were hauling in bags of ice, cooking equipment, cases of beer and more. It was a pretty funny sight to take in!
It was a melancholy final evening because when it is all said and done, we knew Hoi An would be ranked as one of our favorites among our travels. Our time has flown by and even though we would have liked to stay longer more good destinations were ahead and so you forge on. With nothing special in mind we just wanted to make sure we enjoyed the old city one last time. Sometimes no plans leads to the best stories. We walked back over the bridge that we hadn't been over since our first evening. When we first came across this market it was just getting started and not too lively. This time around, there was shop after shop with beautiful colorful lanterns being sold, food and trinket vendors and locals eating at restaurants along the street.
We picked one that was sure to have Cao Lau as we weren’t about to have a final meal in Hoi An and not eat our new favorite noodle dish. Some local men were there with their wives and while they didn't speak English and I certainly don't speak any Vietnamese we do speak the universal language of booze. So when they offered, actually more like forced, some homemade hooch on me, I put it down. I probably shouldn't have faked being an established whiskey drinker after the first shot, because then another, and another were on my way. So it goes, making friends with the locals, and a happy walk from dinner to go pick up my newly made sneakers with IU colors. Hoi An was a great place to enjoy the Vietnamese culture, get some new gear and eat some food that can only be found in this little region. We are so happy we made this a stop and hopefully one day when I need some new suits, we’ll be back!