HOI AN TRAVEL GUIDE
DATES TRAVELLED | April 2019
Everyone I know who's been to Vietnam has all said how beautiful Hoi An is. UNESCO protects the Old Town, and its character still stands today as it was one of the only places which escaped the bombs from war. This area of the city is gorgeous - the streets are cobblestoned, the buildings are yellow (the colour of prosperity), the alleyways are narrow and maze-like and pink flowers fall and trail from balconies and baskets. But it is absolutely packed with tourists, it's the most touristy place we visited on this trip! The Old Town is stunning, that's why it's busy - so get up early and explore it before the crowds arrive when it's mostly just the locals. Of course, you have to brave the paparazzi like tourists at night when all the lanterns are lit and it's looking extra romantic and picturesque.
We visited this central and close to the coast part of the country by flying directly into Da Nang (the closest airport) from Hong Kong. The majority of flights will take you to Saigon or Hanoi first, but 'Hong Kong Express' was the only carrier that flew directly to Da Nang from Hong Kong specifically. It was over double the price, but one less airport and many hours saved. If you had time, you could explore one of these main cities first before coming to Hoi An. When I had planned this trip to the five countries, I booked it so there was a busy city and then it was followed by a chill place so there was, I guess this breathing room. We got that excitement and that fast-paced energy from a city and then was recharged from the country & nature in the smaller locations. Coming from Hong Kong, it was the perfect chaser. We hired a scooter, and the outskirts of town reminded us so much of Bali - it had this very calm and easy-going undertone to the place and we really enjoyed it.
On our second day there we met Harry, a 29-year-old with the most infectiously positive attitude and laugh, and he's also an entrepreneur. He grew up in a small farming village not far from Hoi An and then went on to get a university degree. He worked in the tourism industry for many years, and he's just this year gone out on his own and started a business for himself (and his young family). His vision is to give tourists locally authentic, 'places you wouldn't find on your own', tours. I found him via the Airbnb experience section, and we first booked in with him for his 'Hidden Gems of Hoi An' tour (see HERE). The tour was SO incredible, we asked him if he was free the next day to hang out again and show us some more spots, so we did this tour with him HERE. We shadowed him by scooter into the countryside, through the rice paddies stopping to see the rice being harvested. We visited a local coffee roastery and drank delicious local brews. The coffee in Vietnam was perfection and in fact, the best we had on this trip! Coming from New Zealand, and Wellington in particular where the coffee scene here is very much a part of the home, it was definitely a highlight to taste coffee of such high quality. We also went to a fishing village where Aary went out fishing with some local women at dusk, we met local weavers and a lady who makes and supplies some of the best rice paper to Hoi An. These were all outside of the main Hoi An area, and there's no way we could have found these solo. I loved how Harry has set up these tours, and how he gives a commission to each of the people we meet, he is really passionate about supporting small communities. I said to Harry at the end when our tour finished late in the evening "I liked Vietnam before your tour, but you and the experiences you gave us made us LOVE Vietnam!". We're lucky that we just happened to book at a time when no one else had booked, so they were both private tours which made it feel even more personal.
I have given more details, tips and an itinerary in the linked box below, and there are videos from our experiences on Instagram Stories which you can see HERE. I hope you enjoy this travel guide x
ABOVE : A bean sprout grower we met on the 'Hidden Gems of Old Town Tour'.
| BELOW : Kuia selling their herbs and vegetables at the local market
ABOVE & BELOW : We loved all the narrow alleyways and yellow buildings of Old Town. We got up early in the morning to explore so that there were fewer tourists around, and also to avoid the mid-day heat. Old Town got HOT during the day with all the tight buildings and crowds of people
ABOVE & BELOW : Harry our guide took us to a rice field being harvested and we were lucky enough to be there when the fields were golden and ready to gather from. Once the rice is cut, it's dried out on the road in big piles in the sun. It still has a lot of husks in with the rice, so you can see below, a lady shakes it all out - the rice falls to the ground and the husks blows away. She wears a mask and long clothing despite the heat as the rice is unwashed at this stage so it is very dusty.
ABOVE : Loved these two girls from a village we went to. They were calling out to me and giggling as they wanted to get a photo taken. As soon as I lifted my camera up they pulled out all the poses! I showed them the photos on the back of my camera and they were very pleased with themselves. I wish I had taken my Instax so I could have given them a physical copy to keep.
ABOVE & BELOW : As part of our 'Hidden Gems of Old Town' tour we visited a factory who produce the most famous local dish in Hoi An, Cao lầu noodles. It is a laborious job which starts with rice soaking, then a paste is made with the soaked rice and special local water, then the dough is steamed. After the steaming process, the dough is then worked and kneaded, rolled out and cut into noodles. They then smoke the cut noodles in leaves and baskets using special wood, which has a good smoke level and flavour too - kinda like manuka. The noodles are then cooked for the third time when they are served in restaurants. Workers here make these noodles 365 days a year, and their 9-10 hour day begins at 1 am, so the first batch is ready for the morning market. The noodles have to be eaten the day they are made, which is why they are made every single day. I have never appreciated a noodle quite like these when I saw the time, care and skill that goes into it. The noodles are chewy and have an amazing smokey taste to them, unlike any noodle I've tried before. So special! There are videos of the making process in my Hoi An Stories highlights on Instagram HERE.
ABOVE : We visited a lady in her village home who makes rice paper. I love how she used rice husks to make the fire to cook to it over, as rice husks are discarded by the rice farmers. Nothing is wasted here. She toasted some of the fresh rice paper over a fire so they were crispy, and then sandwiched two crispy ones between a soft fresh one. Then, she smashed it up with the palm of her hand, so it was like a cracker. We sat and ate it with a spicy dipping sauce in her dining room and watched cartoons on the TV with her granddaughter. So special! ABOVE : A girl on the loom. Still in her school uniform, this little girl (8 years old) comes home and helps her family of weavers to make mats to sell. It takes 4 hours to weave a 5-meter mat. The portrait above (kuia against the blue wall) is her great grandmother. This experience was part of the tour we did with Harry, which can be found HERE.
ABOVE : As rain clouds set it, everyone is on their way home. We give way on a one-way bridge and I get the three fingers up from this dude.
ABOVE & BELOW | Hands down the best coffee we had in Vietnam (and possibly some of the best we've had in the world!) was from
Phins Espresso! They did a huge range of coffees, and I loved trying their drip coffee, served over ice with condensed milk on the side and also loved their version of the famous egg coffee. Egg coffee originated from Hanoi, and it's a mix of strong espresso, egg yolk and condensed milk. At Phin's they use a homemade coconut syrup. It basically tastes like a liquid tiramisu, SO GOOD!
ABOVE : Scenes from An Bang beach - about a 10 min scooter ride from the main town. The Shore Club there is a great place to hang out - you get the use of loungers and their facilities as long as you buy drinks or food. | BELOW : This is Harry, he became our personal guide for two days in Hoi An, and he and the places he showed us gave us such a unique experience.
A link to his Airbnb experiences can be found HERE.