Hoi An is a beautiful town located about halfway up the Vietnam coast, it has beautiful beaches, incredible food and a picturesque “Old Town” centre. Things run at a much slower pace here and it was a great place to relax after the hustle and bustle of HCMC. There is no airport but there are numerous bus connections heading both north towards Hanoi and south to HCMC, there is a train line and airport into the neighbouring city of Da Nang.
Our first day was spent exploring the “Old Town” and beaches by bike. There are numerous restaurants that are cheap and fantastic, the markets are full of every type of tropical fruit and vegetable imaginable, there are street stalls selling donuts and fried banana pancakes and rickshaw drivers negotiating their way through the crowed busy streets. The Old Town is set alongside the river so boat trips and floating restaurant touts are always looking for business. Throughout this section of town it is also possible to have suits, dresses and shoes tailor-made in 24hrs – Hoi An is well know for its tailors.
The beaches are about a 2km ride from the centre of town on flat roads that pass through vast rice fields. The beaches are long and beautiful although on the day that we visited it was windy and the conditions were far from ideal for swimming. There are also plenty of restaurants here eager to offer you a table or a li-lo on the beach along with great food and drinks.
There are a few sights to see outside of Hoi An which include My Son, a ruined temple complex, and the Marble Mountains. On our second day we hired a motor bike and made the journey out to visit these two places.
From Hoi An it took about two hours buy motorbike to My Son, the ride was fairly safe with only a short ride required on a dual carriage motorway. The ride out takes you through a number of small towns, villages and rice fields. In some small towns the red communist flag hung outside every home.
The temples of My Son were constructed between the 4th and 14th century CE, the same period and under the same Khmer rule as Ankor Wat in Camboida. Although the size, complexity and preservation of My Son cannot compare to Ankor Wat, it is still impressive to see as the quality of the carvings and the sheer size of the buildings is still impressive given they were constructed so long ago. It is quite touristy here with bus after bus offloading people so it is best to get there early to avoid the crowds. At the entrance there is also an information centre which provides some background information on the ruins and those in the surrounding area and countries.
Later that afternoon we rode out to the Marble Mountains which are about 45 mins by motorbike back towards Da Nang. The Marble Mountains are a cluster of five mountains which in the past were mined for, as the name suggests, marble. There are short walks on all of the mountains and a few caves to visit. We only visited the primary mountain which has a number of Buddhist temples and shines all up the mountain and within its many caves. The largest cave contains a huge cavern which looks to occupy the entire top of the mountain, it seems like the entire top of the mountain is hollow. Inside there are a number of alters and shrines with many of the local people coming to pray and make offerings. It is quite a unique place and well worth the visit.
On our final day we took part in a cooking class which was fantastic. Goian’s cooking school runs classes throughout the day and the two girls that run them are great hosts and teachers, they have you laughing all day and the class was really enjoyable. If you do a morning or afternoon class they start with a visit to the local (not tourist) markets where you learn about the food you are going to be cooking with and buy and try a few of the ingredients. It was then a short walk back to their house where the magic happens.
The dishes are made as a group but everybody takes part in almost every aspect of every dish so in theory you should have no problems recreating the delicious meals back at home. Because I was the only vegetarian in the group I actually made all of my dishes by myself which was an added bonus. We made four dishes and at the end we got to feast on the food we had made which was amazing. You can find there website here.