You must go to Hoi An. It is the one phrase we kept hearing about before we left, and once we hit South East Asia. We took the 3:21am train from Nha Trang, rolled up the Vietnamese coastline to Da Nang and jumped in a half an hour taxi ride to Hoi An. Our hostel, Saclo, was about a fifteen minute walk out of town. We skipped the $1-a-day bike rental and wandered in. Five minutes later, we wished we had the bikes, as it was extremely hot.
We had one destination in mind, Banh Mi Phoung Restaurant that is renowned for its Banh Mi. Even Anthony Bourdain went there on his TV series, No Reservations. The restaurant was full of travellers when we arrived, but the line up and constant traffic from the locals out the front told us it was pretty good. Could it take out the coveted BBMTD title? We ordered the number 6 & 9 and waited. A few minutes later, the slightly warm sandwiches arrived. Both were top notch, the #6 was not to dissimilar to the one we made at the Ho Chi Minh Cooking School and the #9 was a classic roasted pork. Did they beat the current tile holder from Da Lat – close but no. We wiped our tingly lips and wandered through the city.
The old town is formed of beautiful old buildings filled with all the shops that Hoi An is renowned for: Tailors, Shoe Makers, leather showrooms and just as many restaurants. We had the idea of getting a few things made, namely some dresses for Sarah, but after a few store visits we realised Sarah would just pick apart all the faults, so kept it on the back burner. We headed back to the hostel to pick up our modern day contraptions to research some places to eat. Unfortunately, when we finally made it to a place with wifi, the sun was setting and it was happy hour. Instead of looking for things to do, we sat and drank. Eventually we worked up the courage to leave and walked across the bridge towards the night market.
Hoi An is huge for colourful lanterns, and when the sun sets, the town glows with beautiful colours. The reflections off the tranquil water seem to intensify the colours. We wandered along the riverside strip of restaurants trying to choose, before boredom overtook us, we wandered in. We ate one of the dishes that Hoi An is famous for, Seafood Wonton’s which was quite tasty. We then stopped by Vy’s Market to organise a cooking class.
The following morning, we cycled back into town via a small shop called Friendly. They sell handmade shoes and have quite a good reputation around town as well as a policy that if you do not like the finished product you don’t have to pay. After an hour with the lovely ladies, of which all of them were heavily pregnant, we had some shoes ordered and cycled out of town towards Hoi An Silk Village. Oh, we almost forgot, on the way was another highly recommended Banh Mi stall enticingly named The Banh Mi Queen. For us, it was a delicious Banh Mi, but we preferred the place from the day before. That said, it is still worth visiting as The Queen is lovely and very funny, plus her secret sauce is delicious.
It took a few attempts explaining to the staff at the silk village that we did not want to do a tour; we just wanted to see their products. The silk was beautiful and exactly what Sarah needed for her future business. We spent an hour choosing what we wanted before I transformed myself back into one of my alter egos – The Raggler. While they claimed it was a fixed price, we managed to get them down to a reasonable discount before cycling on home with an extra 6 kilograms of silk. Luckily we are only travelling for a year with backpacks, so the weight is totally not an issue….
We then decided to be cultural and wander through this UNESCO World Heritage City. We walked along the river towards the Japanese Covered Bridge that has stood in place for 400 years; surviving numerous army attacks as well as a Hairy Bikers Cooking Show. We paid the fee to enter, but were slightly bemused as to what that ticket included – the old town is almost identical to the rest of the town except worse, as the beautiful buildings now consist of souvenir shops selling exactly the same things. Eventually, we discovered that the ticket included entry into a few of the important temples. You already know that we are not that fussed by temples, but we paid for it, so we made damn sure we would visit them.
Thankfully we were just ahead of a couple of tour groups so had the beautiful buildings to ourselves before leaving through a crowd of 40 people. Eventually this worked up a hunger, so we cycled through town, grabbed a couple of happy hour beverages at Mango Mang, that included a free snack before wandering to a restaurant that was highly recommended – Morning Glory. It was a bit out of our price range so shared another local specialty, Can Lou – a fat noodle soup – before we wandered on home.
Today was meant to be our last day in Hoi An. But when we tried on our shoes, we decided to stay one more day to wait for the extra shoes we just ordered. The rest of our time was spent wandering the busy market, haggling for other important backpacking needs, like knives and fragile ceramics. We finished our day off at another restaurant on the water front that served up another local favourite, and by far the tastiest, White Rose which is are small rice paper dumplings filled with prawns.
We had a few hours left the following day, which consisted of the same as yesterday. Try on shoes, wander a market, buy fragile items, eat a Banh Mi and order another one as take away for our bus journey to Hue. We loved Hoi An, and would love to visit again. If not for the delicious food, the great shoes and multiple Banh Mi’s, but to also visit the beach that everyone kept talking about.
As we were told – You must go to Hoi An.