It was the twenty-first day of my South East Asian Adventure, and I was in the final country of the final tour of my travels, before I ventured on my own for a few weeks.
I now found myself leaving the coastal city of Nha Trang and heading on a speedy, hour-long flight to Da Nang (interestingly, when you fly domestically in Vietnam you still need to display your passport).
Before departing our hotel we had a quick breakfast, which was an unusual affair once again, as the hotel buffet served a range of western dishes, including macaroni bolognaise (this was my bizarre choice as I was in no position to be turning down my favourite cuisine on the rare occasion it was available, even if this did mean pasta for breakfast!).
Once we landed in Da Nang, we left as quickly as we arrived and took a coastal drive straight to the neighbouring city of Hội An. Known for its network of connecting canals and its abundance of floating lanterns, Hội An’s beauty rivals many other cities. Just like Udaipur in India (which I had visited and admired earlier in the year), Hội An is known as the “Venice of the East”.
Upon reaching our new destination and the lovely looking hotel which would become home for the next two nights, we unloaded our bags, and grabbed a quick, traditional lunch of bánh mì sandwiches. These French-inspired baguettes were introduced to Vietnam in the mid-19th century, when the country was part of French Indochina. However they have since become a staple food, typically filled with a fusion of meat and vegetables from native Vietnamese cuisine. Hội An is said to have the best bánh mì in the country and it was certainly very tasty.
Once fed, it was time to explore Hội An. We rode bikes into the UNESCO-listed Old Town and got our first glimpse of the city’s sheer beauty. It is exceptionally well-preserved and was an important trading port up until the 19th century, receiving goods such as silk and silver from China and Japan.
Vietnamese records show that when the port of Hội An was opened by Lord Nguyễn Hoàng in the early 17th century, hundreds of Japanese traders were already living there and their influences can be seen in the city’s architecture, and especially in its famous 400-year-old Japanese Covered Bridge, or Cau Chua Pagoda.
Though the trading ships are no longer present, the charming city of Hội An boasts thung chai instead. These are basket boats which float along the petite waterways and display colourful, candle-lit lanterns at night (however, our trip manager, Lee, did inform us that it is important we do not fall into the trap of purchasing these floating paper lanterns, as they sadly pollute the waters once the candles go out).
On our bike tour, we visited the Ancient House of Hội An. Constructed around 200 years ago, the house has been home to the same family throughout. They welcome guests into their abode to see the exquisite architecture and tell their story, and they spoke to us passionately of their belief in the powers of the zodiac. Supposedly, because I am born in the year of the dog, I am loyal and faithful, which I will certainly accept!
The last stop on our cycle ride around the Old Town was to Yaly Couture. Hội An is famous for its bespoke tailor shops and this one came highly recommended by our trip manager. One of the Yali staff members told us that they began trading around 25 years ago, with a small sewing stall. Their high quality clothing became renowned by locals and tourists alike, and their owner, Ms. Quynh, was able to focus her passion on expanding her business. Yaly now hire more than 300 tailors, designers and craftsmen, creating jobs for the locals and impressing tourists with their designs.
I had a pair of trousers and a jumpsuit designed, and they were beautiful and custom-made just for me (whilst they were a little heavy on the purse strings for a budget traveller, this was certainly a worthwhile experience!).
We then had time to explore a little more of the Old Town on our bikes, before riding back to the hotel and getting ready for our evening activity.
It was then time to head back to the Old Town, where we were attending a cookery class right in the heart of Hội An. I was really excited for this because the cooking class I had undertaken in Thailand had been so much fun and we were able to reproduce wonderful Thai dishes. Now, we would be creating some Vietnamese delicacies instead!
We walked to Vy’s Market Restaurant & Cooking School and en route we stopped to appreciate the sheer beauty of Hội An at night, with bright, colourful lights in every direction.
Once we arrived at Vy’s Market Restaurant & Cooking School, we admired their own rainbow coloured lights in the lively restaurant, and then we walked straight through the mass of diners and to an airy room upstairs, which was laden with benches, ingredients, and a smiley instructor called Ms. Moon.
Firstly, we were shown how to make bánh xèo, which translates to mean “sizzle cake” and is a form of crispy, savoury pancake stuffed with rice. We then made spring rolls, papaya salad, skewers and cao lầu, a noodle dish that is considered to be Hội An’s speciality. Our head chef and her staff were really helpful and the class was easy to follow, despite my presentation skills not being quite up to Ms. Moon’s standard! Nonetheless, everything was delicious, and we were even given a booklet of the recipes we had made, so that we could impress our families back home with our new Vietnamese cooking skills.
After the class, a few drinks rounded off a perfect day in Vietnam’s most romantic city, before we headed on the long walk over the bridge, back to our hotel.
The following day, whilst some people embarked on a hike to the Marble Mountains, I decided to have a lazy morning instead. I had done lots of hiking on previous parts of my trip and I instead embraced a much-needed lie in, followed by a leisurely walk to the city centre. Here, I admired the market stalls, marvelled at the traditional methods of pottery, silk weaving and wood-carving on display and perused the Old Town at my own pace. I came across galleries and antique shops, and even found a quaint little bookshop, with book titles painted onto the stairs!
I then headed back to the hotel and laid by the pool, where I sampled my first Vietnamese coffee, which was made by roasting the beans in butter and using condensed milk. Though it sounded very unhealthy, it was a sweet and delicious treat!
My time in Hội An ended with a really enjoyable group dinner and a night out at a bar called Tiger Tiger.
I had absolutely loved my time in this colourful city, as it positively overflowed with beauty and ancient history. The Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and European influences of Hội An meant that it had no shortage of charm and architectural interest. But the subsequent morning it was time to head to our next destination, as we embarked on an incredibly scenic drive to Huế, situated in central Vietnam. Watch this space to learn more about the city which is famous worldwide for its historic monuments and exquisite cuisine!