Hoi An, Vietnam: Just as Wonderful the Second Time Around
We booked our Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) vacation six months prior (since it’s one of two major holidays and one of the busiest times to travel). We decided to split our time between Hoi An, a quaint town we visited (and loved) two years ago, and Da Nang, Vietnam’s third largest city (where the international airport is). Located in central Vietnam, Hoi An is only 45 minutes south of Da Nang, so it was an easy choice to fly into Da Nang (many direct flights from Seoul), spend a few days walking around the ancient town of Hoi An, and then relax on the beach in Da Nang.
However, I started doing more research on central Vietnam and lots of travelers were recommending the town of Hue, north of Da Nang. People were raving about Hue. So I started having doubts. Should we spend time in Hue instead of Hoi An? (Our Da Nang hotel was non-refundable.) Should we split our time between Hoi An and Hue? Should we do a day trip from Da Nang? It’s supposed to be a gorgeous drive along the coast (or a magnificent train ride) to get to Hue, but it apparently takes two to three hours (each way!) due to the road conditions. Doable for Alex and me. Not so much for Baby M. After much handwringing, we decided to stick with the original plan.
And I’m glad we did. Hoi An was just as amazing our second time there. The ancient town is vibrant, with even more interesting shops/restaurants/cafes than we remembered. Yes, it’s touristy. Yes, there’s about a gazillion leather goods stores and tailors, but we didn’t wander into those (unlike last time, when Alex had a couple custom suits and shirts made). Since it was so incredibly hot (in the 90’s… and humid), we went out for early morning walks before Baby M’s first nap, then wandered out for lunch, and again for dinner. Luckily our hotel was right next to the ancient town, so we were able to retreat to our wonderful air-conditioned room! (Something we did not remember from our last trip — almost all restaurants/cafes were open air, with fans being the only method for cooling… so we did end up eating lunch while still sweating! Thankfully it cooled down a little by dinner.)
The food in Hoi An is incredible (unlike in Da Nang… more on that in another post). Here are a few highlights:
Nu Cafe: A tiny, cozy restaurant that served great (albeit slightly expensive, for Vietnam) Chinese-Vietnamese fusion. The pork buns were incredible, and the avocado salad and our entrees were great too.
Ganesh: One of the best Indian meals we’ve ever had. We came here because it was highly recommended. Out of all of the places we went to in Hoi An, it was the only restaurant that was air-conditioned (and thank goodness it was!). Really tasty food and the staff were all super friendly to Baby M.
Phi Banh Mi: We fell in love with banh mi sandwiches two years ago. This time, we decided to try a different banh mi place. This was highly rated on TripAdvisor, and deservedly so! We walked here in the pouring rain and each ordered one sandwich… we quickly decided to order two more sandwiches because they were so delicious and flavorful (and we weren’t in a hurry to walk out in the pouring rain!). The owner makes all the ingredients himself, except for the baguette, which he buys from a friend. I wanted to go back again before we left Hoi An, but we ran out of time…
Hoi An Roastery: We actually stepped into this coffee shop to get out of the rain, but it was a cool space. The drip coffee, while cool to watch, was a little disappointing (it tasted sour), but the Vietnamese egg coffee (which we had for the first time in Hanoi, on our street food tour) was delicious. It tasted like melted marshmallows in coffee. 😀 There are several Hoi An Roastery locations within Hoi An’s ancient town.
Pho Xua: Food-wise, this was hands down the best (and, it was also the best value). But, Alex and I (carrying Baby M in the Ergo) had to wade through 6″ of water to get here, and there weren’t any highchairs available and all of the seats were stools (no backing) — so we couldn’t use our TotSeat (see details at the end of this post).* I ended up wearing Baby M on my back, in the Ergo, which was almost fine, except the thin part of the strap was digging into my fat belly, and I ended up with lots of noodles and rice caked onto my back (by the time Baby M finished eating). But, the food was great. 🙂
We ate two of Hoi An’s specialties: cao lau — a noodle/pork/mixed greens dish, and white rose dumplings — made in the shape of roses. The water used in the cao lau noodles supposedly comes from an ancient well outside of Hoi An town, and the recipe for the white rose dumplings is a closely-guarded family secret (apparently only one family in all of Hoi An knows the recipe)!
We enjoyed watching people, some on bicycles and mopeds (!!) slosh through the rapidly rising water (the streets seriously need better drains!). However, after dinner, we had to wade through a foot of water… We learned later that it was actually a typhoon!
Hola Taco: The nachos and tacos were really tasty, but it was a little more expensive than standard Vietnamese fare. (Also, it was so hot inside, I couldn’t fully enjoy my lunch.)
Ho Lo Quan: This family run place was probably our second favorite Vietnamese restaurant. The food was delicious and cheap. The Chinese-style eggplant in a claypot was especially good.
Rosie’s Cafe: Really cool (but not temperature cool — there was only the gentle breeze from a couple floor fans) cafe. Alex had the cold brew, while I had a standard Vietnamese coffee (strong coffee with condensed milk). The breakfast food looked pretty good, but we didn’t try it. It would have been a nice place to hang out (in slightly cooler weather) with a book or laptop (but it wasn’t toddler friendly).
While it may seem like all we did was eat, we did sightsee a little. We saw some temples and ancient assembly halls, and spent an afternoon at An Bang beach (a littler further north than Cua Dai, where we went two years ago). Baby M really enjoyed walking with the sand between her toes! The beach was fairly nice, but I remember Cua Dai having finer sand and clearer water.
IF we end up going back to Hoi An again, we’d like to do a photography tour or something (but not in the heat!).
My post from our 2014 trip to Hoi An: Hoi An: A Perfect Combination of Quaint Old Town and Beautiful Beach
* I HIGHLY recommend buying this cloth, washable, compact TotSeat, that turns almost any chair (the chair needs to have a back) into a makeshift “highchair,” minus the tray. Yes, there are “portable” booster seats and “travel” highchairs, but they are still hard plastic and therefore bulky (even the ones with a strap for ease of carrying). This TotSeat can be thrown under an umbrella stroller (yes, it’s that small!) or into a diaper bag and set up in less than 30 seconds. I am SO happy we were able to buy it before our trip to Vietnam. (There have been countless times in Korea where I’ve been told a restaurant doesn’t have a highchair, and no I can’t park the stroller in the restaurant, and please hold my squirming baby while I eat… So, never again!!) One of the best baby items I’ve ever purchased! And it’s available on Amazon for less than $30!
This time, we stayed at the Little Hoi An Boutique Hotel, in downtown Hoi An (we stayed at the Muca Hoi An between Cua Dai beach and town, the last time we were in Hoi An). The hotel is on a little island off of the city center, about a 10 minute walk to the Ancient Town. The Thu Bon River was brown and not really flowing when we first arrived, but it cleared up after the torrential downpour.
The female hotel staff always ran up and kissed and hugged Baby M whenever they saw us. And, they would entertain her at breakfast so that Alex and I could eat. I think in general, the Vietnamese love babies. Everywhere we went, the shop keepers, restaurant waitstaff, etc. were all very friendly to Baby M (maybe a little too friendly… I had to suppress my germaphobic thoughts as everyone touched her hair and kissed her cheeks!).
Breakfast buffet had a wonderful selection of fresh fruit (who knew that dragon fruit came in red and white?!) as well as self-serve freshly made fruit juice (unlimited watermelon and mango juice!!). Eggs were cooked to order. And very strong coffee.
The pool was sub-street level, so it didn’t get any direct sunlight — which was fine. It was small but adequate.
The location was in a quieter part of town (except the first night, when the local boys were walking around doing a lion dance to celebrate the Full Moon Festival, and banging on loud drums, until 10:30 PM!! Yeah I know… that’s not “late” but it IS if your baby wakes up at 4 AM local time…).
The feet of the heavy chairs in the room weren’t padded, so the loud sound of chairs scraping on the tile floor could be heard at all hours.
The floor in the room needed to be mopped, not just swept. Our feet came away black.
Although there is an elevator, there are around 10 steps to the entrance of the hotel, from street level, and there are an additional two or three steps from the lobby to the elevator. So, not super stroller friendly. And definitely not wheelchair accessible.
Oh, and if you have young kids (or if you’re drunk… or top heavy… or afraid of heights), the hotel’s atrium is only guarded by a fairly low railing (read: this would not fly in the U.S.), so be careful!
Comment about the entrance pass and tickets “needed” to get into the Ancient Town:
We definitely didn’t pay for these tickets back in 2014. And I don’t even remember being asked to purchase tickets.
However, when I was doing research on TripAdvisor before this trip (9/2016), I came across numerous message boards discussing the tickets and whether or not they were truly required.
Alex and I did end up buying the entrance pass. They are 120,000 VND (about $6 USD) each (I think kids under a certain age are free). At each entrance into the Ancient Town, a few uniformed people would ask us to show the entrance pass. We also saw tourists just ignore them and walk in. (The staff were too lazy to run after the tourists.)
My take: Hoi An’s Ancient Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The proceeds from the entrance tickets is supposed to go towards the preservation of the town. (Whether or not the funds truly go there, I don’t know. But I do think that if Hoi An want to collect the money, it needs to be enforced!) The pass, which allows entrance into the Ancient Town, also comes with five tickets. You can use these tickets to get into any five temples/assembly halls/museums. So, it’s worth it, in my opinion, to just buy the pass. (I would not, however, waste one of the tickets on the “museum” at the Japanese Bridge — that was pretty worthless.)