After Ha Long Bay we headed straight back to the Hanoi Airport where we got on an hour flight to Da Nang. Dan Nang is centrally located in Viet Nam making it a perfect checkpoint between the North and the South. Nevertheless, we didn’t stay in Da Nang long, instead our new guide and bus driver met us at the airport to take us to the UNESCO recognized World Heritage Site, Old Town of Hoi An.
Driving through Da Nang I could already see the difference between the South and the North: unlike Hanoi, there was new construction everywhere, traditional houses were rare and existing ones were being replaced with modern high rise condos; there were less motorbikes and more cars; less honking. This made Viet Nam even more exciting to visit, one country and so many flavors!
We only had two days and three nights to spend in Hoi An, but as usual our agenda was packed!
Hoi An Trails Resort and Spa
We stayed at a beautiful Hoi An Trails Resort and Spa. Since we arrived late at night, I didn’t get any good photos before my roommate and I infiltrated our beds. But the hotel is amazing! Our room was HUGE! There was a separate sitting area, beautiful big windows with actual shutters, a balcony, luxurious silk robes, and the breakfast spread was plentiful! The best part (which makes me want to go back, like now) is I just checked online, and their regular room rate is $55/night!!! I kind of forgot how much I loved it there until I started writing this.
You can also get a Swedish 60-minute massage for $25 and a pedicure for $5, which is what I did one night. I can’t say it was the best massage ever, but it’s $25!!! Just beware of the stairs if you’re not on the first floor (there is no elevator) and the rooster singing at 4:30 am. But personally, I loved both of those things.
Red Bridge Cooking School
The first day in Hoi An was very special and something that I have never done before. Our group attended a half-day cooking class at the Red Bridge Cooking School. Our bus picked us up at the hotel, but since it was too big to go into town, we were dropped off a couple of streets down from our destination. We got a chance to walk through the town to our meeting point where we were split into 4 groups of six. Each group was accompanied by a guide. Our guides took us to the local market where they showed us the local produce and meats. My group got the best guide, he was so funny and passionate about food!
After the market, a 20 minute boat ride through Hoi An River brought us to the Red Bridge Restaurant and Cooking school. The setting was absolutely gorgeous and we were told it’s a popular wedding spot with Australians.
At the cooking school we learned to make: Hoi An Pancakes, Seafood Salad with Vietnamese Herbs Served in Half a Pineapple, Fresh Rice Paper Rolls of Shrimp, Quang Noodle Chicken, and food decorations. (I still have the recipes, which I would gladly share if you’d like!)
Vietnamese peeling knife. I've already used it on potatoes, and it is so much safer to use!
Hoi An Old Town
After the cooking school we headed back in town where we walked around and explored a bit of history. Our stops included the Bridge Temple and Fuijan Assembly Hall. At the Bridge Temple two statues of dogs at one end match two statues of monkeys at another. It is said that the bridge construction began during the year of a dog and was completed during the year of a monkey.
In the late afternoon we had a bit of a free time. Some of us went wandering the town streets and a few wanted to get an Ao Dai (traditional Vietnamese clothing) custom-made. One of the travel buddies did research and found Yaly Couture to have really good reviews, so this is where we went. I’ve never had something tailor-made so I was naturally curious and stayed back at the store. Instead of Ao Dai though, I opted for more practical trouser pants, linen shirt, and a little black dress. The prices are not the friendliest, I paid $180 for all three pieces, but you can choose really nice fabrics that would cost a lot more in the states. And you can be confident that the material is real, and doesn’t just say “100% silk or linen.”
When you arrive, a sales person is assigned to you. This person shows you the fabric, the models, and takes your measures. My sales girl was Marina. Marina was very patient and super diligent with me. The measures are then sent off to the second floor where they said about 100 seamstresses work on clothing. The first fitting was the next day. Since more alterations needed to be made and it was our last day in Hoi An, the clothes were brought to our hotel for the final fitting, If more alterations needed to be made, the seamstresses were waiting at the store ready to work. But if everything was fine, they were released to go home.
You can find cheaper tailors in the area, but Yaly provides impeccable service!
Dinner was served at a restaurant the name of which I do not remember. It was outside of the Old Town in the middle of rice farms with a beautiful outdoor setting and delicious food!
My Son Sanctuary
On the second day we headed to My Son Sanctuary. My Son is a city of Hindu temples worshipping Shiva that were built between 4th and 12th century AD. It is also recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site. My Son is a symbol of Champa culture that is slowly disappearing. We were EXTREMELY LUCKY to see a Champa holy man and a woman visit the temple on this day in a traditional attire.
This little guy was meowing outside of the museum, but wouldn't let me pet him. 🙁 So tiny!
Legend Pearl – Factory Tour
On the way to My Son we stopped at a pearl factory where we learned how the cultured pearls are produced. It’s actually quite a process and made me feel bad for the oysters. The shells of freshwater mussels are ground into powder and then reassembled into a 3mm diameter spheres. These spheres are artificially implanted into reproductive organs of a mollusk along with a tissue from a donor oyster to facilitate the process of pearl creation. This stop was mainly a sales pitch where you could buy really pricey pearls, but it was still interesting to learn about pearl production.
Bicycle Tour and the Beach
In the evening before dinner we had a bicycle tour planned. This time we had to pedal ourselves. Since I just learned to ride a bike this year, I was a bit nervous. The ride was fast paced and we had to cross a few streets, but I kept up. We were able to stop by a rice farm and snap a few photos of water buffalos. I’ve never seen water buffalos before my trip to Vietnam and I just found them so fascinating! The cycling tour ended on the beach of South China Sea as the world knows it. But in Vietnam it is Eastern Sea, since there is a territorial dispute with China over this area.
Dinner – Brother’s Cafe
The second night in town we had dinner at the Brother’s Cafe which is located in the Old Town overlooking the Hoi An river.
The second day in Hoi An was also my birthday. With our packed agenda and not wanting to make a big deal out of my bday, I completely forgot about it myself until the morning of. During breakfast at the hotel the “Happy Birthday” song came on the speakers of the restaurant. Completely oblivious to the song while having a conversation with a travel buddy, it was not until a waiter was holding a cake with my name on it in front of my face that I realized it was for me. Not expecting anything, and having met my travel buddies less than a week ago, I was extremely surprised and touched by the nice gesture. Of course I burst into tears. I also would like to give Hoi An Trails credit for excellent execution!
The day was filled with adventures in My Son, bicycle tour, swimming in the Eastern Sea…
In the evening I was exhausted and could barely keep my head up during dinner. But our guide, Andy, also wanted to contribute to my birthday celebration and arranged for another cake and flowers. I can’t even express how overwhelmed I was with everyone’s kind wishes and positive energy. In fact, it was one of the best birthdays I have ever had and one that I will cherish forever! Thank you, everyone, for your support, your kind wishes, and positive energy! You inspire and motivate me to be a better person!
I would just like to have a moment to reflect on all the wonderful people I had met in Hoi An. Our guide Andy, our bus driver and his helper who would always assist us out of the bus, our cooking guide and chef, my tailor sales person, Marina, all the staff at the hotel and the restaurants we visited, and of course my travel buddies whom I’ve gotten to know better during this trip! Looking back, Hoi An truly was magical!