Even when the sun isn’t, this little ancient town shines bright. It’s yellow buildings represent royalty, but to me, they portrayed royal beauty – we found it hard to leave.
The two nights we had planned to stay in Hội An quickly became four, and could have easily become weeks! I’m not going to go into day by day detail here, instead I’ll simply share a few of our favourite adventures. .
A SLICE OF PARADISE:
Our new travel buddies, Chantelle and Paul joined us on our journey to Hoi An from Da Lat. We broke up the long journey with a one night stop in Nha Trang, a beach city. A few other travellers had told us to avoid Nha Trang, as there wasn’t much to do there. I’m glad we got out fast, although a Russian girl braided my hair for me which I was stoked with, the beach was average and the town wasn’t that exciting.
We jumped on an over night bus to Hội An and arrived just outside the Paradise Hotel about 6am. The receptionist let us store our bags behind the counter until it was check-in time and the cool thing about this place was they provided free bikes to cycle around on!
We grabbed one each and cycled to find breakfast before checking into our four bedroom dorm – perfect for us – and taking a dip in the hotel swimming pool.
The place cost us 140,000 Dong ($9NZ) each per night. It was clean, comfortable and in a good location to the ancient town. The only thing I would warn against if you stayed here is separate your colours if you’re going to do laundry – Paul and Chantelle walked away with pink whites. Overall though, we enjoyed our stay.
ANCIENT BUILDINGS, TEMPLE RUINS AND WATER BUFFALO:
Hội An Ancient Town
This beautiful spot is full of history. It was once a port town as it sits on the central coast and is cut with canals.
The architecture was beautiful to see with a mix of eras and styles from temples and wooden Chinese shop houses to colourful French colonial buildings, not to mention the iconic Japanese Covered Bridge.
We spent a lot of time cycling through these streets staring in awe, stopping for coffee and delicious food by the river and one night we were lucky enough to take part in a lantern festival that only happens when there is a full moon. The four of us got on a boat which floated us down the river while we lit our lanterns and let them flow free in the gentle rapids while making a wish – magical.
The beach was a nice spot for a walk and chill time. It’s only about a 10min drive north of the ancient town, a lot of people cycle out there. The locals try to make you pay to park your scooter along the main drag, but if you go one street over you can park anywhere for free.
Of course we had a few nights out, one included Saint Patrick’s Day at the one Irish Pub in town which was great fun! The four of us were joined by a playful Scottish couple, Lloyd and Jodie, who had us all in fits of laughter most of the night.
Mỹ Sơn Temple Ruins
One morning we raced the sun to these majestic ruins to capture some beautiful photography. Sadly, this place was heavily bombed, but what’s left, is an amazing well kept piece of history and an incredible spot to spend a sunrise.
Originally this cluster of abandoned and crumbling Hindu temples were constructed by the kings of Champa between the 4th and 14th century AD. They were built in an enchanting lush green jungle valley, wow.
A French scholar discovered them in 1898 and in 1937 French scholars began to restore the temples.
Unfortunately, they were bombed in 1969 during the Vietnam War and the surrounding area is still said to be dangerous because of unexploded land mines – we didn’t deter from the tracks!
The bombs caused major destruction and you can still see the huge craters. A lot of work has been done to preserve what is left.
This was one of my favourite places in Vietnam, totally beautiful and indescribable. It cost 150,000 Dong ($10NZ) each to enter, totally worth it.
Just north of the ancient town and past the beach, a place called Da Nang is pierced by large marble mountains dotted throughout the city. We stopped here for a few hours of exploring. While the mountains themselves were beautiful and fun to climb around, this spot has become very touristic and was super crowded.
It was a nice view from the top though! It cost 40,000 Dong ($2.50NZ) each to walk up, there was an elevator as well which cost extra, but we are young and have good legs!
Tra Que Water Wheel Village
One of the things I have always dreamed of doing is a Vietnamese cooking class. We were cycling amongst beautiful green fields of rice, veggies and herbs, and stumbled upon a small village called Tra Que. Here we found a small farmhouse called Water Wheel, that ran what looked like an awesome experience.
We started the day with a cycle through the ancient town to the local markets to look for fresh produce for our cooking class later in the afternoon.
Our guide, Helen, spoke English very well and was able to joke around with us which created some great banter and set a comfortable tone for the day. After the markets we cycled through farmlands to a farmer with some water buffalo which we got to ride!
I was so excited about this and jumped on straight away.
After a small ride they asked if I’d like to stand on the buffalo and I immediately said “oh no, I don’t want to hurt him!” Helen started laughing and explained buffalo are very used to it. They weigh over 500kg and the farmers often stand on them to yell at each other from across fields! So, why not?
We left the buffalo so he could hop back in the water while we did the same!
Helen took us to meet another local farmer, this one had a little boat made of bamboo and cow poo! It was incredibly hot, so us ladies sat back while Neil Paddled
We went for a row down the stream – this was beautiful and serene. Helen and the farmer made us crowns and other pretty things out of coconut leaves, so cute!
Farming was the next activity – we got to plant our own patch of baby spinach with a local farmer who couldn’t speak a word of English, she was very smiley and laughed at us a lot, it was hilarious.
The farming involved shovelling soil, laying fertiliser, covering it up again to dance and sing on top of it, planting the spinach and finally watering it with the 20kg watering cans on our shoulders – I wasn’t very good at this, but Neil was a natural.
We finished the day with a cooking class, I loved this! We learned how to grind rice into fresh rice flour which we used to make fresh rice paper rolls. These were delicious and I’m stoked to have the technique down!
Next, we grilled dried and spiced rice paper to make traditonal rice crackers. These complemented one of our next dishes: the papaya salad..nom nom.
The most fun thing we made was traditional Vietnamese pancakes. These savoury snacks are made from rice flour and filled with veggies and meat. We are both pros at flipping the tasty treats now too!
We also made little plate decorations out of tomatoes, carrot and cucumber. I never thought I’d be able to say I can make a swan out of a tomato!
Helen also made us some other delicious dishes for lunch and we were so full after we couldn’t move for about half an hour.
The experience cost 1,777,000 Dong ($111NZ) total for the both of us, it was worth every cent.
We fell in love with Hội An and wished we could have spent more time there, it’s got to be our favourite town in Vietnam, with Da Lat coming in a close second. I can’t wait to see it again, but next up is two day trek through the beautiful mountains of Sapa!