Our last stay on our two week trip across Thailand and Vietnam was in Hoi An; a coastal town in Central Vietnam.
Having just spent a few days in Hanoi in the north, with our very outspoken guide Jung, I was curious to observe the culture of a city that fell just south of the divide during the Vietnam war. How might opinions, personalities and the general way of living life be different (or the same)??
Anh, our guide for our stay in Hoi An, scooped us from the Da Nang airport, and on the 30 minute drive to our hotel, began to paint a picture of this area circa 1970’s. He points to a massive, multi-story building in the distance; a hospital that the US Army built during the war to treat their wounded soldiers, still in full working order today as a local hospital. He points to another structure; an original US Army helipad.
It became clear quickly that we were in a very different part of the country. Where Hanoi is all hustle and bustle; a spectacle around every corner, and every square inch of street space taken over by motorbike and foot traffic; Hoi An was so laid back. They take it easy here….its easy to just BE, here.
We spent our first full day with Anh, touring the city that he has called home from birth. Narrow roads wind through the quaint downtown village; sprinklings of Chinese and Japanese history around every corner. As we walk down one of the main roads through town, brilliantly coloured lanterns hang overhead and a sweet older lady sits on a street corner selling bananas from a basket at her feet. Anh says that when he was a toddler she sold bananas on a corner two streets over. We pass a small shop selling beautifully patterned clothing and a woman walks out with a big smile to greet us. “This is my little sister!”, exclaims Anh. He points to the modest two story shop behind her, “and this is where I grew up!”. Hoi An; where everybody knows everybody, and where most locals have lived their entire lives. I love it here.
The second evening of our stay, Anh greets us in the hotel lobby, again sporting his USS John McCain baseball cap. With a coy smile, he says that our ride will be with us shortly. A few minutes later, we walk outside to find a renovated American Jeep from the Vietnam war pulling into the hotel car park. “Climb in! Tonight we explore Hoi Ans street food with a bit of back country driving.” …Whoa.
We spent the next 5 hours indulging in what has to be some of the best local cuisine in the world. Stop #1: Minh Vinh; a dressed-down, open air restaurant on the sea: clams in a light and salty broth, langoustines, scallops with herbs and finely chopped peanuts…and a refreshing, local Huda beer to top it all off.
Stop #2: Banh Mi Phuong; a small, unassuming joint on the side of a road into town: the infamous, glorious, flavour-explosion of the banh mi – so mouth-wateringly delicious that Anthony Bordain claimed this place to make a “symphony in a sandwich”. Couldn’t agree more.
Stop #3…literally under a pop up tent on the side of the road way off the beaten tourist path: chicken satay on a bamboo stick, tiny dried fish (not for me😆), and a gallon of draft brew to share across the three of us…you see where this is going.
Stop #4; another open air shop where geckos feast on the flies buzzing around the dim lights hanging from the ceiling: a plate of Vietnamese pancakes…more like an omelette…filled with veggies and shrimps and folded into perfect hand-sized pockets for eating, and more local draft brew.
Stop #5; just as I came to a full hault on space available in my stomach, Anh ordered one last bowl of soup from a sweet older lady, that stared at us with a curious smile the entirety of our visit. The soup was unbelievably delicious, with udon type noodles in a savory, heavenly broth.
Isn’t it funny how food just has a way of bringing people together? The memories of this night are some of the fondest of all of our travels to date. Sitting across from Anh and Trev, sharing stories from a lifetime of different experiences while tasting dish after dish of new flavour combinations and washing it all down with an ice cold, local brewskie. This is our heaven on earth.
We spent the two remaining days in Hoi An (also being the final days of our two weeks in Asia) relaxing on the beautiful beaches at our resort, making second trips to restaurants we visited with Anh on the food tour, and getting fitted for our custom tailored suits and dresses. Couture clothing has become famous in Hoi An, and they have dozens of tailoring shops ready and eager to whip you something up in a matter of hours, if needed, for a small percent of what it might cost on London, New York, etc. We took advantage and ordered a number of items suitable for work, and I had a few fun dresses made as well. 😜
Overall, Hoi An was personally my favorite stop of our entire trip. The food, the people, the vibes…and the unbelievable beach scenes were just so excitingly unexpected. I left with an entirely new appreciation for a culture so foreign to me before, and an unquenchable appetite for Vietnamese cuisine. ❤️