For the last part of our trip, we decided to visit central Vietnam, the city of Hoi An. It is a charming, delightful riverside town with history dating back to 2200 years, once considered the best port city for trade by Chinese and Japanese merchants. The Old Town still contains over 800 historical buildings including Japanese merchant houses, Chinese temples, and ancient tea warehouses. Now the streets are also littered with boutique hotels, lounge bars, tourist shops, and a ton of tailor shops. At night, the city lights up by lanterns, with people mingling and gathering along the river, adding a relaxed vibe to this laid back town. On the way to visit the historic town of Hoi An, we made a quick stop at Marble Mountain after flying into the Da Nang airport.
The Marble Mountains are just off the coastal road of China Beach, located between the city of Da Nang and Hoi An. It consists of 5 craggy marble outcrops, each topped with pagodas. Each mountain is named for the natural element it's said to represent: Thuy Son (water), Moc Son (wood), Hoa Son (fire), Kim Son (metal or gold), and Tho Son (earth). We visited the largest and most famous mountain of the five, Thuy Son. It contains a number of natural caves where Buddhist sanctuaries have been created.
Apparently, during the war, the VC used to hide out and spy on the Americans hanging out on the beach below, and even put a hospital in one of the caves. #crazy
According to ancient folklore, a dragon emerged from the water on Non Nuoc Beach and laid an egg. A thousand days and a thousand nights followed before the egg hatched, and out stepped a beautiful girl. The fragments of the shell were left on the beach and eventually grew into the five mystical Marble Mountains.
Seeing the colorful pagodas, temples, and mystical caves was quite an experience. Many of the caves have have a hole in the ceiling so sunlight streams through, creating a mysterious scene. While we were visiting, it was drizzling off and on, so in the Tang Chon Cave, there was sunlight streaming onto a giant Buddha with rain drops coming through as well. It was quiet, and you could hear the rain drops hitting the stone around us.... #peacefuljustthinkingaboutit
Thuy Son is large, and there are lots of caves, temples, statues, and pagodas to visit, as well as multiple viewpoints of the beach and surrounding area, making it easy to spend a large part of your afternoon / morning exploring.
After Marble Mountain, we headed to checkin to the Venus Hotel and Spa. The staff was super helpful when we checked in, giving us a map of the area and telling us about highlights of the city. We were starving, so we headed off in the rain to a restaurant we had heard about from someone back in Hanoi - Banh Mi Phuong. Mr Anthony Bourdain (can you tell by now that we love him??) went here on one of his shows and said it was the best banh mi he had in all of Vietnam. Naturally, we had to try it. Lucky for us, with the rain, the line wasn't too long, and after only 15-20 minutes, while staring longingly at freshly baked baguettes, we got to try one of the best sandwiches in the country. I'm not gonna lie, it was pretty tasty, I don't know if it was the best I've had, but I also haven't traveled as extensively as Mr. Bourdain. Either way, you definitely should try it if you find yourself in Hoi An :)
We walked around in the rain for a bit, checking out the many tailor shops on the way back to our hotel. With our early morning start, sleep was catching up with us; and with the weather not letting up, we got in a nice afternoon nap. At night, we ventured over to a small island, part of Old Town, across the Thu Bon River.
Wandering through the market in the rain built up our appetite, so we found a riverside restaurant to try out some local dishes, Vi Que. For dinner we tried banh vac (white rose) which is a delicate shrimp dumpling topped with crispy onions, banh xeo (crispy savoury pancakes rolled with herbs in fresh rice paper), garlic shrimp steamed in beer, fried rice, and local beer.
While we were at the night market I spotted (and smelled) some delicious fried banana fritters topped with some sesame seed. I made sure I saved some room after dinner so I could eat one of these #lovebananas #lovedfriedfood #delish #fatkid
While walking along the riverfront, there were multiple bars and restaurants. We spotted Diem Den, literally a Mr. Bean bar! For those who haven't heard of Mr. Bean, you are missing out - do yourself a favor and watch some ridiculous youtube videos of him. I was first introduced to him when I was a little kid by my dad because him and his German friends thought he was hilarious (spoiler: he is) And for those that are too lazy to look him up, he is the special necklace gift wrapper in the movie Love Actually. Moving on, the Mr. Bean bar had pictures of him all over the place, including tshirts you could buy #stillregrettingnotbuyingone They also had a drink special where you paid $6 for a buy one get one free drink (2 drinks) + a free hookah. #score #yesplease
Being the tourists we are, we also decided to release lotus flower-shaped lanterns with a candle on the Thu Bon River. According to the locals, this will bring you happiness, luck, and love. #cheerstothat #atleasttheylookedpretty
We got up early the next day to go to our full day cooking tour! #lovecookingclassesabroad #newrecipes Walking through the ancient streets of Old Town to get to our meeting spot was peaceful and the historic buildings were mesmerizing to look at.
We met an awesome couple while enjoying some Vietnamese coffee waiting for our cooking course to begin. Marty and Chuck, who are from the east coast, retired, and were traveling around Asia for the past few months. They were in Vietnam for Chuck to revisit the spot where he was shot down during the Vietnam War for the first time and hopefully meet some of his captors when he was a POW #crazy! #superinteresting #iwanttoknoweverything
To begin our cooking tour, we visited a local farm village to learn about the crops. In this particular farm village, around 250 families live there and farm it with 2-4 generations living together in the houses. They had a variety of crops and still try to use some traditional techniques, including with how they water their crops. I also saw one of the cutest old men there who had a huge smile on his face and kept waving to our group #iwanttoadopthimasmygramps #canitakehimbackwithme
After the farm, we went to one of the local markets to buy all our ingredients for the dishes we would be cooking later.
We finally arrived at Red Bridge cooking school. It was located outside of town, surrounded by the lush landscape and the river. More importantly this awesome cooking school had a great instructor and all you can drink wine/beer included with the class #saywhat? #challengeaccepted And surprisingly, the Chardonnay tasted great, and made the class even more fun #whowouldhavethoughtthat
The first dish we cooked was Goi Hoa Chuoi Ga Nuong - a grilled chicken and banana flower salad. We worked together as a class to cut up all the ingredients and prepare the meal (about 8 of us total, a Spanish family, Marty and Chuck, and Nate and myself). We also started preparing pho soup from scratch. #yesfromscratch #stoked This included grilling the meat on the BBQ before adding it to the stock.
To complete our experience of learning how to make pho from scratch, we learned how to make rice noodles from scratch. Basically make little rice pancakes on a steamer, take off the thin pancake, and chop it up into noodles. We also minced meat to form a thin raw slice that we put on top of our dish. Once the broth was poured over, it cooked instantly. This was some of the best pho I've had and we made it!! #professionalchefs #whowantstohaveaphoparty
We got to enjoy our first two dishes and these two ended up being my favorite. They turned out delicious and I'm stoked we got to learn how to cook pho from scratch. Can't wait to try these when we're back in the states!
The other two dishes we learned how to cook were Cha Ca (clay pot fish with fresh dill), and Tom Nuong La Chuoi (lemongrass shrimp grilled in banana leaves).
With our stomachs stuffed, and hearts content (with good food, wine, and company), we took a nice boat ride down the river back into town.
After our beautiful boat ride, we strolled back to our hotel through Old Town.
For dinner, we decided to check out a little spot Marty and Chuck told us about - Morning Glory. We tried the three best friends spring rolls - fried spring rolls with pork, spring onion, and shrimp, served with rice noodles, peanuts, herbs, and dipping sauce. #delish I also enjoyed a shrimp curry served in a flaming coconut #legit Our food hit the spot and was a great way to end our delicious food day in Hoi An :)
For our last day in Hoi An (and Vietnam), we decided to spend our day casually strolling in Old Town, taking in the bright, colorful buildings, and historic charm. And a little shopping for last minute souvenirs doesn't hurt either :) #needmorethaipants #ilovethem
One of the famous sites around Hoi An is the Japanese Covered Bridge. It was first constructed here in the 1590s by the Japanese community in order to connect them to the Chinese quarters across the stream. The entrances to the bridge are guarded by a weathered statues: a pair of monkeys on one side and a pair of dogs on the other. There are two stories as to why these animals were chosen. The first, is that many of Japan's emperors were born in the years of the dog and monkey. The other story states that the bridge was started in the year of the monkey and finished in the year of the dog. Who knows the real reason but these are 2 of my favorite animals so I support it either way :) #istillwantapetmonkey
We visited the Assembly Hall of the Cantonese Chinese Congregation which was built by Chinese overseas who came from Guangdong/Catonese (China). Early on, there was a wharf in the front of the house, and the assembly hall was a place for Chinese fishermen and traders to rest temporarily and to exchange goods.
Old Town also contains many Old Houses that you can visit that haven't changed much since they were built. Tourists are able to take a look inside these buildings (for a price of one of your 5 Old Town tickets). These houses usually contain lanterns, silk, scarves, or paintings that you can purchase and families willing to give you a tour (and hopefully get you to buy something!)
We ended our final day with some shopping (how much extra can we cram in our bag and not be overweight?! #challenge #wecandoit! #budgetairlines #weightrestrictions) and some egg coffee #perfect
Overall, Vietnam was a gorgeous country - filled with breathtaking views, tons of history, fun locals, and delicious (and interesting!) food. I would love to come back one day and explore some other areas like Phu Quoc Island, Sapa, Hue, and Cat Tien National Park just to name a view. Until then, I will continue dreaming about pho, Vietnamese coffee, and their delicious baguette sandwiches - hopefully I can satisfy myself enough with our cooking class recipes!
Follow in our Footsteps:
Hòa Hải, Ngũ Hành Sơn, Da Nang, Vietnam
84 126 713 5358
Hours: 7am - 5:30pm
Fee: VND 15,000
Venus Hotel and Spa (Great boutique hotel, super friendly staff, nice rooms, easy walking location into town and sites)
116 Hùng Vương, Thanh Hà, Tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam 563987, Vietnam
+84 235 3788 666
Banh Mi Phuong (try Bourdain's favorite banh mi!)
2B Phan Châu Trinh, Minh An, tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam
Hours: 6:30am - 9:30pm
+84 90 574 37 73
Nhà Hàng Vị Quê
37 Đường Nguyễn Phúc Chu, An Hội, Minh An, Tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam
+84 90 578 22 06
Hours: 9am - 10:30pm
Mr. Bean Bar Hoi An
61 Nguyen Phuc Chu, Hoi An, Vietnam
+84 126 406 9082
Red Bridge Cooking School
Thon 4, Cẩm Thanh, Tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam
+84 235 3933 222
Hours: 8am - 11pm
106 Nguyễn Thái Học, Minh An, Tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam
+84 235 2241 555
Hours: 11am - 11pm
Megan Bond - AUTHOR
Just a girl raised in California and loved exploring Southeast Asia with my husband! We're back in the States but still exploring the world as much as we can!