Extremely excited to be leaving Nha Trang for the UNESCO World Heritage city of Hoi An, we knew it would hold much better experiences and it did not disappoint. Within the city limits there is an ‘ancient city’ that holds a plethora of museums, meetings halls, open-air markets, and enough tailor made shops rivaling to be some of the best and quickest in the world. Obviously, there was no need to convince me that I should have a custom fit slinky dress and blazer sewn.
Out of all the places we visited in Vietnam thus far, Hoi An is definitely a ‘foodie’ atmosphere and for eaters at heart. Local dishes such as cao lầu, white rose dumplings and banh xeo (rice pancacke) keep any traveler and local very satisfied. The dish most unique to the area is cao lầu, the noodles are much thicker and chewier than typical rice noodles, and are made from water in a specific well in the center of the ancient city. Close to the open market, everyday shows many shop owners making their pilgrimage for buckets of well water. Then the noodles are burnt with ash, giving them their very distinct flavor. Assembling the dish, people layer the noodles with fresh herbs and lettuce, slices of pork, and crispy croutons made from stale baguettes. As we have consumed multitudes of noodle dishes and bowls in Vietnam, we both agree this is the most unique and mouthwatering of them all.
Delicious cao lầu
White rose dumplings
If anyone visits Hoi An during the daytime, they are missing the reason for its enchantment, the lanterns. Along the Thu Bồn river in the ancient city there is every kind of shop, restaurant, bar, and all of them hang lanterns of all shapes and colors. When strolling along, it is much easier to ignore the people asking you to come eat at their restaurant when the lanterns provide visual stimulation. The river, colonial houses, and lanterns are perfect for any photo opportunity and a stop to enjoy a bia hoi (fresh beer).
The local market is yet another sight not to be missed in the city. Being a coastal town, Hoi An enjoys really fresh seafood as well as having the diversity and richness of tropical fruits. At noon, when the heat is almost unbearable, the shop owners take a break to play domino in the shade or to simply take a nap.
And as if all this was not enough for someone to fall in love with this place, merely 40 km away from the city you’ll find Mỹ Sơn—an abandoned Hindu complex dedicated to worship god Shiva—that was built between the 4th and the 14th centuries.
There is something necessary to say of Vietnam. Even though it is a communist country, there is very much a capitalistic spirit alive in most (tourist) places. However, as the base of communism includes education and healthcare, many people we talked to have no illusions that the government does not provide any benefits. As one young man explained, the Vietnamese government gives three things for free to citizens: sunshine, rain, and air. It’s quite simple to see the seriousness upon many Vietnamese faces, and the corruption does not heed any attempt in hiding. Regardless, Vietnamese culture pervades and leaves no doubt that they are proud of their country and welcome everyone to it.
When it rains in Vietnam, it rains hard!