Hoi An absolutely swept me away. It’s a beach town in central Vietnam, but the main attraction is the “Old Town,” which consists of several preserved houses and temple, shops, tailor shops, bars, and restaurants along the Thu Bon River. The charming bridges and architecture and cultural vibrancy of Hoi An reminded me a lot of Florence, Italy. After arriving the first day, I relaxed by the pool for a bit before joining my trip friends for a walk through the Old Town.
Hoi An is well-known for its tailor shops. Before coming to Vietnam, I had decided not to have any clothes made because 1- I already have way too many clothes, 2- I really wouldn’t have room to carry it in my backpack, and 3- I’m on a student budget these days 🙂 However, my resolve was weakened by a little Vietnamese lady named Loi who just wouldn’t leave me alone as I was walking through the main market. After I spoke to her for a few minutes and she showed me pictures of her kids (so cute!), I followed her to her tailor shop in the center of the market. I told her and her colleague I couldn’t buy anything, but then they started showing me pictures of all the beautiful dresses they had made for *tourists* just like me. I gave in…they took my measurements and I had 2 dresses custom-made for just $60. I tried them on the next morning and they fit perfectly! I also bought a bag and another romper from two other shops. While I know I need to pay more mind to my budget for the rest of the trip, I am very happy with my purchases. After all, I am helping the Vietnamese economy, right?! Also, I really admire the hustle of these women…they are doing good business in the streets of Hoi An.
After shopping in the morning and visiting some preserved structures in the Old Town, I joined my group for a bicycle ride through the countryside of Hoi An. We biked through rice fields and a few surrounding villages, with a few stops along the way. First, we stopped at the home of the oldest farming couple in Vietnam. This couple has been married for over 65 years and they still tend their own farm! The husband was a Vietnamese soldier imprisoned by the U.S. They were very gracious and even let us water some plants with them. Then, we stopped at a home to see how rice wine is made and to have a taste (pretty strong stuff…be warned). Then, we biked to a bamboo forest and took some bamboo rowboats for a ride before hopping back on our bikes and returning to town. My favorite part of the ride was giving high-fives to all the children in the villages who would greet us as we rode by! They were absolutely adorable.
After revisiting the tailor shop the next day, my group learned how to make five different types of Vietnamese noodles (cao lau, banh cuon, pho, bun, and mi quang) with an organization called Streets, which provides English and job skills training for local youth in Hoi An. We were able to meet several of the students, and one taught me how to count to five in Vietnamese (mot, hai, ba, bon, nam…san sang!) I spent the afternoon by the pool again before heading to a cooking class with Hai at Green Mango. Hai was Bill Clinton’s personal chef during his visit to Vietnam, and he was absolutely fantastic! The class was very different from the class I took in Thailand…not only because Vietnamese food is very different, but also because of Hai’s unique interpretation of Vietnamese cuisine as a professional chef. Hai was extremely efficient and gave everyone “jobs” to do in order to prepare large shared dishes. We made fresh spring rolls, banana leaf salad with fresh papaya (my favorite!), bun cam tim tron, pan roasted sea bass, and mango sticky rice for dessert. It was delicious! We sampled every single herb we used (my favorites were holly basil and shisho, and I learned the difference in cilantro and culantro!), and Hai was very thorough in explaining how the herbs could be combined to add fullness and flavor to each dish. Hai is truly a master at his art, and I highly recommend his restaurant Green Mango to anyone traveling in Hanoi, Hoi An, or Saigon!
Hoi An was one of my favorite places so far because of its ideal blend of history, culture, and countryside. I definitely feel like I could spend another week there at least. But, there is more to see before I leave Vietnam in a week’s time. For now, it’s onward to Hue!