We had the pleasure of traveling to Hoi An, Vietnam the week before Christmas 2016. I visited there once before with friends, and I liked it so much, I wanted to return with my husband and the boys. The town of Hoi An is about a 40 minute drive south of the city of Danang, which is an easy 1.5 hour flight from Hong Kong. Add on the fact that I scored cheap flights and hotel, this was a no-brainer getaway!
(Like any of my travel posts to come, this is loaded with information about where we visited and most importantly, what we ate! Enjoy reading about A Day Out in Hoi An and post your comments below!)
Aside from experiencing the culture of Hoi An, I was so excited about eating the food again. You can enjoy a wide variety of tasty Vietnamese food in Hoi An, all for ridiculously cheap prices! Tasty AND cheap?? I love those two words in the same sentence!
Enough chit chat. We did we eat?? And what should you eat when you visit??
Unquestionably, pho bo (fu boh), or beef noodle soup, is a given. You can't go to Vietnam and NOT have pho. Large bowls full of rich flavorful broth, thin slices of beef, and oodles of noodles for less than $3USD...crazy! My boys couldn't get enough of it. This particular bowl of hot pho was from Pho Xua, a popular little hole-in-the-wall in the old town.
Vietnamese Spring Rolls (cha gio) use rice wrappers instead of wheat wrappers, so they're gluten free (yay!) and are crispy and flaky at the same time. Always served piping hot and loaded with ground pork, noodles, and a variation of mushrooms, and carrots, alongside a hot and sour dipping sauce. They are a great appetizer.
One dish I had to try on this trip was Cau Lao (cow lao)...a noodle dish found only in Hoi An. The noodles are apparently cooked in water from a special well in Hoi An, giving them their distinctive color, flavor, and texture...and the recipe is supposedly a secret. What the exact story is, I'm not quite sure, but I can say that Cau Lao is very tasty. This big bowl of Cau Lao from Bao Han Restaurant (a hop, skip, and a jump from our hotel) was less than $2 USD and loaded with noodles, sliced pork, bean sprouts, and fresh herbs in a tasty sauce. It was savory, filling, and fresh, all at the same time.
You cannot visit Vietnam without eating Banh Mi (baan mee), or Vientamese baguette sandwiches. We actually are not much into eating sandwiches at all, but Vietnamese Banh Mi? Where do I line up?? We chose to go to the Bahn Mi Queen (that's literally the name of the shop!) for their sandwiches -- fresh baguette bread, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, stuffed with so many flavorful fillings. Fried egg, Vietnamese sausage, onions, cucumber, barbecued pork, cheese, herbs,chili sauce...oh my! Is it the healthiest meal? No, definitely not. But it is amazingly good and like anything, okay in moderation or when traveling in Vietnam! And the craziest thing? These sandwiches are less than $1USD each! A steal!
(Just as a note - everyone goes to and lines up outside the bahn mi shop that Anthony Bourdain visited when he was in Hoi An. They advertise that he ate there and that he claimed them to have the best bahn mi. But in my honest opinion, the bahn mi sandwiches there were not as good as the Queen's. Many people - me included - think that it is more hype that draws people to that shop than actual good sandwiches...but this is merely my opinion. 😉 )
We dined at Morning Glory Restaurant three times while in Hoi An. It is a popular place, so making reservations is wise. I had gone there on the trip with my friends, and it is a favorite amongst other friends who have also visited Hoi An. Needless to say, my husband and the boys really enjoyed it.
We sampled a variety of tasty dishes at Morning Glory. Vietnamese crispy pancakes. Green papaya salad with beef. Crispy tofu. The boys ate their pho bo. And my husband and I went crazy over their crispy whole snapper with mango sauce. Crispy on the outside, steaming hot inside, and paired with the sweet and slightly sour mango relish sauce. It was a fabulously tasty dish. (My oldest son did not appreciate the server setting the fish down on the table so it was looking right at him. 😉 )
Our visit to Hoi An wouldn't have been complete without a cooking class. It's a fun activity for the family and it's a chance to learn how to make some of the local cuisine...that and, well, I love food and cooking, in case you haven't figured that out already.
We signed up with Thuan Tinh Cooking Tours and they did not disappoint. We went to the wet market first thing in the morning to buy fresh ingredients for the dishes we would be cooking that day. While the market was bustling with activity when we arrived there at 9am, it is apparently busiest at 6-7am everyday. Aside from all the fresh vegetables and fruit available, there is locally caught fish and seafood, as well as meat from animals slaughtered earlier that morning. One sign of the freshness of the fish and meat? No smell whatsoever. None.
From the wet market, we went on a boat ride down the river, then were taken by a row boat to the cooking school. In an open-air classroom, our teaching chef demonstrated each dish first before we went off to our own cooking station to prepare the food. Then, most importantly, we ate our creations! We all loved the hands-on class and I thoroughly enjoyed learning how to make some Vietnamese dishes. In addition to fresh Vietnamese salad rolls with peanut hoisin dipping sauce, we made sizzling pancakes with a garlic, chili, vinegar dipping sauce, Southern-style beef vermicelli, and Hanoi style beef pho. It was all fabulous. Learning how to make the pho broth was the most exciting part for me! The class successfully inspired and encouraged me to want to make these same dishes at home...which will then be shared on the blog, of course!
Aside from all the eating and sightseeing, we had plenty of down-time. Hoi An isn't exactly a bustling sort of place. It's very laid back and chill, so we spent a good amount of time spent in coffee shops. If you search on the web for things to do in Hoi An, sitting in coffee shops is actually on the list!
We went to a number of coffee shops, but one of our favorite jaunts was Cocobox.
Cocobox offered free wifi (always a bonus!), and healthy food and drink options. Whether to escape the rain, or to chill out for a while, we found ourselves planted in any one of their locations in town quite often.
On our various stops in Cocobox, I thoroughly enjoyed their signature Cocobox Iced Tea, Ginger Honey Tea with Lime, and Iced Coconut Coffee. They were a refreshing change from the usual coffee house drinks and there offered a unique SE Asian twist. We also tried their homemade chocolate bar. Sweet!
During our week in Hoi An, we enjoyed culture, relaxation, and food. Good food. And in addition, more food. Cheap good food. Have I already mentioned that the food is cheap?
Aside from all the fabulous food we had, there was much to be seen and enjoyed in Hoi An. What follows are some photos of this little Vietnamese city that you must see and experience for yourself.
Beautiful sunrise view from our room, overlooking the river.
Hoi An is known for its lanterns...lovely in the day...
...and beautiful at night.
Hoi An is a also city run by motorbikes. Sidewalks? They're not for walking...they're for parking the motorbikes! And the roads? It's a bit like playing Frogger!
And this is what school pick-up looks like! Children balanced on their parents' motorbikes!
A wealth of tropical fruits to be found, like dragonfruit and passionfruit. Yummy!
So if you're thinking about exploring SE Asia, consider including the humble city of Hoi An in one of your stops. Furthermore, if you are even remotely interested in a bit of a food adventure, Hoi An is a no-brainer. The food and the culture will win you over. Don't you want to add Hoi An to your must-see places to travel? You won't be disappointed!
Where in the world is Hoi An?