Back in Hanoi, I was only planning to stay one more night before heading down to Hoi An. However, literally moments before I was about to hop on the 24 hour sleeper bus I fell ill with a bad case of food poisoning (which was probably fortunate timing when I think about it – I have no idea how I would have coped had I been stuck on a bus with no toilet on board!) So New Years Eve was spent in Hanoi, and even though I was feeling very sorry for myself, my friends managed to drag me out to see the new year in with a 15p rice beer before crawling back to bed.
After a few days of resting up and hugging the toilet, I finally felt well enough to make my way to a Hoi An, a lovely little ancient town sitting peacefully on the coast of the South China Sea. Once a major trading port, where Chinese, Japanese, Dutch and Indian merchants once settled, the town boasts brightly coloured architecture and temples, influenced by a mix of these different cultures. Now converted into an array of stylish restaurants, wine bars and shops, all centred around a charming little riverside, Hoi An reminded me a bit of Venice in Italy, and I instantly fell in love with the place.
No longer the centre of trade it once was, the town has since become a mecca for tailoring, with travellers coming from far and wide to have bespoke clothes made. I spent a good bulk of my time (and money!) in these shops having various skirts, trousers and dresses fitted and made in sometimes less than a day (any girl’s dream shopping trip really!). My only word of advice is to do your research as there are some tailor shops more competent than others. While you might find yourself being offered a great bargain, you could end up compromising on quality (as I soon discovered when my trousers ripped apart – on the bum – right in the middle of a busy market!)
But aside from all the clothes shopping, I did manage to squeeze in a few other activities. It’s a wonderful town to explore by foot, just taking in the views and visiting the local sights and markets. There are some beautiful beaches on the outskirts that you can cycle to as well…although I can’t vouch for the more well-known An Bang (as we got lost cycling around trying to find it) 10km later, we did manage to find a lovely secluded beach somewhere else!
Perhaps one of my main highlights was taking a cookery class with the renowned Morning Glory Cookery School. Much of the Vietnam’s culture is centred around food, so it was really interesting to learn about the local street food and see how they can make so many different tasty dishes with actually very little. Not only did we get the chance to learn various recipes such as Cau Lau, crispy pancakes and rice paper spring rolls, we also got to sample some rather strange foods like pig’s brain and silk worm salad (a sentence I never thought I’d hear myself say!).
My delayed visit to Hoi An actually turned out to work in my favour as I arrived just in time for the full moon lantern festival. On the 14th day of every lunar month, the old town switches off its lights and the streets are lit up by candlelight and multicoloured lanterns. It is a time for the locals to celebrate their ancestors with food, music and games (they love bingo here!).
When myself and a friend reached the riverside in the centre of the old town, we were instantly approached by a hoard of lantern sellers. It is a tradition of theirs to light a lotus paper lantern for good luck, love and happiness and send it out to the sea. Earlier on in the day my tailor instructed me to make a wish for true love, so maybe 2015 will be my lucky year!!
On the whole, I think Hoi An should make its way on any traveller’s Vietnam bucket list. It’s a complete contrast to the chaos of the big cities Hanoi and Saigon – its relaxed and peaceful atmosphere will draw you in and make it hard to leave. I spent around four nights here but could have easily spent a couple more. Find out what else I loved about Vietnam in this post!
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