The ancient city of Hoi An, in central Vietnam, is listed as an UNESCO Heritage site. It combines a mix of ancestral Vietnamese with a colonial French influence not only in the architecture but also in the cuisine. Hoi An is also known as the City of Lanterns because while it is busy all day it truly comes alive in the evening when the colorful lanterns are switched on across the town and families and kids float tiny lanterns down the Hoi An river that snakes through the heritage site. It’s a photogenic and busy city as the area is constantly bustling with bike-taxi rides, trips up and down the river, market stalls and heaving shops and restaurants. Bike-taxi rides are a great way to take you around the town. I take my hat off to the guys riding the bikes as its not easy trying to navigate your way through the crowds and even tougher when its hot and humid – but they all do it with a cheerful smile, constant chatter while some like to provide a verbal tour as a little extra.
Hoi An can easily be termed a foodie paradise. There are thousands of places to eat, all offering a vast menu and good service. If you’re a foodie you may have watched the late Antony Bourdain’s program “No Reservations” when he visited Hoi An and tasted the famous Banh Mi Sandwich from a street stand called Banh Mi Phuong and then declared it the best he had had in the whole of Vietnam. Bánh mì is the Vietnamese word for bread, or as the French call it a ‘baguette’. The French brought the baguette to Vietnam during the colonial time. Today, when we say Bánh mì, we mean the Vietnamese sandwich, which usually consists of different types of meat or tofu and is usually accompanied with a fried egg and a selection of sauces, which can get as hot as you want! Another famous street food outlet, which the locals love for its popular Banh Mi, is called Banh Mi Queen.
During our stay in Hue (2 hours away) we were told that it was a “must” to visit the number 1 restaurant in Hoi An called “Morning Glory” and I can tell you that it did not disappoint. The food was simply amazing, a home-cooked array of delicious Vietnamese dishes with French and international fusion. Food for a family of five plus a couple of bottles of wine and the price was no more than 50 pounds AED 250. The owners also own another popular restaurant called Cargo Club, which has an additional menu, a kid’s menu and when Morning Glory is overflowing with reservations, it offers the same menu of its more famous sister establishment. We also found a great wine bar with a huge selection of wines called White Marble and stopped by the swanky Bird House for a cocktail, which is also a gallery/boutique and has a lovely seating area facing the river.
A fun tour which we did early one morning which the kids absolutely loved was the Coconuts Basket boat tour. Managed by locals, you disembark on the sides of the river flowing through the vast coconut woods and jump into funky, circular wooden boats. The fishermen are very welcoming and love to perform for the audience, either by rapidly spinning the boats or stopping and letting the tourists help the local fisherman swing out their fishing nets. They take the boats through the lush green waterways and intermittently stop for some crabbing, a very basic exercise that involves taking a simple stick, getting a crab to crawl on it and then dropping it into a plastic bottle!
As mentioned before, Hoi An comes alive in the evening as the town bustles with energy and tourists mingle while live music thumps out from bars and restaurants. It also has a thriving night market, which was extremely busy so we didn’t work our way through it as it can get a bit tough with three kids in tow. Every evening we felt like we had completed a full on day so we would be pleased to get the kids in bed and relax in the hotel.
La Senta Hotel
We stayed in a lovely, family run hotel called La Senta Hotel which is a 1.5km walk from the old town center (where all the action is) and nestled next to rich, flowing rice paddy fields. The hotel had a great infinity pool, spa and gym. We stayed in the deluxe triple interconnecting rooms, which were perfect for my gang.
The Four Seasons Hotel
For a more luxurious stay I would highly recommend The Four Seasons Hotel in Hoi An which is a couple of kilometers outside of the ancient city but situated on a pristine beach. It’s absolutely stunning and for me ticks every box.
Intercontinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort
Da’Nang, the main city in Central Vietnam is approx. 20 minutes away and has all the top hotels situated on its expansive, winding, untouched coastline and beach area. Da’Nang is booming, one of the fastest growing cities in the world so it’s a nice base where you can then visit Hoi An for day trips which a lot of people do. A lovely property is another Mr & Mrs Smith property, so you know its good.
Other great activities to do while in Hoi An are:
Five beautiful limestone peaks that mark the midway point between Hoi An & Da’Nang and which hold deep spiritual significance. Many of the temples & shrines date back to the areas first Hindu Cham settler. These days the limestone cliffs provide the setting for fantastic exploration.
The Son Tra Peninsular is an iconic land form that defines the Da Nang coastline. Most day-trippers head for the Linh Ung Pagoda and the towering Lady Buddha statue. Head up the viewpoints on top of the mountains for 360 views of Da’Nang and the coast.
Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. My Son comprises of 8 groups of 71 brick monuments, some dating back as far as the 7th century. With a good guide to explain the significance of the old Champa Kingdom of which Hoi An was once part of, makes for an interesting tour.
Bach Ma National Park:
A French era hill station with mountainous peaks which reaches 1450m with beautiful treks. Also there are magnificent mountainous countryside and waterfalls.
Ba Na Hills: See Visit Vietnam
Originally developed by the French in colonial times, Ba Na is now home to three world record-breaking cable cars, and a kitsch theme park and entertainment center. It makes for a great but certainly surreal day out. Also home to the famous “Gods Hands” bridge.
How to get there:
Emirates fly direct to Ho Chi Minh then you will need to take an internal Vietnam Airways flight to Da’Nang which is less than an hour. Please note Internal flights don’t operate past 10pm so book for the following morning to avoid disappointment.
Emirates also fly to Da’Nang via Bangkok which is an 11 hour flight.
For more information, detailed itineraries or discount hotels please contact www.uniquefamilytravels.com