Discovering Hoi An, Vietnam with kids – Stay, Eat, Do, Shop
Hoi An – a tiny UNESCO World Heritage listed ‘Ancient Town’ on the South Central Coast of Vietnam – historically a major Port, now a riverside window to the past. Electic rows of Japanese merchant houses, ancient tea warehouses and Chinese temples jostle for space amongst visitors. Yet despite rice fields making way for tourism, somehow the charm is upheld and deserves a place on your itinerary.
The plane swoops over fields of green as we descend on our final approach to Da Nang International Airport – a cyclist makes a steady pace along a river path, the South China Sea gleaming as it meets the horizon. A vast stretch of sandy coastline travels for miles before reaching lush headland. We touchdown on a runway shimmering in the late afternoon sun, a vivid indication that Sydney winter is a timezone away. Our Silk Air flight has taken 2.5 hours from Singapore – clearing customs we leave the terminal to a wave of humidity, with the summer temperatures expected to reach mid 30’s during our stay – no stranger to the tropics I am struggling in the heat.
Seeking a cold blast of air conditioning, we look for the taxi company recommended by our hotel (Mai Linh taxi) and clamber in. The transfer to Hoi An costs about AUD$25 – a route that takes us past the landmark ‘Dragon’ Bridge of Da Nang, following the coast along the green oasis of large resorts (Hyatt Regency, Pullman DaNang), dotting the otherwise dry landscape.
Within 30 minutes we arrive at our accommodation (a 35 kilometre trip).
A busy school term and several bouts of flu left limited time and energy for planning the minutiae of this rather last minute family holiday. Apart from diligent medical preparation (innoculations, and enough pharmaceuticals to start our own chemist) we arrive with little expectation and a lot of curiosity.
WHERE TO STAY IN HOI AN
ANANTARA RESORT, Hoi An, Vietnam
Located in the ‘French Quarter’ of Hoi An, Anantara Resort features French Colonial architecture – sprawling lawns and lush tropical gardens nestle alongside Thu Bon river. A five minute bike ride or ten minute walk and you are in the Ancient Town and markets. Several recommendations precede our arrival, expectations of the property are high – not always a good thing. However four days later we depart reluctantly, happy to pass on the mantle of glowing reports to future visitors (full review in a future post).
You may also wish to investigate The Nam Hai Hoi An, a luxury property located on the beach. We didn’t visit however reports from friends have all been good.
DISCOVERING HOI AN
Not one to usually be flayed by tropical climes, for this trip I am. Balmy mornings floating in the pool, listening to the sounds of the town come to life – the chug of boats gliding long the glassy river, roosters calling to mates, the mechanical drone of scooters and the gentle swish of brooms sweeping paths, soon give way to hot days.
In need of a relaxing break (taking a few days out to charge batteries, unthaw winter chilled bodies); the luxury of completely unwinding is what holidays are made for. We eschew formal tours (we generally book a local walking tour in new destinations), in favour of wandering and exploring the unique architecture and temples. By-passing the crowds in the Temple grounds, instead enjoying the colours and sounds from outside the buildings. NOTE: There is some confusion regarding the ‘ticket’ that should be purchased to enter the Ancient Town. Established as a system to provide reinvestment in maintenance. Booths are set up at both entrances to the town, you are issued with a book of tickets allowing entry to various points of interest – the details become hazy if you just want to enter for dinner or a stroll. Tickets cost approx AUD$8 per person – I suggest you speak to your Hotel Concierge for full details.
Taxis are very inexpensive throughout Vietnam, ask your hotel for an address card before you set off so you can show a return driver where you need to come back to.
Hoi An is small and walking around is easy, however for fun book a Cyclo Tour (little carriages connected to bikes).
Lots of mini convenience stores dotted throughout Hoi An, selling local beer and snacks (kids on holidays are always hungry) – Beers around AUD$2 and Pringles AUD$1 – value.
Armed with favourite clothes and a few suggestions as to the best Tailors we strike success. Hoi An is renowned as the tailor town and we don’t need to go far for confirmation, enroute are rows of shops selling ‘fake’ clothing and sovenirs, but with an eye on the prize we push on.
Bi Bi Silk
13 Phan Chu Tri Street (Corner of Ng Hue Street) email:email@example.com
Ask for Chinh, she is in the photo below with the Youngest Son. Several online recommendations led us away from the larger Tailors to this unassuming shop – open on two sides to the street, the traffic of Hoi An buzzes as we make our choices. Service is patient, even through several changes to shirt colours (the cotton samples number in the hundreds so I suggest having an idea of your preference prior to arrival – otherwise the selection could overwhelm). A major family celebration later this year means suits were on the agenda for the boys and husband – I decide on several new garments for next summer, fashioned from old favourites. The value is superb – three suits complete with contrasting silk lining (cashmere/wool and for the youngest a jacket in stunning Navy velvet), two shirts for each suit, silk bow ties, silk pocket handkerchiefs. Silk and linen chosen for my wardrobe – silk pjs, 2 pairs of tailored pants, 2 silk kimonos, 2 silk dress tops, 1 dress – we invest a total of AUD$1000.
Kim Anh – Shoes
9 Pham Hong Thai Street (across the road from the Anantara)
After the success of Bi Bi Tailors I venture across the road from the hotel to have a pair of sandals made – the price is cheap (AUD$15) and the quality is okay. You might do better if you shop around (the eldest son also had a pair of ‘Nikes’ made for AUD$35 he loves them and they are still going strong).
24 Hour Clothes Shop
5C Pham Hong Thai Street (across the road from the Anantara)
Also across the road from the hotel was this Tailor. Mr. Lai enthusiastically greeting from within his shop as I returned from shoe designing. He has a lovely selection of silks specifically for Kaftan style dresses (his designs are more adventurous than Bi Bi, also with good workmanship however not quite as polished). PJ’s for the boys in 100% cotton for AUD$5 a pair, a great choice. I would recommend him, just be very specific about your requirements.
Hop on a Bike
Early morning as the town Market comes to life, hope on a bike (ours were free to use from the hotel) and take a ride into the Old Town. Watch the local townsfolk buy fresh fruit and vegetables, livestock, sitting and chatting over breakfast and vendors open for business – we were the first customers of the day for this lovely woman and her son. She sat quietly watching while her son made the sale, every time I use the tea set I think of her.
If you set off early enough (about 8.00am) you can whizz along the Thu Bon River, crossing a few bridges and turn back into the town without encountering too much traffic. Later in the day the scooters and chaos can be too daunting for kids to negotiate. We stop to take lots of photos of the kaleidoscope of activity. A glorious snapshot of Vietnamese life.
The heat drives us inside; nothing for it but to book daily Day Spa treatments. Massages and facials on high rotation. Expect to pay approx. AUD$25 for a good massage and similar prices for a facial. The below selection we sample to mixed success – regardless all were excellent value. Ask your hotel to make a reservation for you and generally the business will send a car to pick you up.
Pandanus Spa – good facial, average massage. Very clean and efficient.
Palmarosa Spa – the stand out favourite. Most professional and a little more pricey, however worth every penny.
Hoi An Day Spa – this Spa received good Trip Advisor review so we made a reservation. Hmm, not dreadful – however certainly wouldn’t return. Average massage.
WHERE TO EAT IN HOI AN
Being in the thick of it in the Old Town as night falls and the lights come to life – an opportunity not to miss. The famed Lanterns float down the river, explode in the sky and hang from every building. I truly don’t believe you can go wrong with most of the eating establishments – fresh local dishes served in abundance. A couple stand out from the crowd…
107-109 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street
This is part of the ‘Miss My’ empire (Morning Glory, Cooking Classes, Mermaid), we make a reservation at Morning Glory across the road however arrive in a lather of perspiration to discover a busy and over heated restaurant (a fabulous vibe better sampled in cooler temperatures). Cargo Club has views of the river, air conditioning and a reputation for excellent food. We would have returned for another meal if we had time.
94 Le Loi, Ancient Town
A very cool place to stop midway through a bike ride – try Vietnamese coffee (a shot of coffee, over ice, laced with condensed milk – do not judge until you have tried one, sublime), or go the healthy route with a juice.
Regardless of where you stay I urge you to try this riverside location for a lazy buffet breakfast (the French pastries are superb, I become addicted to their Vietnamese Coffees). Or come later in the day for one of the best dinners in Hoi An.
Our visit was fleeting, as I have mentioned we didn’t venture far from our hotel. If you feel more energetic there is a myriad of activities around this beautiful Region. I highly recommend you read these blogs for more suggestions.
Feet on Foreign Lands – a fellow Australian blogger who also travels with a family in tow. Vietnam is a favourite and they have made several visits – lots to learn from their experiences.