After spending 5 years traversing the globe, I’ve developed a permanent addiction to chasing the next new thing. New cities, new foods, new cultures. I get antsy at the thought of going over trodden ground when there’s so much more of the world to explore. There is however, one exception to this. The place that after returning time after time still makes my heart sing: Hoi An. These are just some of the reasons Hoi An takes the cake as one of the most beautiful places in Asia!
With humble beginnings as small port town before exploding into a major port on the silk route, wandering the streets of Hoi An is like taking a walk through over 1000 years of history. Becoming a UNESCO world heritage site in 1999, the melting pot of Japanese, Chinese and French architecture is exceptionally well preserved. Unlike other Vietnamese cities which are chaotic and incredibly busy, Hoi An has a very serene atmosphere. Instead of high rise buildings and endless motorbikes, Hoi An is a kaleidoscope of pretty pastel hues and lanterns of every colour. Live music in the street sets the perfect scene to take an evening stroll along the river. If romance were a place, this would be it!
Let’s be real, we’re in Vietnam. The food is one of the best cuisines in the world with a perfect balance of being salty, spicy and sweet. World renowned pho, Vietnamese spring rolls and banh mi are just a few dishes that will get any foodies’ heart racing. However when in Hoi An, be sure to check out a few of the local delicacies. As an appetiser you can’t go wrong with white rose, a translucent shrimp and pork dumpling topped with shallots, bunched up to resemble the shape of a rose. Teamed with a unique dipping sauce made of shrimp broth, hot chilli, lemon and sugar, it’s sure to enliven your taste buds.
Cau Lao is a delicious mix of dark broth, yellow noodles, juicy pork, bean sprouts and crispy croutons. The secret ingredient? The noodles must be made in water from secret wells hidden throughout Hoi An. Best of all, you can eat from local street side stalls for as little as 25,000 VND ($1). Take one of the many quality eco cooking classes on offer so you can delight your friends with your culinary skills on your return home.
Fashion addicts, look away. Hoi An is famous for its plethora of tailors, making competition stiff and prices very competitive. From suits to dresses to shoes and everything in between, the tailors can have your dream outfit sized up and made within 24 hours of ordering. Most will even post your haul home for you so you don’t have to squeeze it into your backpack. Practise your bartering skills and walk away with some absolute gems for a fraction of the cost that you would pay at home!
When all the wandering, eating and shopping gets too much, head for the beach! Soft white sand, crystal clear water and a soft sea breeze? That’s right, just a leisurely 4km bike ride from the centre awaits Cua Dai beach. Apart from a few five star resorts nearby, the beach remains unspoiled and provides the perfect backdrop for an afternoon swim and perhaps a sunset cocktail. Just 18km offshore from Hoi An lies Cham Island, which only recently became accessible to tourists so is still wonderfully untouched. It’s also a divers dream with 135 coral species and over 202 species of fish!
Don’t return that bicycle just yet! The outskirts of Hoi An offer a different kind of magic altogether. Take a ride off the beaten path and discover the incredibly fertile countryside, with farms as far as the eye can see. Agriculture here is still very labour intensive, so keep your eyes peeled for water buffalo! Tiny local villages, palm tree lined waterways, fishing and pottery villages are all just waiting to be found. There’s plenty of day tours which take you to the best spots, or alternatively leave the map behind and get lost amongst the maze of lush green rice paddy fields.