As some of you know Vietnam was the last country I visited during my South East Asia backpacking trip and as some of you heard, it wasn’t exactly my favourite country either. I don’t know whether it was because I was tired physically and mentally after my illness or I just simply didn’t have any more patience to use sign language and pretend to ignore people who were constantly taking pictures of me. Who knows? The point is, I didn’t find Vietnam relaxing in any way, shape or form… until I got to Hoi An. I ended up spending five days there instead of a planned two and did everything and anything to recharge my batteries and restore my motivation to carry on.
So if you are travelling solo in Vietnam and looking for a place to chill – Hoi An is that place!
1. Get a tailor made suit or a dress
Ok, first things first. I know this recommendation will come as no surprise but if you are in Hoi An put your bargaining skills to test and get a tailor made suit or a dress. It doesn’t matter whether you are getting it for your wedding or you are getting it just as a joke, do it for the experience. It took me 2 days to negotiate to a price I was willing to pay but god, it teaches you a lot. Things like: a) they all want to rip you off and b) the tailor 3 steps down the road will be able to sew exactly the same thing and will probably give you a better deal. No joke, my maxi dress was made overnight and I only paid £10. How’s that for a bargain? And oh, just don’t get yours at the market, they will definitely rip you off.
2. Rent a bike and cycle around
Hoi An is an Ancient town so the best way to get around is to rent a bike and yes, cycle in a 35C degree heat. (Honestly, you kind of get used to it…). Just don’t lock it next to anyone’s shops cause it will be moved away and you will definitely think that it was stolen, even if it was the sh*ttiest bike you have ever had. True story. The bike was locked to a lamp post and the lady from the shop somehow managed to unlock it and move it two blocks down the road behind all the food stalls. #OnlyInAsia
3. Get a tourist pass and get all cultural
So you won’t be able to go to any museums, ancient houses or even the Japanese bridge if you don’t get the tourist pass. I believe it will only cots you around £2 and will let you visit up to 5 attractions. You can buy the tickets at the Tourist office next to the Japanese bridge.
4. Eat the best Banh Mih in Vietnam
So apparently arguably the best Banh Mih cafe/restaurant/a hole in the wall is in Hoi An. I can’t really say whether it was good or not, I mean… it’s a f*cking sandwich at the end of the day, but I kind of loved that place. I had no idea that it was famous and only stumbled upon it because I saw a massive queue of tourists there. Look for Bahn Mi Phuong on Phan Chu Trinh street.
I got my Bahn Mih and went inside to sit at one of the tables. To my surprise, all of these tables were covered in passport pictures. What I mean by that is that they all had a glass cover on top of them and hundreds of mug shots underneath. For all I know, these could be the most wanted international criminals Vietnamese are after… or not. Either way, I might have left my picture there too, so I guess I will just wait and see now.
5. Wander around Hoi An at night
This comes without saying if you’ve ever heard anything about Hoi An this is it. Make the most of night walks around this magical town. I’ll have to prewarn you, your iPhone camera won’t do justice so put it away and just enjoy getting lost.
6. Release a lantern
I know I know, a part of me hates myself for doing it because it’s polluting the environment but a part of me really wanted to make a wish and admire hundreds of lanterns floating down the river. You will find a lot of ladies by the river trying to sell you the lanterns and as everywhere in Asia, they will try to rip you off. The funny thing is, I actually saw a sign next to the river saying the exact price of the lantern before I even decided to get one. Of course, they tried to charge me double the price which just made me laugh! Moral of the story is, honestly bargain for everything in Vietnam.
7. Eat Cao Lau at the night market
Seriously is there anything better than eating Asian food at a night market? Make sure you try some Cao Lau noodles which apparently is the most iconic dish in Hoi An. We’ve heard that even locals go to eat there!
8. Take a bike tour to Da Nang and Hue
This is something I really wanted to do but chickened out because I’ve already had a scar or two from a single scooter accident in Myanmar. However, if you want to kill two (well actually three) birds with one stone, take a day bike tour to Da Nang and Hue. You can either rent a bike and get yourself a driver which means you can just admire the views or be more adventurous and drive yourself. My friends were staying at one of Tribee Bana hostels and they definitely can arrange this for you even if you are not staying with them!
9. Drink coconut lattes
Ok, so they say that Vietnam is all about egg lattes. I can’t even say that without gagging because I will forever remember that one and only egg latte I had and it was probably the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted. Anyways… get some coconut lattes in your system. Seriously coconut lattes are life and I still dream about them and have no idea how to make them at home.
10. Make the most of cheap hotels
Honestly, Vietnam is so much cheaper than Thailand, Cambodia or Malaysia, so make the most of it! Stay in cheap hotels and have queen rooms all to yourself! I spent a couple of nights at the Riverside Oasis Villa which might be a little bit out of the way but the service was just amazing. Girls who worked there were always super happy and friendly and they kept feeding me cake. I had a massive room for probably £20 a night which is relatively nothing compared to Europe.
Also if you walk for a few minutes down the road you will stumble across Koirelax Coffee. They had a massive indoor pond with Koi fish in there (I think that’s what they are called!) and tables surrounding the pond which was probably the most random thing I came across in that area. I didn’t see any tourists there and coconut lattes were a bit average but go there just to have a look.
11. Go to the beach
Ok again, Vietnam beaches are not the greatest. You cannot expect clear blue water and white sand as you would in Thailand, however they are still pretty decent (even for European standards)! So if you have an afternoon to kill and want to top up your tan, go to An Bang beach. Seriously don’t try Cua Dai as it’s been ruined by a monsoon (as far as I remember) and is like a day and night compared to An Bang.
12. Go Diving
If you are into scuba diving, don’t miss a chance to go for a dive and spend an afternoon eating seafood on Cu Lao Cham Island. I’ve read quite a few reviews about diving in Vietnam or Hoi An in particular, and a lot of people said that it’s nothing like Thailand (where I learnt to dive) however if you are a beginner that probably won’t really matter as you will just want to say hi to the fishes. Well at least I did and I wasn’t disappointed.
Oh god, I miss this little place!