Hand in hand we stroll along the river filling our nostrils with the scent of banana pancakes and incense, while strategically trying to avoid persistent locals selling boat rides, baked goods, or both.
It’s our second evening in Hoi An and I’m taking my time soaking up the atmosphere of its beautiful, car-free Ancient Town without a lens obstructing my view.
The first night we spent here I struggled to put away the camera out of fear I’d miss a great shot. Everything you see is Instagram gold, from flaky paint on colonial walls, trendy coffee shops framed with baskets of flowers, to lanterns illuminating the banks of the river.
Joe reluctantly took on the job of steering me through the crowd, and eventually we were stopped in our tracks by a frail old woman on a wooden boat. She offered us a ride for $6 and so we clambered onboard, despite my protesting that I wasn’t in the mood. I was feeling sweaty, dressed down for the incredibly romantic setting, and didn’t want the picture-perfect moment to be wasted.
Joe understandably became frustrated and I felt guilty for ruining the experience, so for a minute of two we sat in silence until a joke broke the ice. Just like the rickety boat, making memories and saving them is a balancing act!
The city during the day is a fashionista’s paradise, with tailors and shoemakers lining every street. If the owner catches your eyes lingering on an item for longer than two seconds an ATM target’s put on your back. That’s why you should try to haggle! There’s also no shortage of ‘same, same, but different’ knock-offs like Prada, Michael Korrs or Adidas at the night market.
Our favourite pass-time was watching the world go by from the window of an artisan coffee shop. The Hoi An Roastery had a few cafes scattered around the city, and we could enjoy a cookie frappe and egg coffee for just $4 (sounds gross but surprisingly nice!)
If you’re there for more than a day, then sign up for a cooking class. We were recommended the Eco Cooking excursion by our homestay and it was a brilliant morning. First, you’re guided around the very busy, and somewhat overwhelming food market to get all the fresh ingredients for the four authentic Vietnamese dishes that you’ll make later on. It gives you a chance to watch how the locals barter and bicker over prices, without having to attempt the exchange yourself.
Then you’re taken by boat to a swamp-like shore to try your hand at fishing, before being taught the long and gruelling process of how rice batter is made for crispy pancakes. Finally, you’re put in front of your own cooking station and get cracking.
The thing that really made our visit one to remember was where we stayed. The Red House Homestay was by far the most homely place we have been so far. The lady in charge, Lien, gave us a warm welcome on arrival with free passion fruit juices made from their impressive garden.
We had a delicious breakfast and were given an in-depth guide of the city, including the best places to eat, drink and visit. The free upgrade and lunch with the owner just topped off already spectacular service!
Would I recommend a visit? You’d be mad to miss it.