Hoi An and Its Historic Charm

After leaving Da Nang, we were excited to be in Hoi An for a week.  The city is an UNESCO world heritage site and after walking the streets for a few minutes, you understand why.  Its historic beauty is well preserved and lanterns dangle from store fronts and stretch across the streets.  We stayed at Banana Garden Villas during our time in Hoi An.  Just a block off the beautiful river and tucked away from the old town quarter.  It was a peaceful retreat from the busy streets just blocks away.

Just after we arrived, we decided to ride bikes into town.  We had our eyes on getting some clothes tailormade and knew it could take a few days. So, we wanted to explore options first thing.  We rode downtown with Manji and Bingo sitting on the racks behind our bikes.  As soon as we made it to old town, it felt like a huge mistake to bike.  There was so much traffic, between cars, motorbikes, and pedestrians.  I immediately declared, “Never doing that again!” However, we did find a tailor for all the boys to have tropical shirts fitted at Bi Hanh.  Goose loved picking out the pattern and the whole process of getting measured.  The owner kept trying to convince me to get a dress. But, I couldn’t find the perfect fabric so I decided to keep looking. 

The boys are happy with their custom made shirts!

That evening, we made it out to Bikini Bottom for dinner.  Our friends told us about the same restaurant in Da Nang, taunting us with descriptions of smash burgers and greasy American food.  We knew we had to give it a try and it was just like a taste of home!  We’ve never been so happy to have burgers and fries! We took a Grab car home and after a few minutes our driver asked if he could turn on some music.  He cranked the tunes up loud and then hung a disco ball from the ceiling! We ended the day with car karaoke for the ride home!

Our first full day in Hoi An, we tried a Vietnamese cooking class with Bau Mau Eco Cooking School.  We were picked up early afternoon for the first stop at the central market. There, we collected the ingredients for the dishes we would make.  Next, we headed to the river to board basket boats (along with hundreds of other tourists).  It was hot and slow and the kids were not feeling it.  It felt like a major tourist trap as they forced us to stop at different points to watch other boats twirl and spin, asking for tips. 

It’s not a boat, it’s a basket!

Fun fact- the boats are circular, like a basket, and were created to avoid a tax under the French. The tax was levied on fisherman as they returned to shore.  So, they declared that the boats were baskets (because of the shape) and not in fact boats.

Finally, arriving at the school, we washed up. The menu was spring rolls, Vietnamese pancakes, a beef and noodle dish, and our favorite, pho.  We had the kindest chef who walked us through the entire process of turning rice into rice paper. Then, the cooking commenced! Even Bingo had her own station to cook!

Rather than walk through the steps of each recipe with us, the chef would simply make everything at table and then say, “Ok, you clap for me now!,” which we diligently did, then all looked at each other wide-eyed as she said, “Now go and make your own!” It was funny as we all shouted across the tables asking each other the next steps and ingredients. During one dish, chef had us flambae some beef.  Thankfully, no one lost an eyebrow in the process! The food was incredible and we were worn out from a full day.

Cooking class commences

One thing Bingo and I were looking forward to in Hoi An was having bathing suits made! Our dear friends the Gregorys, who we had met in Bali, told us about a lady on the beach who custom makes them.  Bingo was in dire need of one and we’d been looking forward to finding this lady for months!

We spent our day on the beaches of Hoi An and I ventured out to see if I could find the bikini lady named Lucky.  I scoured the streets and couldn’t find her, discouragingly.  Finally, tucked away off the street I found her! I showed her a picture that I had of her from a friend and she yelled with joy, excited to help Bingo and me create our own bikinis.  Bingo chose two brightly colored tops and coordinating bottoms and next was waiting patiently to pick them up in a few days.

I found the bikini lady!!!!!

We also managed to find another tailor, Lucy, at Blue Eye Tailor to make us more clothes.  I hired her to make a dress and after amazing results, we all were suckered into more clothes! James and Goose even had jackets made.  It was a fun experience and Lucy might be the best sales lady I have ever met!

Tailor made by Lucy at Blue Eye Tailor!

Goose’s friend from Da Nang, Oz, was celebrating his birthday back at Mikazuki Water Park.  We happily went back to Da Nang for another water park visit to celebrate him and we all had an amazing time.  When you’re on the road, finding friends to celebrate all those important moments is the greatest gift! It was an honor to help celebrate Oz!

The reason we chose to stay in Hoi An when we did is because every month they have a lantern festival on the full moon.  We timed our stay so we could participate.  Every evening the lanterns are lit and boats and candles are floating along the river, but on the evening of the festival, shop owners turn off the storefront lights so that only the glow of the lanterns can be seen.  Several friends we knew from Da Nang came to visit and we had a big group dinner along the river and walked into town. 

Goodbye (for now) to our friends!

Sadly, after arriving we found out that we missed the actual day, but we still had a great time.  The kids purchased a candle for good luck to set afloat on the river and we enjoyed walking the streets with our friends.

The charm of Hoi An’s old quarter

On the final evening of our stay, we enjoyed seeing the Hoi An Memories Show.  The show was an hour-long celebration of the history of Hoi An and I would liken it to the opening ceremony of the Olympics.  Hundreds of cast members paraded around in an outdoor amphitheater with choreographed moves.  It was over the top and we were all captivated!

Sadly, after a week, our time in Hoi An had come to an end.  We love staying in a place for a week at a time.  With slow travel, we haven’t felt the rush to fill the day with activities and have enjoyed finding a favorite coffee shop or restaurant that we visit over and over again.  In Hoi An, the owners of Rivia Coffee saw us multiple times every morning and we spent an embarrassing sum on espresso drinks, a wonderful reprieve after so much coffee from robusta beans!  The young owners told us of their business plans and we told them our thoughts on expanding their menu.  Similarly, we were sad to be leaving our friends, the Johnstons, once again, but have plans to see them again in future travels!

Goodbye to our buddies, the Johnstons…see you in Tokyo!

Vietnam is at the top of our list as a place to return.  The country is beautiful, and the people are kind and welcoming.  Even better, Vietnam is very budget friendly!

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