When people think of Vietnam, a host of associations, misconceptions, and stereotypes often accompany their thinking. After spending about a week in different parts of this country, I have learned that there is so much more to this diverse nation than the dominant war-stricken tale narrated in history textbooks.
Hoi An (an hour drive from the major city Da Nang) is a river town located on the banks of the Thu Bon River. It’s in the central part of Vietnam and provides a nice getaway from large, populated cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The main attractions in Hoi An revolve around the Ancient Town area and water-based activities.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ancient Town is the most happening area in Hoi An river town. Lined with shopkeeper’s stalls, spas, cafes, and cute eateries, Ancient Town is also home to assembly halls, temples, museums, and communal houses preserved from over hundreds of years ago. Purchasing a ticket allows visitors entrance into 5 different preserved structures. Because of the heat, Ancient Town is often crowded after sunset, when both locals and tourists come out to experience the vibrant night life of Hoi An.
Going on a boat ride in the Ancient Town area is a must, especially during sunset! There’s even the opportunity to set candles afloat in the river as an offering to departed souls.
An Bang Beach
In addition to being situated on the banks of a river, Hoi An is also on the coast of Vietnam, which places it in close proximity to beaches! An Bang is a premium, luxurious beach with soft sand and clear water. It is primarily filled with tourists, as locals tend to flock to Da Nang Beach. The water temperature is so perfect that getting out of the ocean (especially in the heat) is not a favorable option. This beach is a great way to cool down and relax for hydrophilic vacationers!
Thanh Ha Pottery Village
A boat ride in the main Thu Bon River typically includes a trip to the Thanh Ha Pottery Village, located about 30 minutes south of Ancient Town on the river. It is a collaborative living community where everyone in the village contributes in some way to the pottery process (from collecting mud to painting the final product). The highlight of the visit was witnessing a 94-year-old woman create perfect vases and other items on the pottery wheel. Check it out!
Although we didn’t have a chance to do a cooking tour, it is advertised as being one of the more popular activities, not just in Hoi An but in all of Vietnam. The tourists and the cooking instructor go to the market to purchase all the required ingredients before making a traditional Vietnamese dish. Definitely one of the more organic ways of cooking and tasting local Vietnamese food!
Getting a massage in Hoi An is a must, especially after all the walking and shopping in the heat. The best and often cheapest option is a 30-minute foot massage, which is typically followed by a five-minute neck and shoulder rub at the end. While massages can be a hit or miss anywhere in the world, a traditional Vietnamese foot massage is just what you need at the end of a long day.
Stay tuned for part 2!