The 20 best things to do in hoi an, vietnam – wandering wheatleys

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Fabulous fresh food is the order of the day – every day – in this ancient riverside town. But explore the temples và beaches by bicycle & all those grilled dishes và pho will have been well-earned


Vietnam’s former imperial capital, Huế, has the sights – temples, tombs và the Purple Forbidden City – but much of it was destroyed during the “American war” (from 1955 lớn 1975). The ancient town of Hội An, 100km south, down the coast, is a much more beguiling place to lớn spkết thúc a few days, with its lazy river lined with mustard-yellow merchants’ houses, and beaches a few kilometres away. It owes its wonderfully well-preserved state to the silting-up of the Thu Bồn river in the 19th century, which put an end lớn its importance as a trading post, but helped it escape modern development và US bombing. Yes, it’s touristy, but the old town is surprisingly extensive sầu and can absorb a lot of visitors without losing its dreamy atmosphere. And while much of Vietnam, khổng lồ both north and south, gets a thorough soaking in summer, the central coast is at its driest & sunniest in May, June and July.

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Hội An is known for its diverse & excellent food: a legacy of the many nationalities, including Japanese, Chinese và Portuguese, that lived or traded here. It can seem that every other restaurant is offering cooking classes, but the Thuan Tinch cooking day offers more than some. After a visit to the fascinating market to lớn collect ingredients, you board a river boat & putter eastwards along the river lớn this low-lying island near the river mouth, completing the final stretch by rowing boat. Then it’s on with cooking (và eating) a selection of dishes – fresh spring rolls, crispy pancakes, beef noodle salad and classic pho, say – while enjoying the village atmosphere và watching tiny basket boats navigate the water-coconut-lined waterways. £24pp, cooking-tour.com

Explore on a cycle tour


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Photograph: Tobias Weber/Getty ImagesCars và even motorbikes are banned from the centre of Hội An, so the pushbike is king. Most homestays offer bikes to guests, and joining the many cyclists on the roads provides an instant immersion into local life. To explore further afield, Heaven và Earth cycle tours, run from a quiet street in beguiling An Hội islvà, across the river from the old town, offers a selection of trips into lớn the countryside & islands cthua khổng lồ the city. Choose from an easy few hours with just 9km of cycling along quiet lanes, lunch included, or a more demanding 50km adventure. All take in traditional villages, handicrafts, fragrant rice paddies and rickety floating bridges. From £16pp, vietnam-bicycle.com

Hit the beach


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Thatched umbrellas on An Bang beach. Photograph: Driendl Group/Getty ImagesThe nearest beach to lớn town, Cửa Đại, has a severe erosion problem, exacerbated by winter typhoons, which saw most of the svà washed away from the seafront. An Bang beach, further north, is a more appealing prospect, with much less development và plenty of soft s&. Cycle there from town (it’s about 5km) and several persistent old ladies will try lớn charge you to park your bike, but turn off the main road on the lanes parallel to the sea to left or right và the many cafes và restaurants will let you park in return for purchasing a few drinks. Buy lunch as well and they’ll throw in an umbrella and a pair of sunbeds. There’s also plenty of space for those who want to lớn roông xã up & lie on their towel.

See where your lunch is grown


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Tra Que vegetable village. Photograph: AlamyMost meals in Hội An include an abundance of the fresh vegetables and herbs that make eating in Vietnam giới such a delight. And much of it will have sầu come from Tra Que, the fresh-veg village between town và An Bang beach. This small farming community grows everything from fine spring onions lớn hefty taro root on this flat fertile island in the De Vong river. A couple of enterprises, such as the Water Wheel, offer cooking classes, foot massages and more, but it’s possible to lớn just wander the plots, trying to identify plants & chatting with farmers. A little place called Baby Mustard, khổng lồ the right across fields from the Water Wheel, will does an excellent cheap lunch. Try the “three friends” – bundles of pork, prawn and mint, tied with spring onion.

Drink bia hơi


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Street food stalls by the Thu Bồn river. Photograph: AlamyAfter doing the sights in town (temples, ancient houses, chapels, the covered bridge) head south over the central footbridge lớn An Hội islet, whose riverfront is lined with bars offering ice-cold glasses of the daily-brewed refreshing lager called bia tương đối at cheap prices (less than 20p a half pint). It’s delightfully light, with only around 3% alcohol, so it’s easy khổng lồ while away a couple of hours sipping and watching boats without feeling worse for wear. Try The Island (Dong Hiep Entertainment Area, Hội An 51000), at the eastern point of the islet, for Thu Bồn river views và waterside tables. Spkết thúc a few dong on a packet of little, salty, locally grown peanuts from a street vendor, & you’re all set.

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Eat cau lao


Photograph: Flash Parker/Getty ImagesThis Hội An noodle speciality has been eaten in the thành phố since the 17th century. The rice noodles get their brown colour và unusual flavour from being mixed with lye water. Ash for the lye is supposed to lớn come from the wood of the Csi mê islands 12km off the coast, & the water for the noodles from a particular secret well outside town. How true that all is doesn’t really matter when something is so delicious. The hand-cut noodles are tossed with sliced pork, crunchy rice crackers, spices, big handfuls of fresh herbs and a small amount of super-tasty broth. There are some great versions at stalls in the riverside food market – try Mrs Thu, on the right as you enter from Tran Phu Street. For slightly more space & comfort, & cau lao at just over £1 a bowl, go to lớn Cơm Gà Hương just off main Le Loi Street.

Try a tasting plate


Bún đậu mắm tôm. Photograph: AlamyThere are often more Vietnamese than westerners at Quan Dau Bac, a tiny wedge-shaped restaurant at the western over (no 147) of main Phan Chau Trinh Street. Most of them will be tucking into bún đậu mắm tôm, a platter of pork, fried tofu, herbs, vegetables and chunks of sticky rice noodle, around a pungent dipping sauce of fermented shrimp. Don’t be put off by the smell of the sauce: its flavour is much more mellow, with an elusive sầu sweetness that combines beautifully with the other ingredients.

Discover street barbecue


Thịt nướng. Photograph: Getty ImagesFor a really cheap dinner on the hoof, wander the north bank of the Thu Bồn river after dark, where dozens of little charcoal braziers are phối up with skewers of giết mổ nướng: grilled pork, chicken or prawns that come with some herbs & greens, & a few rice paper wrappers to lớn roll it up in. The whole thing is then dipped in a spicy peanut tomato lớn sauce, with a few toasted sesame seeds. The skewers cost 30p-40p each, and while some vendors sit in regular spots on the waterfront, they’re just as good bought from a lady who walks around – with a barbecue và the food hanging off her bamboo pole.

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Budget accommodation at a homestay


Bedroom at the Golden Bell homestayAs with many parts of Asia these are not really homes but small, informal hotels built on the site of a family house. The Golden Bell is particularly well placed, an easy xe đạp ride (bikes can be borrowed for free) from the town và An Bang beach. Staff are friendly – though not as friendly as the resident small dogs – và breakfast includes fruit, eggs và a great homemade banana cake. Doubles about £22 B&B, hoiangoldenbellhomestay.com

Splash out – a little – for pool views


The Phu Thinc Boutique ResortFor a bit extra, Phu Thinch Boutique Resort, offers a pool, a central location in the old town, và magnificent gardens with water lilies, and a dining room in their midst. Ask for a pool-view room to avoid the noise from the main Cửa Đại road. Borrow a bike to tour the town, then relax at one of two bars or in the Jasmine spa. Doubles from about £33 B&B, phuthinhhotels.com

The trip was provided by Bamboo Travel, whose Adventures in Vietphái mạnh tour includes three nights each in Hanoi, Phong Nha và Hoi An, plus three days exploring north Vietnam’s Pu Luong valley, from £2,495pp including flights from London with Vietnam Airlines


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