For someone who lives to celebrate holidays at home with friends and family, one yearly holiday tradition we have may seem a bit out of character...
Every year, Bryan and I choose a foreign country and pack our bags for a week. We know a time will come when we won't be able to travel very often, so we've decided to take full advantage of the time we have off at this time of year. We've been lucky enough to visit Nicaragua, Myanmar, and Japan. Last year, we went to Vietnam- it had been at the top of both of our travel wish lists for a while, and it did not disappoint!
In Vietnam, we went to Ha Long Bay for a magical overnight stay on the Treasure Junk and spent a few hectic days in Hanoi. Our favorite spot we visited hands down was Hoi An, an old trading port and Unesco World Heritage site. Hoi An was once deemed the best trading city in all of Asia. Since so many people from around the world have traveled to Hoi An, everything from it's architecture to it's food have been heavily influenced by the French, Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, and Japanese. This bustling, 500-year-old town is full of French colonial-era buildings with a patina only time could create, layered with overgrown with vines and bougainvillea, not to mention some of the best food in Vietnam. While it has become incredibly touristy in recent years (as has the rest of Vietnam), it was well worth the visit.
Here's my list of favorites:
*Photo of Cau Lau by Will Fly for Food
This cozy restaurant down a small alley in "ancient town" has a well-edited menu- it's not expansive, but they do what they know well. We came here for a light dinner after a twilight walk on the river and sat on the upstairs patio.
Madame Kahn Banh Mi
Touted as the best banh mi in Vietnam and rightfully so. We ate many banh mi's in Vietnam... and found Madame Kahn's to be the best we had on the entire trip!
Orivy Local Food Restaurant
We stumbled into Orivy late one evening, pooped from spending the entire day out and about. We decided to have dinner here because it was the closest restaurant to our hotel. As it turns out, our impromptu meal at Orivy was the best meal we had together in Vietnam! The food was excellent and the service absolutely impeccable. I still think about Orivy sometimes and wish I could go back!
This adorable coffee shop in the old quarter is the perfect place to rest and recharge after a long day of walking around Hoi An. It's run by two young women who recently graduated from college and are living their dream of opening a café in their hometown together.
The Hill Station
This café, bar and deli in a historic building is another great place to rest and recharge. They make their own cheeses and charcuterie and even offer some Vietnamese craft beers. A nice break from Vietnamese food, if you need it.
Be sure to try the local specialties! We loved Cau Lau, White Rose, Com Ga Hoi An, and Quang noodles.
Founded by French designers, Metiseko uses local cotton and silk for their clothing collections. The fabrics are printed with local and traditional patterns. This chic little shop and cafe, filled with greenery and antique furniture is a welcoming little oasis from the main shopping drag in Hoi An.
This was our favorite shop in Hoi An, which is otherwise filled with loads of tchotke shops! Reaching out is a social enterprise shop selling beautiful and authentic Vietnamese products made by artisans with disabilities. Their staff is incredibly knowledgeable about the design process and materials of each item as well as the provenance of their gorgeous antiques. We spotted a set of tea ware that only had four cups and were able to get an additional two cups hand-made for us in a matter of days.
GAM Gemstones Art Museum
This was another serendipitous find we stumbled upon when strolling through Ancient Town. Housed in a hundred-year-old colonial house, GAM's shop has an exquisite collection of rare minerals, cut stones and fine jewelry from Vietnam. I picked up an asymmetrical set of gold earrings made by Vietnamese, Milan-based designer Nga Duong. The chic lounge and courtyard café are also worth checking out.
My Son Sanctuary Ruins
A cluster of abandoned Hindu temples, My Son has been called a mini Angkor Wat. It takes about an hour to get to from Hoi An and it costs about $35USD to rent a private car and driver.
An Bang Beach
About 4.5 miles from Hoi An by bicycle. Be sure to spot a tung Chai, the traditional little round bamboo fishing boats strewn across the beach.
On this trip, Bryan and I decided to do something different in Hoi An... We decided to split up! He really wanted to do this bike tour and I really wanted to do the cooking class, but there wasn't enough time for both of us to do both. The bike tour ended up being the highlight of Bryan's entire Vietnam trip and the cooking class was the highlight for me. He rode through rice paddys with a few sweet local college students who were practicing their English, made Hoi An style noodles and visited a vegetable village.
Green Bamboo Cooking School
This was recommended by a dear friend who also loves to cook, so I knew it was going to be good! The class sizes are relatively small (ours was 12 people), and the day starts at the local market, where you purchase all ingredients for your meal. Each person makes one dish and you leave incredibly full (from sampling 12 dishes) and with a Green Bamboo cookbook. The class takes place in a woman named Van's private home, and feels like a much more authentic experience than the many other cooking classes offered in restaurants in town. This was definitely the highlight of my Vietnam trip.
I visited Hoi An's central market as part of my cooking class with Van at Green Bamboo Cooking School. While much of Hoi An has become quite touristy, the market is where the locals go to shop for their week's ingredients. You'll find piles of fresh Vietnamese herbs, a room full of female butchers, fresh fish, and live chickens and ducks. Keep an eye out for the noodle vendors with giant piles of fresh noodles, including the only-in-Hoi-An cau lau noodles made with water from an undisclosed well outside of town. And be ready to bargain!
Green Life Homestay
We absolutely loved every part of our stay at Green Life. This small, family-owned and operated hotel had exceptional service, was centrally located, and our private patio had this view of the super lush rice paddies. It was the perfect place to rest after busy days out and about in Hoi An.