Hoi An, Vietnam & local culture
Updated: Jul 3, 2020
There are so many places to see in #Vietnam, and since the country is so long, the climate greatly varies from the north to the south at the same time of year. So determine what month you will be visiting and plan your itinerary from there. Since we absolutely LOVED #Danang and the surrounding area I highly recommend you plan several days there.
We rarely use a tour guide to organize activities when we travel as we prefer the freedom with little kids to do what we want, and be done when we want. However, we chose to organize 2 days of touring with a guide through Xuan-Tu Tours and our guide was Hieu (sounds like Hugh). IT WAS AMAZING!! It was by far the best thing we did. A few things I appreciate about tour guides: 1) you learn so much information about the culture 2) They know all the local foodie places and coffee shops to stop at 3) you don't have to think about where you're going or how you're getting there. Win-win-win. They even provided a large comfortable van and a convertible carseat for our toddler.
The first thing we noticed about Da Nang when we were picked up at the airport and drove to our hotel, was that the streets were wide and planned out. They were clean and organized. Such a stark difference compared to the busy craziness of Hanoi roads. We later learned from Hieu that the city leadership has made a concerted effort to develop the city to be much cleaner and easier to navigate for visitors. We chose to stay at the Novotel Danang Premier Han River, because they offer baby cots, connecting rooms, kids club and numerous choices for meals on site.
On our first day of touring we visited the #Camthanh Eco-Village and the Ancient City of Hoi An. The Cam Thanh Eco-village is nestled along the Bay Mau coconut forest and is a fascinating place as the forest grows in the water. We took a round-basket boat ride through several passes in the groves. Fun fact from Hieu was that the round boats were developed by fishermen to avoid paying taxes on typical long boats and foreigners could never figure out how to paddle them (and instead spin in circles). As it turns out they are actually quite maneuverable and a ton of fun in the correct hands. The local village had a number of experts who liked to show off their basket boat skills to the visitors and they put on a very fun show (check out my video at the top to see the entertainment you find on the water).
We had lunch at a 300 year old farming village that supplies Hoi An and Da Nang with fresh organic produce. They continue to farm it as their ancestors did - everything is farmed by hand and they use traditional techniques such as seaweed and kelp for fertilizer. So we enjoyed some delicious local foods including Vietnamese pancakes. Full disclosure, our kids didn’t try much and basically lived on rice the whole trip but we didn’t let that slow us down. They had plenty of opportunity to try the new food but that’s not a battle worth fighting mid-tour.
After lunch we enjoyed a ride on the "vehicle of Vietnam" aka water buffalo rides and the
kids just loved that! That was probably the highlight of their day. I was just trying to hold myself on there AND hold the kids up at the same time. It is harder than it looks!
If we could have spent more time anywhere on our trip to Da Nang, it would be the Ancient city of Hoi An. This ancient trading sea port is so full of history and culture. We wandered down the main streets stopping at different artist stalls. There are so many to see. We are always attracted to paintings but there was some excellent leatherworks, pottery, and embroidery. We found the piece of a lifetime at Thang Loi Fine Arts which is a project for vulnerable women who learn embroidery. There is a range of skill level and price point, but the most magnificent pieces appear to be a photograph from a distance. Our art still needs framed, but you can see it below. It would have taken one person 4-6 months to complete! We never would have found that without our tour guide. If you are in the area, please check it out and support a great cause.
The city is beautiful with many second-floor gardens and paper lanterns hanging along the trees above the streets and after 3pm only foot traffic is allowed in the ancient city. We crossed the #Japanesecoveredbridge which is one of the oldest bridges in Vietnam and dates back to the 18th century.
We stopped for coffee and ice cream at a local coffee house, and then strolled along the river watching lantern boats drift by while being captured by the colorful glowing lanterns hanging from branches above. You can wander around for hours if you like. There are a few very old original homes you can visit which were originally built by Japanese merchants in a way to easily disassemble them when they move locations. There are no nails and the pieces just fit together. It was really neat to see. This area of the city is very stroller-friendly, especially after 3pm when no vehicles are allowed.
At the end of the day we stopped at #Banhmiphuong for one of the worlds best #Banhmi sandwiches (as declared by Chef Anthony Bourdain). The bakery providing the baguettes for the sandwiches is right next door, which make them just melt in your mouth. It was delicious and of course our kids ate french fries.
Final note, it was a long day with quite a bit of walking and we were so thankful for our stroller and our very helpful guide who was so patient with the kids.