I Left My Heart in Hoi An

I Left My Heart in Hoi An


Hoi An, Vietnam is at the same time a quaint and quiet ancient site and a bustling tourist mecca. While the serious shipping business has long since moved to Da Nang, Hoi An was a major international port between the 15th and 19th centuries.  Its buildings and its street plan reflect the influences, both indigenous and foreign (due to the international port), that have combined to produce this unique UNESCO world heritage site.  I fell in love with this city and almost a week later it seems that I left my heart there.

5 p.m.


When you arrive in Hoi An head straight to the river, the ambiance is romantic, the food is delicious and the experience will only cost you a few dollars for a candlelit dinner.  The dish of choice along the river is Cao Lau, a dish of rice noodles that are not quite as slippery as pho and a bit closer in texture to pasta. The secret is the water used to make it, authentic Cao Lau uses only water from a special well in the city. The noodles are topped with slices of roast pork, dough fritters, and this being Vietnam, lots of fresh herbs and veggies. With your stomach full enjoy the tapestry of colored lanterns and candle-lit street stalls along the river’s edge, which set the perfect background for a traffic-free stroll through the old town, which is closed each night to all motorized traffic.  The streets come alive with theatrical performances and brightly lit shops decorated with lanterns.

Enjoying the ambiance and food on the river in Hoi An.

9 p.m.

After getting your bearings in the old town and window shopping before the shopkeepers close for the night head to the square near the river for a game of Bai Choi.  This game of Vietnamese BINGO is worth trying your luck at for the sheer energy and intrigue.  Fifty cents buys you one paddle, the equivalent of a BINGO board, but the paddle has only three symbols with corresponding Vietnamese words.  The words when drawn from a container are announced in a theatrical duet and those with the announced symbol are awarded a flag.  The first person with three flags wins the game and in this case a hand-made red Hoi An lantern.

Bai Choi paddles being sold to onlookers before the game can begin.


9 a.m.

Get up early and head to Le Loi and choose from the wide array of tailor shops to be measured and have a perfectly fitting suit, dress, top, skirt or all of the above made to your specifications.  Take some time prior to your trip to determine what you might like to have made as the choices become even more difficult once you start perusing the shops and see all the beautiful fabrics and designs.  The plethora of options will make your search difficult but fruitful.  Make sure you test the fabric to determine if you are getting real silk.  Simply ask for a fabric sample and put a flame to it, if it burns it’s the real deal.  Enjoy the fitting and make sure to let them know when you need your items completed.

One of the many tailor shops in Hoi An.

12 p.m.

White Rose (banh bao vac), a type of shrimp dumpling made from thick, translucent rice noodles bunched up to look like a rose is a local favorite.  You won’t have any trouble finding a restaurant that offers White Rose and you won’t want to leave Hoi An without trying this delicate dish.

The deliciously delicate white rose dish served in Hoi An

2 p.m.

Spend the afternoon on a scavenger hunt in the old town, the eighteen UNESCO treasures hidden within the old town are worth discovering.  Entry to all historical sites in Hoi An is via a coupon system, where $5 gets you a ticket that can be used to enter five of the eighteen attractions.  The ticket specifies that you can visit one museum, one old house, one assembly hall, the handicraft workshop (and traditional music show) or the traditional theater, and either the Japanese Covered Bridge or the Quan Cong Temple. In reality many places do not check for tickets and none of the places seem to mind what you visit as long as you have a coupon (if they’re checking).  Tickets are sold at various entry points into the Old Town, including Hai Ba Trung Street, and also at some of the attractions, including the Cantonese Assembly Hall. The city requests that visitors dress “decently” while visiting sites in the Old Town, as in no sleeveless blouses or skirts above the knees, but like the tickets there’s nobody specifically charged with enforcing the dress code.

5:30 pm

Reaching Out (103 Nguyen Thai Hoc) is a fair trade gift shop selling items ranging from jewelry to dinnerware made by craftspeople that have disabilities in Vietnam. Items tend to be more expensive than in the market but goods are very well made and not like the mass produced souvenirs found in the market. As you continue down the main streets of the old town; Nguyen Thai Hoc, Tran Phu and Phan Chau Trinh shopping opportunities are available everywhere and there are many hand made items to bring home to remind you of the narrow alleyways of Hoi An, such as hand-made lanterns.

Lanterns being hand made with bright silk fabrics.

9 p.m.

After a day of measurements, sight seeing and shopping relax with a “fresh beer,” which is micro-brewed beer available at any of the restaurants along the river for merely 10-15 cents.  Choose a venue with second floor seating allowing for beautiful views of the city as you imbibe.  Stay until the city lights up and the brightly lit lanterns serve as street lights.

Views of the Old Town and the brightly colored fishing boats in the river.

9 a.m.

Take a break from tourism and head to the Orphanage in Hoi An during their visiting hours from 8-11 a.m. to pay a visit to the 70 children that live there.  The children are friendly, well taken care of and more than happy to jump into your arms or engage you in a game. We enjoyed our visit and were happy to make a donation to the orphanage even though there was no obligation or even sales pitch to do so.  A mere $12 pays for a child’s year of schooling and uniform.

12 p.m.

To take the laid back feeling of Hoi An with you end your visit with a relaxing massage at one of the many establishments throughout the city.  An hour long massage will only set you back about fifteen dollars at the most.


The Thien Trung Hotel (129 Tran Hung Dao Str, Hoi An Town, Vietnam) located just outside the old town serves as a great place to rest your head.  Complete with a pool, breakfast for a dollar and internet access this hotel will only cost you $10 a night, just watch for the owners poor exchange rate.

The Quang Nam Orphans and Handicapped Children Center (108 Nguyen Truong To Street, Hoi An City, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam) is best visited with the secretary or director as your guide.  Ask for Pham Thi Cong to give you a tour and answer your questions.

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» Kate C :
Jan 19, 2011

Everyone I know, including myself, who has visited Vietnam has come away listing Hoi An as their favorite city. I was such an oasis. I’m glad you guys enjoyed it as much. I suppose it says a lot for Hoi An that public sentiment is so similar!

LOCAVORista Reply:

Kate, that is the perfect word for Hoi An- oasis, it really does feel that way as all the other destinations we visited in Vietnam have been so busy and loud. Keep commenting it is so much fun to hear your thoughts since you were just in Vietnam. If you have any tips or places to visit that you really enjoyed let us know.

» dad :
Jan 20, 2011

where is/was the picture of the white rose?…..well done, once again…….was great fun to hear from you yesterday…..next month we plan on doing the 4 g thing, then we can skype directly, that is, after 6 weeks of phone lessons/instructions……be safe….love you dad

LOCAVORista Reply:

Dad, I have now updated “I Left My Heart inn Hoi An” to include a picture of White Rose. It doesn’t look as good as it tastes, but at least you get the idea. I look forward to skype “in person,” it was great to catch up!

» Ken Tschannen :
Jan 20, 2011

After reading Matt’s mad money article(some great ideas) , and a picture of all the money,!!! I now know you won’t have any money problems on this trip, because you fleeced your parents accounts before you left town!!! Good work!!
Next year we are heading to Vietnam , after a sailing trip to Phuket, so all the information is great!
How about some pic’s of where you are staying, maybe you are sleeping in the street?
More video!

LOCAVORista Reply:

Ken, always good to hear from you! If it weren’t for your comment my parents would be none the wiser (ha ha). Fun to hear that you are headed to Vietnam, it is gorgeous and you will really enjoy it. We are headed to Bangkok, Thailand on February 5, so we should be able to give you some insights on Thailand as well. Hope your Winter preparation is going well for market season!

» Kate C :
Jan 23, 2011

Erica, I didn’t get to see Sapa, but I know most people really liked it. In the North there, I enjoyed Cat Bah Island. You can ask to remain on Cat Bah for a few days if you schedule a tour of Ha Long Bay. When you have good weather, Cat Bah is a great beach island to take a break of a day or two on.

LOCAVORista Reply:

Kate, we are planning five days in Sapa leaving at the end of this week and we just got back from Halong Bay. We stayed on Monkey Island and had the whole place to ourselves, which we really enjoyed. Keep the suggestions and comments coming!

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About the Author

LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.

About the Author
LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.


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