Hoi An Riverside Attractions

Fabulous fresh food is the order of the day – every day – in this ancient riverside town. But explore the temples & beaches by bicycle & all those grilled dishes & 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 khổng lồ 1975). The ancient town of Hội An, 100km south, down the coast, is a much more beguiling place to 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 lớn the silting-up of the Thu Bồn river in the 19th century, which put an end khổng lồ its importance as a trading post, but helped it escape modern development & US bombing. Yes, it’s touristy, but the old town is surprisingly extensive & can absorb a lot of visitors without losing its dreamy atmosphere. And while much of Vietphái nam, to lớn both north và south, gets a thorough soaking in summer, the central coast is at its driest và sunniest in May, June và July.

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Hội An is known for its diverse & excellent food: a legacy of the many nationalities, including Japanese, Chinese and 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 khổng lồ the fascinating market lớn collect ingredients, you board a river boat và putter eastwards along the river to this low-lying island near the river mouth, completing the final stretch by rowing boat. Then it’s on with cooking (& 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 and even motorbikes are banned from the centre of Hội An, so the pushbike is king. Most homestays offer bikes khổng lồ guests, and joining the many cyclists on the roads provides an instant immersion inlớn local life. To explore further afield, Heaven & Earth cycle tours, run from a quiet street in beguiling An Hội island, across the river from the old town, offers a selection of trips into the countryside & islands close khổng lồ the thành phố. 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 và 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 lớn town, Cửa Đại, has a severe erosion problem, exacerbated by winter typhoons, which saw most of the s& washed away from the seafront. An Bang beach, further north, is a more appealing prospect, with much less development & plenty of soft svà. Cycle there from town (it’s about 5km) và several persistent old ladies will try to charge you lớn park your bike, but turn off the main road on the lanes parallel lớn the sea to lớn left or right and the many cafes & restaurants will let you park in return for purchasing a few drinks. Buy lunch as well & they’ll throw in an umbrella và a pair of sunbeds. There’s also plenty of space for those who want to lớn rock up and 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 Vietphái nam such a delight. And much of it will have come from Tra Que, the fresh-veg village between town và An Bang beach. This small farming community grows everything from fine spring onions khổng lồ hefty taro root on this flat fertile isl& in the De Vong river. A couple of enterprises, such as the Water Wheel, offer cooking classes, foot massages & more, but it’s possible khổng lồ just wander the plots, trying lớn 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 và 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 khổng lồ An Hội islet, whose riverfront is lined with bars offering ice-cold glasses of the daily-brewed refreshing lager called bia hơi 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 & 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 & waterside tables. Spend a few dong on a packet of little, salty, locally grown peanuts from a street vendor, & you’re all phối.

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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 and unusual flavour from being mixed with lye water. Ash for the lye is supposed to lớn come from the wood of the Cđê mê islands 12km off the coast, và 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 và 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, and cau lao at just over £1 a bowl, go khổng lồ 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 kết thúc (no 147) of main Phan Chau Trinch Street. Most of them will be tucking into lớn bún đậu mắm tôm, a platter of pork, fried tofu, herbs, vegetables & 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 ngân hàng of the Thu Bồn river after dark, where dozens of little charcoal braziers are set up with skewers of giết thịt nướng: grilled pork, chicken or prawns that come with some herbs và greens, và a few rice paper wrappers to roll it up in. The whole thing is then dipped in a spicy peanut tomato 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 and the food hanging off her bamboo pole.

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 and An Bang beach. Staff are friendly – though not as friendly as the resident small dogs – and breakfast includes fruit, eggs & a great homemade banamãng cầu cake. Doubles about £22 B&B, hoiangoldenbellhomestay.com

Splash out – a little – for pool views


The Phu Thinch 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 xe đạp khổng lồ tour the town, then relax at one of two bars or in the Jasmine spa làm đẹp. Doubles from about £33 B&B, phuthinhhotels.com

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


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