The ancient town of Hoi An, 100km south, down the coast, is a much more beguiling place to spend a few days, with its lazy river lined with mustard-yellow merchants’ houses, and beaches a few kilometres away.
Hoi An owes its wonderfully well-preserved state to the silting-up of the Thu Bồn river in the 19th century, which put an end to its importance as a trading post, but helped it escape modern development and US bombing. Yes, it’s touristy, but the old town is surprisingly extensive and can absorb a lot of visitors without losing its dreamy atmosphere. And while much of Vietnam, to both north and south, gets a thorough soaking in summer, the central coast is at its driest and sunniest in May, June and July.
Stop at this central city for its traditional wooden architecture, laid-back atmosphere and standout culinary scene
8am: City tour
Hoi An’s well-preserved Old Town is full of reminders of this former river port’s past glories. The narrow streets are crowded with yellow-painted timber-and-stone merchants houses. Don’t miss the Museum of Folk Culture, set in an former trading house near the waterfront; the temple at Phuc Kien dedicated to the goddess of the sea; and the silk weaving demonstrations at embroidery shop 41 Le Loi Fashion.
12pm: Lunch at Restaurant 339
Hire a bicycle or take a taxi and head a mile north from the city centre to this restaurant near Bang Beach for great food at low prices. Be sure to try the banh xeo (rice pancakes), as well as cao lau, a local dish of brown noodles with pork and greens. Recipes use organic vegetables grown in the next village.
2pm: Afternoon at the beach
From here, it’s a short hop to An Bang beach, 2.5 miles of golden sand with views out to the blue smudges of the Cham Islands. The beach is backed by palms and a line of straw-roofed beach shack restaurants, which offer sunbeds, umbrellas and showers if you buy drinks or lunch there. The waves are powerful but fun.
5pm: Shopping in Hoi An
Once the heat has receded, return to the old town to watch colourful lanterns illuminate the streets. Hoi An is known for its high-quality, affordable silk tailors. There are a handful of boutiques selling superior handicrafts here too, such as ceramics
and bamboo lanterns. Soak up the carnival-like atmosphere night time brings with a stroll past the prettily-lit rowing boats and stop for a pre-dinner drink at one of the riverside cafes.
7pm: Dinner at Little Faifo
In a less hectic part of the old town, Little Faifo occupies a former merchant’s house, decorated with oil paintings, with an elegant upstairs balcony overlooking the street. The restaurant serves dishes such as banana blossom salad with seafood, and pork with bok choi soup. You can sample Hoi An’s speciality, white rose dumplings (filled with minced pork) here too.
9pm: Evening drinks
The nightlife in Hoi An is delightfully relaxed. Down on the riverside, craft beer is available on tap at Pasteur Street Brewing Company, and there’s often live music too. The Market Bar, meanwhile, is a great place for people-watching away from the tourist area, with lounge seating on a rooftop overlooking a cloth market and bridge. End the night at Q Bar, a sophisticated, dramatically lit spot in a heritage house with good, if pricey, cocktails.
Published in the Jan/Feb 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)