Back in January we planned a weekend getaway to Vietnam. Having stayed in Hong Kong for Christmas (which you can read about here), we were really ready to do some travelling in January! Braden had been to Hội An previously for a golf trip, back when I was pregnant, and said that I would love it there and we should return with the baby one day…so we did! He was right; it’s the perfect place to visit and explore with kids. We also hit on some perfect weather; not too hot and not too cold. Here is our top 10 (in no particular order)!
1) Stay in The Old Town
We stayed in an amazing AirBnB a short walk from the Old Town on a pedestrian only street. It was such a convenient location; we could pop in and out between Campbell’s nap, we had plenty of space (including a separate room for Campbell), a kitchen, and a courtyard with a little pond. We absolutely loved it!
2) Admire The Details
I completely feel in love with Hội An’s picturesque streets and buildings. After his solo visit, Braden couldn’t stop talking about how cute it was, how charming the streets are, and how much I would like it. I knew for him to go on and on like that it must be pretty special. Of course he was right. Every turn reveals charming buildings and intriguing vignettes. Lucky for us, Campbell’s toddler pace gave us ample time to stop and appreciate all the sweet little details.
3) Attend A Cooking Class
I stole some much needed Mama time for myself while Braden had a date with Campbell (taste-testing banh mi joints). I have thought for a while that attending a cooking class while we travel would be fun, but it’s not really Braden’s thing. I decided to go for it on my own! After some TripAdvisor research (there are several great options!) I decided to book with Green Bamboo Cooking School. The tour began in the local market, where we selected and purchased all of the ingredients, and learned about Vietnamese flavours. We then went back to our instructor Van’s house to cook. There were 12 students in the class, and we each demonstrated the preparation of our chosen dish for the group. At first I thought a full class was a disadvantage but it meant we could and TASTE twelve things. It was so much fun and great value for $50 USD. I’m still thinking about those crispy spring rolls, delicious pho and new flavours…!
4) Explore the Old Town
Hội An was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1999 as a well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port of the 15th to 19th centuries. The buildings display a unique blend of local and foreign influences, and is protected for future visitors to enjoy. Old Town is closed to vehicular traffic most of the day for comfortable exploration on foot. Luckily Campbell’s early rising schedule got us out nice and early before the droves of tour buses arrived. That being said, when everything was lit up at night it was absolutely beautiful.
5) Bike The Rice Paddies
We were keen to visit the rice paddies surrounding the more traditional city. I looked into a few tours, but the timing wasn’t ideal with Campbell’s mid-day nap. And since we prefer to avoid tours if we can, Braden took on the task of organizing a self-guided tour. We followed the route recommended on this blog here which had excellent instructions and map. We saw rice paddies, water buffalo and the most beautiful tranquil scenery. Funny story…when Braden reached out to our AirBnB host for bike rental recommendations she said she could rent us some (for $2 USD / day!) and assured us she had a baby seat too. What showed up was a shallow metal basket-like seat with one loose waist strap. Campbell would have fallen out within a minute! Not wanting to miss out on our ride, I got creative, grabbed an apron from our kitchen and rigged up a sturdy chest restraint (which you can see in the photos below). Campbell was perfectly secure and absolutely LOVED being on the bike with Braden.
We recommend getting on to the side roads sooner rather than later. Here’s a glimpse of the pace of traffic!
6) Go to the Spa
Okay, so this is an activity for Mama while the little one naps. Hour long body massages for $20 USD, half hour foot massages for $7 USD… you can’t go wrong! Our friends tried a few places and recommended White Rose Spa. It didn’t disappoint.
7) Poke Around in the Shops
There a so many great stores lining the streets in Hoi An. Ranging from the typical touristy shops to stores selling beautiful hand-made clothing, there’s something for everyone. Hoi An, like Vietnam in general, is known for their custom tailors, but we didn’t get any clothes made. Sometime I struggle to find anything to bring home as a momento from our travels, but after I stumbled across Sunday in Hoi An I wanted to buy one of everything in their shop. It is so dreamy and gorgeous; I could I decorated an entire new apartment with their items, including the most incredible hand-made pottery from Vietnam artisans.
8) Enjoy A Boat Ride
This seems like a bit of a tourist trap (maybe it is!) but we still enjoyed our little circle around the Thu Bồn River. It gave a new perspective from which to enjoy the picturesque streets lining the water and even though I don’t remember the cost, I know it seemed like a reasonable amount for the one hour loop. We were the only ones on the boat, and they took us right away, so the tour fit perfectly into our schedule.
9) Visit the Night Market
After our extensive travels in Asia we can get a bit tired of night markets but Vietnam had enough different and unique trinkets and crafts that we found it enjoyable. We arrived right as it opened (I believe around 6pm) and stretched Campbell’s bedtime a little bit so he could enjoy it too. There is so much beautiful eye-candy, including the classic Vietnamese painted silk lanterns (Campbell has one in his bedroom!). We didn’t try the street food, but people rave about it…maybe we missed out! All the information you need can be found on TripAdvisor here.
10) Eat Incredible Vietnamese Food
In case you can’t tell from the photo below, Braden was a fan of the food! So was I. Campbell even devoured his first plate of fried rice and couldn’t get enough! The food is so fresh and the flavours are so unique! From the gorgeous spring rolls (we loved both the fried and fresh ones!) to the classic bánh mì sandwiches, there was never a shortage of tasty dishes for us to try. We loved the food at Morning Glory and had dinner at Mango Room twice we enjoyed it so much.
Braden made it his mission to eat as many banh mi sandwiches as possible and I tagged along to a few. Not a pate lover, I opted for the veggie options which were fresh and delicious! Braden’s number one pick is Madam Khanh – The Banh Mi Queen and I’m pretty sure he went back twice. His second favourite was Phi Banh Mi where the addition of avocado was their signature. And even though it was celebrated by Anthony Bourdain Braden wasn’t quite as enamoured with his experience at Banh mi Phuong; being endorsed by a top foodie seems to have allowed them to drop their standards and service level. That being said it was still excellent and we ordered them for take-away and took them over Tap House across the street to enjoy in a less hectic environment.
Sometimes there’s only so much Vietnames food you can eat in a day. Our friends had recommended Hola Taco! for Mexican (something we really miss living in Hong Kong!) and our tacos, guacamole and margaritas were all delicious.
Our only minor complaint is that a Visa on Arrival is required for Canadian passport holders. We needed to apply in advance and, pay $25USD per person. Then, when we landed at the airport, we had to wait for our passports / visa’s to be processed. Surely’s there’s a better way to manage this!
I don’t want to finish on an even remotely negative note. Our trip was absolutely fantastic and we loved Hoi An, especially as we traveled with our toddler. I think everyone would enjoy their time there.