My Vietnam Experience: Hoi An

Stray New Zealander Keys continues to make us all jealous as she travels on Stray’s very first Vietnam trip… The first thing to grab my attention as we drove into Hoi An at dusk where the beautiful (Chinese) lanterns dotted along the streets.

Once we had checked in, we headed out to explore this fascinating port town. The meandering alleys and dimly lit streets reminded me of scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean.

And frankly, if Jack Sparrow wanted to find some decent clothes, he wouldn’t be disappointed by Hoi An. The city is home to over 300 tailor shops, which make anything from silk underwear to wedding dresses, not to mention handcrafted leather shoes in next to no time. This place is a model’s dream (and perhaps a husband’s nightmare). The mannequins beckoned to us from every shop, yet the city was relatively free of hawkers in spite of it being a tourist centre.

We decided to eat dinner before taking on the tailors and were glad for our Tour Leader Richard’s suggestion to dine at Cargo. This restaurant looks out over the river and has an extensive menu including both Vietnamese and international dishes. It is also a French patisserie so the desert options were too good to resist.

We all thoroughly enjoyed our dinner, grateful to Stray Tour Leader Richard, who then showed us the more reputable tailors in town, seeing as with most things you get what you pay for. Most of the female group members found this an opportunity too good to refuse so off we went to scour catalogues and discuss our needs with an individual sales assistant. I’m not much of a clothes shopper, and nor is Audrey, but we decided to get into the spirit of Hoi An and found it a great experience. I got some tailor-made jeans and a top, while Audrey got a beautiful dress and Bob had some beautiful leather boots made. I had also brought along my fave hiking and travel pants to get a new pair made. The latter had quite a lot of detail in them, but nothing was too much trouble to these tailors and it was easy to mix and match styles – you really could have whatever style you wanted. So I made some modifications to the original design and left them to it with the promise to return the following afternoon for a fitting.

Once we’d managed to drag all the girls out of the shop (we were the last customers to leave at 9.45pm!), we headed to a nearby bar where the boys were hanging out playing pool and foosball. This was the start of an enjoyable night checking out the Hoi An nightlife. It didn’t matter that it started to rain as moto-taxis were ready to whisk us off to the next happening bar. The Stray itinerary allows 2 nights stay in this beautiful city so we were happy to let our hair down and dance into the night.

The following day we had a number of options and indeed this would be a great place to spend some time and jump off the Stray bus to check out this quaint UNESCO World Heritage town. Some of the crew headed to the beach, which is just 3km away. Most of us just cruised the streets of Hoi An, with photo and shopping opportunities at every turn.

It was a great way to spend the day between fittings at the tailor shop and relaxing over tasty treats in delightful restaurants and cafes. I was blessed with a beautiful sunset and even saw a local couple having wedding photos in an amazingly quaint setting, with floating candles to complete the scene on Hoi An’s old-world waterfront.

That evening we ate at the Green Mango and the meal was magnificent; in fact, I’d have to say it was my best ‘restaurant meal’ on the tour. I took the waitress’s recommendation of a typical Vietnamese Seafood Soup. It was full of shellfish doused in a tasty, red spicy broth.

Again we only discovered this restaurant thanks to our Stray leader’s recommendation. This is one of the advantages of being on an organised tour – you get to find the best places without any vested interest. Sure there is Trip Advisor but it’s definitely not the same as having a real person to answer your questions.

Our local guide Hang has been living in Hoi An for 3 years and we met up for breakfast the following day, where she introduced me to her favourite local restaurant. We had pho bo (beef rice noodle soup) and Hang also called her next-door neighbour to order some ice coffees to go. These were delivered within minutes by motorbike and it made for another great ‘Good morning Vietnam’. I wish we had that sort of service in New Zealand – dial a coffee – what a concept!

I’m really grateful to Stray for providing such an awesome local guide. Nothing is ever too much trouble for Hang and I was lucky enough to join her on a number of occasions for ‘off the beaten track’ restaurant choices or street food which meant I really did get to try the best local cuisine and have great company to boot.

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Emily is a native creative nerd. This creative crew member's favourite stop is Bay of Islands.

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