British Colonial style in Singapore at Raffle's
Temple rooftop in Hoi An resplendent with Dragons
Hoi An was formally a trading port, and is now Unesco World Heritage Listed with an interesting mix of Japanese, Chinese and French Colonial Architecture dating from the 15th - 19th Centuries. Mr AV and I had holidayed through Vietnam 11 years ago, and loved it then, so I suppose you could say we'd already done some reconnaissance regarding the logistics of a family holiday and did not feel particularly daunted about taking youngish children there. Personally I feel it is a far safer destination than Bali, which is the default Asian family holiday spot for many Australians.
The Japanese Bridge, which dates to 1590
Inside the bridge there are several shrines, this one has a monkey
Timber post construction inside the Japanese Bridge
While all the resorts on the beach offer free shuttle bus services into Hoi An town, we felt that when our children became tired it would be far easier if we could just walk 5 minutes back to the hotel (or rickshaw them there while the rest of us walked), rather than wait for the next shuttle to a resort, hence why we broke the trip into two separate places to stay.
The two youngest being cycled in a rickshaw back to the hotel
You can get direct international flights into Da Nang (the nearest large city approximately 30 minutes drive away from Hoi An), so it made for an easy travel destination all round. The car ride did not seem long to the children as they were completely fascinated watching the traffic and the lack of apparent road rules, the strange things being carried on the back of scooters (animals, stock for shops), and the families of three on one scooter zooming past. While I would have loved to go back to Hanoi and also shown them Hue (the former imperial city), we decided staying put in Hoi An would be the go this time around. It was also easier to navigate due to the lack of traffic - the old town is blocked to scooters and cars, so is perfectly safe for pedestrians.
A street full of tailors
A shop that sold bamboo bicycles and straw baskets
They are also well known for their hanging lanterns, made in all different shapes and covered in silk, which are strung up all through the town and lit up at night to give quite a magical effect .
The children found the bartering aspect fascinating (and the performance that goes along with it), and the fresh food market with the stallholders produce set out on the sides of the roads - mounds of fresh coriander, ginger, salad ingredients, dragon fruit, women walking past with the traditional shoulder poles carrying baskets with fresh fish in totally them eye opening. There was a stall that sold live chickens in small bamboo cages (not sure whether to eat or for eggs, but you do see a lot of chickens wandering about roadside just out of town). It was no sanitised Western style market, and nor are the buildings a scrubbed clean Disney- style old town. There is a lot of patina in Hoi An still. It's all surrounded by rice paddies tended by workers wearing traditional conical hats and Water Buffalo and was a good eye opener to our children as to how people in other countries live.
French Colonial style at Hill Station cafe in Hoi An
I have always loved Vietnamese food and all bar one meal we had was exceptionally good (that meal was in a tourist trap style place that overlooks the river where they float lit rice paper lanterns down in the evening. The food was ok, but definitely not exceptional. View was good). Vietnamese food relies on fresh, clean tasting ingredients with lots of herbs. Hoi An has a lot of seafood locally caught, and the dressing and sauce flavours are sharp/sweet/clean tasting without so much of the chilli heat other Asian countries, such as the Thai, have. They are also very fond of a baguette, and their pastries are delicious (the French influence). Our favourites were the White Rose dumplings, a specialty of Hoi An (they have shrimp and pork in the centre and are very delicate in flavour and texture), and the Vietnamese Omelette, Banh Xeo, in which you cut the omelette into pieces and wrap in a section of rice paper with fresh herbs and salad leaves before dipping in a sauce served on the side. Delicious and something I'm going to look up to make at home. The small clay Hot Pots of curry are also worth trying, so delicious.
some sort of green mango salad and shredded chicken for lunch
One restaurant I'd recommend (and we ate there 11 years ago and enjoyed it then too) is the Brother's Cafe. It's just out of the old town, near the Anantara Hotel on the river. It's got an absolutely charming courtyard to dine in on the river, and at night is lit up with lanterns.
Brother's Cafe in Hoi An, which is housed in a French Colonial style building
All up it was an excellent family holiday - the highlight for me was walking out of the hotel one morning with an enormous bag full of laundry and having the 4 women, who have enterprisingly set up laundry services at the gates, begin fighting for the job. If only that happened at home. Returning home with a suitcase full of clean clothes after a family holiday was a miracle in itself.
There was also a lot of design inspiration all around me. While we didn't buy a lot, the beautiful details in the Hotels in both Singapore and Vietnam, the French Colonial and Chinese influences of the old town of Hoi An, their use of colour, traditional screens, pots and mood lighting were all inspirational in themselves. I could really get a sense of where the Australian/ British Interior Designer Anoushka Hemple found inspiration.
tiny tea pot
And as for what my souvenirs of the holiday were (aside from the happy memories and many photos), I purchased a tiny tea pot for one with tiny tea canisters of tea leaves from TWG tea in Singapore. You can buy the tea in David Jones' stores in Australia, but the range in Singapore was far larger, and the teapot was so charming I couldn't resist. The teapot has an insulating sleeve around it and literally brews only a single cup, so is perfect for me.
Halong Bay, still from the movie Indochine
My Hoi An purchase was a set of napkin rings carved from a single shell for each. They're apparently made up in North Vietnam in Halong Bay (If you've ever seen the movie starring Catherine Deneuve, Indochine, then you'll remember the stunning beauty of Halong Bay which was the second star of the movie, and if you haven't watched the movie then seek it out as it is beautiful). Another great movie, shot around Hoi An, is The Quiet American starring Michael Caine. And with that I think I'm off to do a binge watch of both those movies and relive a fantastic holiday. Hopefully we will return to Vietnam far sooner than in another 11 years.
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