My senses are in overdrive. I’m standing in the middle of Hoi An’s central market and, whilst it is still early in the morning, there is activity everywhere with many locals starting their day here. I can hear the chatter of produce sellers and the distant sound of mopeds, I can see a mouth-watering selection of fresh fruit and vegetables and I can smell a blend of aromatic spices drifting through the air. I take a moment to soak it all in – it feels incredible to be back in Asia!
This was my first long haul trip since the pandemic and I was so excited; Vietnam has always been on my (long) list of countries to travel to. I had a feeling Hoi An would be a highlight for me, but it exceeded my expectations. Before visiting, I only knew two things about Hoi An: one, it is nicknamed ‘the lantern city’ and two, it is famous for tailoring. I was eager to explore.
As I explore the market, Henry, my guide, takes the time to explain the common ingredients found in Vietnamese cooking. We purchase various produce from market stalls, ready for a cooking class at Tra Que Vegetable Village. The market was the perfect start to my day – a taste of life in Hoi An.
Arriving in the village is like stepping into an oasis. We are only 10 minutes from Hoi An but the difference is stark. It’s incredibly quiet and all I can see is endless rows of vibrant, green vegetable patches. A local farmer greets us and presents each of us with a traditional bamboo hat.
“A farmer’s uniform,” he says with a wide smile. As we tour the grounds, we pick various spices and herbs ready to get cooking. My bamboo hat is quickly replaced by a chef’s hat and we get straight to work. Today’s menu consists of spring rolls and banh xeo (crispy pancakes), made using the fresh ingredients from the market and village.
After a failed first attempt at the pancakes (the first one always burns!), I start to get the hang of it and the rest turn out perfect. Everything tastes delicious and fresh, and is even more enjoyable knowing I made it from scratch.
We head back into the centre of Hoi An where our next stop is a tailor. Hoi An was a key trading port on the silk route and this is where tailoring here dates back to. It’s safe to say, if you want something tailored then Hoi An is the place to do it! I have never seen so many different fabrics in one place. There is an endless variety of colours and patterns, and any item of clothing you would like made is returned to you the next day. It is a coveted trade here and getting a sneak peak of the tailors at work is such a treat.
As we leave the tailor, the light is starting to fade and the sun is setting. In my opinion, this is when Hoi An really shines. You can see why Hoi An is fondly named ‘the lantern city’ – it is magical. Everywhere I look there are lanterns; strung up high over the streets, attached to the side of buildings and hanging on traditional wooden boats floating down the river. The vivid colours of the lanterns light up this picturesque city. I stop on one of the bridges to people watch and I feel like I am in a Disney film. I instantly feel a sense of tranquillity. I am so happy to have spent my day here.
I look back on my trip to Vietnam with fond memories, but Hoi An standards out. It’s a small city but it had a big impact on my trip. If you are thinking about visiting Vietnam I have two things to say: firstly, just do it and secondly, don’t miss out on Hoi An!