Top 10 Things To Do in Hoi An

1. Take in an amazing view and a delicious meal at Hoa Anh Dao Sakura Restaurant
http://www.hoiansakura.com/

Where? 119-121 Nguyễn Thái Học, Minh An, tp. Hội An
Why go? It’s one of the fancier restaurants in town, and it’s well worth it. That said, we ordered 6 dishes (including seafood), 3 beers and a cocktail, and got away for around AUD$60.00, which isn’t exactly going to break the bank, as far as fancy feeds go! And if you remember, ask for a seat in the rooftop courtyard, too – the best view in the city.
How long will you need? We were there for about 2 hours.
Cost? Depends how hungry you are – we spent around AUD$60.00 for a genuine feast

 

2. Support a good cause by drinking tea and coffee at the Reaching Out Tea House

 http://reachingoutvietnam.com/
Where? 131 Tran Phu Street, Hoi An, Vietnam
Why go? The beautiful space is serene and calm, made even more so by the request that guests communicate in whispers. The staff are all speech and hearing impaired, which makes not the smallest bit of difference in their service. If anything, it’s better than any other tea house I’ve ever visited; they were all so gracious, elegant and accommodating. And the tea and coffee variety is fantastic.
How long will you need? We stayed around an hour, but would have happily stayed longer if our stomachs weren’t grumbling for dinner.
Cost? Varies a lot depending on what you order

 

3. Up your kitchen game at a Morning Glory cooking class
http://msvy-tastevietnam.com/cooking-classes/
Where? 3 Nguyen Hoang Street, An Hoi Islet, Hoi An
Why go? This is THE premier cooking school in Hoi An, and as far as I’m concerned, an absolute must! There are a few tours on offer, I’ve done the same one twice now (yes, I enjoyed it that much!): the Holiday Masterclass (including a trip to the market and a cooking lesson you’ll never forget).
How long will you need? This class runs from 8.30am – 1.30pm.
Cost? AUD$40.00 per person, which includes your market tour, cooking class, lunch, recipes and a little gift to take home

 

4. Cycle the islets of Hoi An with Heaven & Earth Bicycle Tours

 http://www.vietnam-bicycle.com/
Where? Meeting point for tours: 57 Ngo Quyen St. – An Hoi Islet, TP Hoi An
Why go? I don’t particularly enjoy bike riding and was talking into this by my sister; it’s one of the most uncomfortable but incredible things I’ve ever done. We got to see parts of this beautiful country we never would have had the opportunity to see otherwise, led by 2 local women who were some of the loveliest people I’ve ever met. It hurt like hell, but I’d do it again in a heart beat!
How long will you need? We took the REAL VIETNAM tour, running approximately 8am – 5pm.
Cost? Around AUD$60.00 per person, including water bottle and lunch

 

5. Stuff yourself silly with the city’s famous dish, cao lau
Where? All over Hoi An.
Why go? Ohh cao lau, where have you been all my life?! Thick, chewy noodles, the TASTIEST broth known to mankind, delicious slices of pork and fresh herbs/greens, topped with deep fried pieces of noodle. Magic.
How long will you need? Not long, if you eat as fast as I do when faced with something this good.
Cost? A few dollars

 

6. Walk through the lantern-lit riverside night market

Where? By the riverside, every night.
Why go? If you check out the #hoianlanterns hashtag on Instagram and don’t immediately feel the need to throw yourself into the middle of these perfect balls of light, there may be something wrong with you.
How long will you need? Spend the night walking around by the riverside – not only are there lanterns galore, but it turns into a market place with cheap souvenirs and delicious street food.
Cost? You can bring your own lantern home! The smallest ones cost around AUD$1.00 each – barter though, I ended up with 6 for $5, just because I asked.

 

7. Take a trip out to My Son Sanctuary

 http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/949
Why go? My Son, dated from the 4th to 13th centuries AD, is the former capital of the Champa Kingdom. Set in stunning green, mountain surrounds in the Quang Nam Province near Hoi An, it houses the remains of the Cham temple towers. They’re incredibly old, insanely beautiful, and well worth taking the time to see.
How long will you need? We took a half day tour organised by a small local travel agent we found in Hoi An.
Cost? Honestly can’t remember, but I know it wasn’t much.

 

8. Stuff your face with all of the food at Bale Well
Where? 45 Tran Hung Dao Street, Hoi An
Why go? For a mere sum of AUD$6.00 per person, we got a bottle of water each and an all-you-can-stuff-your-face-with pile of fresh herbs and salad, peanut dipping sauce, stir fried veggies, rice paper, freshly fried spring rolls and BBQd meat on sticks. This is some of the best street food you’ll ever find.
How long will you need? Give yourself at least an hour.
Cost? AUD$6.00 per person will have you rolling out.

 

9. Drink more tea at Cocobana Tea Rooms & Garden
 https://www.facebook.com/Cocobanatearoom/
Where? 16 Nguyen Thai Hoc St, Hoi An
Why go? Walk on in, and once you’ve breathed a sigh of relief at the air conditioning, you’ll be met with a wall of tea. Oh so much tea… oh so exciting! They have literally dozens of options to choose from, hot and cold, as well as a great coffee menu. And the best part? They’re all available to take home.
How long will you need? We spent about an hour there, but I’d happily stay longer – it’s just got that peaceful, homely atmosphere that you won’t want to leave.
Cost? Depends what you buy, but prices (particularly for take home tea) were very reasonable

 

10. Just admire the perfection that is the colour yellow all around the city

Where? Everywhere you look
Why go? You’ll quickly notice that Hoi An’s theme is yellow. It’s everywhere, it’s warm and beautiful, and it completely defines the city. Everywhere you look, you see another perfect yellow wall, the same shade as the others, and yet somehow completely different.

Top 10 Things To Do in Hanoi

1. Shop at the Dong Xuan Weekend Night Market
Where? Dong Xuan and Hang Chieu Streets, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Why go? Fantastic street food, cheap shopping, and that crazy atmosphere that makes Asian street markets so much fun.
How long will you need? Get there around 7pm, and stay until you’re shopped out.
Cost? Everything is pretty cheap, but be prepared to barter so you’re not getting ripped off.

 

2. Visit the “Hanoi Hilton” – Hoa Lo Prison
Where? 1 Hoả Lò, Trần Hưng Đạo, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Why go? The prison was originally built by the French in the 1880s to imprison Vietnamese political prisoners, but when the French eventually left Vietnam in 1954 after their defeat at Dien Bien Phu, the prison was taken over by the North Vietnamese Army who used it to house, interrogate and torture American prisoners of war. It was the American prisoners who sarcastically nicknames the prison the “Hanoi Hilton,” in honour of the horrible conditions they faced in there. While it is obviously well known that the Americans suffered just as horribly to the Vietnamese as the Vietnamese did to the French, the exhibits in the museum focus mainly on the torment suffered by the Vietnamese under French control. And they are truly horrific.
How long will you need? 1-2 hours.
Cost? Around AUD$1.50 per person

 

3. Stroll the through beautiful grounds of the Temple of Literature
Where? 58 Quốc Tử Giám, Văn Miếu, Đống Đa, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Why go? The Temple of Literature in Hanoi is dedicated to Confucius , and was the site of Vietnam’s first university, dating back to 1076. Back then, only those of noble birth were admitted, but the mid-1400s brought about a new age, where gifted students from around the country were allowed. Now, it’s a stunning public space where you’ll walk around with a slack jaw and constant camera clicking…
How long will you need? 2 hours
Cost? Around AUD$1.50 per person

 

4. Ignore the overcautious and pretentious travelers and eat street food!

Why go? It’s not dirty or gross, it’s not going to make you sick, it’s not something to turn your nose up at. The food being made by the sweet little old ladies on the back of a motorbike cart is some of the best food in the city, so drop the ego and get eating.
Cost? It’s cheap – the spread about cost us about AUD$8.00 each, and we got nowhere near finishing it.

 

5. Eat ice cream and people watch by the banks of Hoan Kiem Lake
Where? Literally in the middle of the city, you can’t miss it.
Why go? Hoan Kiem Lake is the centre of the city, and the place where so many social events are held; at any time of the day or night, you’ll see people gathering for a picnic, to study, to practice tai chi, or just for a bit of a gossip session. When the heat starts to get to you, grab an ice cream, park yourself in the shade of the trees that circle the lake, and just take it all in…
How long will you need? As long as you want
Cost? Ice cream is pretty cheap, and the view is free!

 

6. Get educated on the Vietnamese point of view at the Vietnam Military History Museum

Where? 28A Điện Biên Phủ, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Why go? The grounds are piled with discarded planes and bomb shells, the buildings full of photos and more pieces of history. It’s a sombre atmosphere, and you can’t help feeling enormous respect for this small but courageous nation of underdogs. While you could never understand what they have been through, you start to understand just why they’re so fiercely proud and patriotic, and it’s a great way to take in a serious history lesson.
How long will you need? We were there for a few hours.
Cost? Around AUD$1.50 per person

 

7. Take a day trip out to Ha Long Bay
UD$150.00
Why go? It’s not hard to see why Ha Long Bay was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994. The bay includes, I believe, almost 2000 islands and islets, and is just breathtakingly beautiful, especially when you’re floating through it on a boat, without a single care in the world…
How long will you need? All day long for a day trip, but if you have a few nights to spare, you can spend a few nights on the water on a junk (boat).
Cost? It’ll depend – a day trip can start at around AUD$150, and you’ll be looking at a few hundred per person for a night or two on the water.

 

8. Indulge in one of the city’s favourite dishes, bún chà

Where? Literally everywhere from the street corners to the markets.
Why go? Vermicelli noodles. Meat. Peanuts. Spring onion. And a delicious sauce to pour over the top. Like you need any more convincing.
Cost? You can get a bowl for a few dollars almost anywhere in the city.

 

9. Take in the patriotism and national pride at the Hi Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum
Where? 19 Ngách 158/193 Ngọc Hà, Đội Cấn, Ba Đình, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Why go? Ho Chi Minh (or Uncle Ho, to the Vietnamese) fought for Vietnamese independence, bringing the North and South together under one rule. He was a popular man, and his mausoleum brings in hundreds of visitors every day, mostly locals actually, paying their respects. But the tourists come in by the bus load too, often making their way on to the museum, like I did. The museum is quite big, and incredibly interesting – it actually makes history interesting, for those of you who aren’t history nerds like me.
How long will you need? 2-3 hours.
Cost? Around AUD$1.00 per person

 

10. Finish the day with a drink up on Café Nola’s umbrella-covered rooftop
Where? 89 Mã Mây, Quan Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Why go? Rooftop bar. Great cocktails at cheap prices. Delicious food to nibble on. And they have the cutest collection of umbrellas dangling above you. Best way ever to finish a big day in Hanoi.
How long will you need? Spend a long afternoon there, trust me.
Cost? Cheap enough that I don’t remember

Temple of Ixchel, Isla Mujeres

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When you visit Isla Mujeres to enjoy the sunshine and the heat, do yourself a huge favour – do not book a guided tour to get to Punta Sur, hire a golf cart for the day instead and enjoy the sun shining on your skin and the breeze cooling you down as you explore the island. Being able to explore on your own time gives you the chance to spend a little longer at beautiful places like the ruins of the Temple of Ixchel, the Goddess of the Moon. While the temple has been reduced to ruins with time and weather, it’s still a gorgeous spot to take a little time to slow down at, located at just about the eastern most point of Mexico. It’s a beautiful, peaceful spot, not often frequented by too many tourists, and a perfect spot to just sit in the sunshine and take it all in…

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An interesting encounter at the Temple of Karnak, Egypt

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We arrived at the Karnak Temple complex after a quick visit to the Colossi of Memnon, and bang in the middle of a sandstorm. It was one of those things you see in movies or travel documentaries that looks kinda cool, but is actually just crap in real life. The sandstorm, not the temple.

A staggeringly enormous open air museum of sorts, it’s the second largest temple complex of it’s type in the world (Angkor Wat takes the title). While it’s hard to pick favourite parts, some of the more impressive sections, in my eyes, included the great Hypostyle hall of columns, the rows of ram-headed sphinxes lining the entrance to the complex, and the few obelisks scattered around.

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It was an amazing complex, quite different from a lot of other sites we visited. It stood out for another reason, too. A confronting incident with another visitor.

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Our tour group was made up of myself, my husband, another young woman and two other guys, all of us being around the same age. Us two girls hadn’t had too much trouble during the trip, which we were very thankful for, but what happened here certainly tested our nerves. While we were looking around the lake, we became quite conscious of the fact that we were being circled by a few young Egyptian men, somewhere between 18 and 25 years old. Anyway, I guess the cockiest one, with the oiled, slicked back hair, tight fitting singlet and gold neck chains got a little bored of staring from a distance – I hadn’t really registered that he’d disappeared from my sight until I turned around to look back at the lake to find him only a few inches in front of me and my fellow female travel companion, camera pointed in our faces, clicking away like a possessed paparazzo.

Thankfully, our amazing local guide, Medo, stepped in pretty quickly to get rid of him. Once he was gone and we’d gotten over our initial shock, we asked what the hell it was all about. Medo explained that the big temple complexes attracted a lot of young guys coming from the “country side” (remoter areas) where they don’t get Western tourists. They come to the big tourist spots with their cameras to capture the foreign women they see, so that they can take the pictures back home to their friends and brag and exaggerate about what they’d seen and their holiday conquests. Because I wasn’t already feeling like enough of a zoo animal, being porcelain doll-white, auburn-haired and freckled.

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While it freaked me out, it was also a really interesting experience; I think I’d kind of expected to encounter this sort of thing the whole time we were in Egypt. But this was the second last day of our trip, and it was the first confrontation of that type we had. Us Melbournians aren’t really all that surprised or intrigued by different cultures to the extent those young man were. Melbourne is a stomping ground for any and every culture under the sun – Fijians, Chinese, Americans, Italians, Vietnamese, Indians, Brits, Greeks, Jews, Muslims, Catholic nuns, Buddhist monks: they all coexist without any of the outlandish curiosity we were shown in Egypt. Hell, I’ve seen a mature-aged gentleman of what seemed to be eastern European descent standing in the middle of the CBD dressed in a skirt and heels, holding rosary beads, and no one blinked an eye at him as they walked past. It really made me wonder about my own upbringing and how much I’ve completely taken for granted exposure to other cultures from such an early age. Even as a kid, with friends who looked so clearly physically different to me, I don’t think I ever really wondered (or cared) why, yet here were these young adults making special trips from their quiet, secluded home towns to see what foreigners looked like and take home proof that they’d seen these fantastical creatures.

Photo Journal: Philae Temple, Egypt

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It’s funny; it didn’t seem to matter how many temples we visited in Egypt, they were all so different, and all so beautiful in their own ways. Philae Temple was a favourite for me, because it felt so secluded, isolated, and so peaceful.

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Located on a little island in the middle of Lake Nasser, it’s believed to have been founded around 370 BC. “Philae” translates roughly to “the end,” because it’s location defined the southern limit of Egypt at the time it was built.

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Much like Abu Simbel, also located on Lake Nasser, the original site of Philae temple was actually flooded, making it yet another wonder that was thankfully relocated and therefore saved for countless generations to come. It’s not located on an island called Agilika.

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One of the things that really stood out for me were the intricate lotus petal designs that crowned the columns throughout the complex. The lotus features prominently in a LOT of the temples we saw, and held special symbolic meaning to the Ancient Egyptians, representing creation, rebirth, the sun.

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For the most part, the hieroglyphs were still incredibly in tact, considering the age of the temple, and we did see something that completely amazed me: ancient graffiti. Below is one of the images I captured of a Coptic cross, defiantly etched over the original hieroglyphs by early Coptic Christians. They actually made their way through the temple defacing a lot of the original reliefs and art work, and it’s believed that a Christian altar was actually erected around 500 AD, in the courtyard.

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My most concrete memory of this place, though, was the view that greeted us towards the end of our wanderings. Lake Nasser, in all its sparkly glory under the midday Aswan sun. It was perfect, and always will be in my memory.

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