How To Spend a Day in Hoi An, From Your Living Room

You can still experience the sights and sounds of Hoi An from your living room
You can still experience the sights and sounds of Hoi An from your living room | © Michael Brooks / Alamy Stock Photo
Kim Gregory

As staying in becomes the new normal, Culture Trip invites you to indulge in a spot of cloud tourism. Experience the sights and sounds of a place – without even leaving your home. Next up on our virtual tour is Hoi An, Vietnam.

Hoi An is one of Vietnam’s most famous tourist spots, known for its lantern-lined Ancient Town. A typical day there might involve a stroll around the French-style old quarter with its glittering lights and soft music, a bike ride around the surrounding luscious countryside, historical learning at the museums, and a large intake of its fabulously unique food and drink.

Although you can’t travel to beautiful Hoi An right now due to the coronavirus pandemic, you can experience all of its magic from home with this day-long itinerary of delicious recipes, fun activities and virtual tours.

8am: have a Vietnamese coffee

Mornings in this part of Southeast Asia aren’t complete without a cup of Vietnamese coffee, or ca phe. Hoi An has a fabulous cafe culture, with famously flavourful and powerful coffee nicknamed “rocket fuel”.

Making a perfect cup is a unique process involving a French drip filter (introduced in the colonial period) and beans often roasted with the likes of butter or rice wine. But what makes Vietnamese coffee really delicious is the common use of condensed milk to create ca phe sua da. This tradition began when fresh milk was difficult to import and would spoil in the heat. Ca phe sua da is a sweet, short drink served hot or iced. Other drinks growing in popularity include coffee with yoghurt, whipped egg yolk, or a combination of condensed and coconut milk.

To recreate ca phe sua da, add a little condensed milk – or any of the above – to a short, strong, black coffee. Munch on sunflower seeds as you drink and enjoy your sit down for a few hours to really do it like a local.

Try a Vietnamese coffee for a morning pick-me-up

10am: take a bike ride

Bicycles are a staple of Hoi An, thanks to the beautiful flat countryside and the Ancient Town’s preservation rules: it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site so motors are banned and you can only get around on foot or bicycle.

Hoi An’s UNESCO World Heritage Site status means the streets of the Ancient Town are motor-free

Grab your bike and go for an hour’s ride through parks or fields, imagining you’re experiencing the luscious Hoi An greenery. The farmers here sow herbs and chilli plants. If you spot any wild plants like garlic or coriander, pick and pocket them for your Vietnamese cooking later on.

12pm: enjoy a banh mi

Lunchtime in Vietnam means only one thing: banh mi. The flavoursome, hearty sandwich is a joy for the tastebuds and oh so satisfying. It’s thought to have originated from French breakfast platters in colonial times, with the ingredients stuffed into a baguette to be enjoyed on the go.

In Hoi An, cafe Banh Mi Phuong is the most popular as it was recommended by famous chef Anthony Bourdain. It’s a wonderfully strange place, where sandwich-lovers cram onto wooden benches and feast over tables lined with passport photos of previous happy customers. Most importantly, the banh mis really are phenomenal.

Tuck in to a delicious banh mi sandwich

Create your own legendary banh mi by grilling and slicing pork that’s marinated with soy sauce, fish sauce and garlic. Pickle carrots, radish and shredded cabbage in vinegar, sugar and salt. Mix spring onion, chilli, coriander and mint. Then slice a baguette, spread on mayonnaise, and stuff everything in.

2pm: learn about Hoi An’s history

Hoi An’s Ancient Town is a famously well-preserved piece of Southeast Asian history. An afternoon here might be spent visiting sites like the Museum of Folk Culture, Quan Cong Temple or the Japanese Bridge.

The historic Japanese Bridge in Hoi An

The latter was built by Japanese artists who were part of a larger community of Japanese merchants in Hoi An, as the town was once a trading port. The bridge has another name, Lai Vien Kieu, which means “welcoming friend afar”. The words are carved in Japanese characters at the bridge’s entrance, as a message to arriving traders. You can learn more about Hoi An’s main historical sites with a virtual 3D tour.

5pm: cook ‘cau lau’ noodles

It would be impossible to cook authentic cau lau noodles at home because, interestingly, this regional noodle dish is made with water sourced from a secret nearby well. Locals say that’s what gives the noodles their thick, gelatinous texture. Assuming you don’t have access to this magical Vietnamese well or local ingredients, try out this recipe at home with our small changes, below.

Can lau noodles are a local speciality in Hoi An

Simmer pork in a sauce of garlic, soy sauce, five spice, salt, pepper, sugar and pork stock. Cook thick noodles and bean sprouts. In a deep bowl, place lettuce, coriander, mint and any other herbs. Layer up the bean sprouts, noodles and pork slices. Finally, top with crackers, a wedge of lime and some chopped chilli. The taste will transport you straight to Hoi An.

7pm: enjoy a virtual stroll

It’s hard to put into words the magic of strolling around Hoi An’s Ancient Town, with the strings of colourful lanterns and gently playing piano music spilling from the restaurants. Luckily, we don’t have to. See it for yourself with this 4K virtual tour to get a real feel for this beautiful destination – rain and tourist crowds included.

Orange lanterns line the streets in Hoi An’s Ancient Town

9pm: take in a trip to the theatre

Hoi An is home to the largest, grandest theatre show in all of Vietnam so the best way to spend an evening is to head to Impressions Theme Park and marvel at their Hoi An Memories Show. With 500 cast members and light tricks galore, it’s a breathtaking spectacle on a huge scale. Wonderfully, each scene depicts an important moment in the history of Hoi An so we can learn what’s made the colourful, magical town we enjoy today. Vietnamese people are proud of their culture, so this a great way to learn all about it, from the history of its port trade to its traditional markets. Although you can’t be in the open air 3,000-seater theatre right now, enjoy the best parts of the spectacle with this exciting footage of the show.

And if you’re still keen on more Hoi An fun, why not try your hand at making a traditional paper lantern? The town is known for its colourful creations strung over the streets and guests often enjoy releasing small paper versions into the river as they make wishes. If you’re feeling ambitious, order the crafts parts online and get creating.

Get crafting with traditional lanterns

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