We wish we could call central Vietnam’s “Lantern City” the country’s best-kept secret, but tourists are discovering Hội An in their droves. It’s obvious what’s drawing them here: exquisite Vietnamese food, fairytale nightscapes and some of the county’s most Instagrammable beaches.[related_articles]59102,56238[/related_articles]
Located just a 45-minute drive from the city of Da Nang, in Vietnam‘s Quảng Nam Province, the UNESCO World Heritage city of in Hội An is a welcome reprieve from the breakneck pace of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Here’s how to make the most of it if you only have 48 hours.
Start the day with a banh mi at Phu Banh Mi (88 Thai Phien), then work your way around the Old Town by foot, swinging by snappable sites like the Fujian Assembly Hall on Tran Phu Street, Cantonese Assembly Hall and the Old House of Tan Ky, a pristine 18th century merchant’s house.
Fine-tune your haggling skills at the sprawling all-day Central Market, where stallholders present an endless selection of fresh fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices, freshly caught fish and tailor-made clothing. The Ty Cao Lau stand (just off Phan Chu Trinh St) is one of the best places to trial the city’s local delicacy, cao lầu noodles (chewy noodles, simmered BBQ pork and fresh herbs and spices), for lunch.
At sunset, wander along – or take a boat ride down – the Thu Bon river, where locals release flame lanterns each night, to the delight of the city’s visitors. Spend an hour perusing market stalls packed with trinkets at the Hội An Night Market before settling in for dinner at riverside restaurant Mango Mango.
The menu at Mango Mango is robust and full of ambitious flavour combinations, so, to avoid FOMO, opt for the four-course tasting menu. The Peekin’ duck is a dish of tender duck cooked in Asian spices atop a sweet potato pancake and Tom Rang Me – caramelised prawns in lemongrass, ginger, garlic and tamarind. The restaurant also boasts live entertainment and some of the best cocktails around, so it’s easy to stay until the wee hours.
On your second day in Hội An, a slower pace is in order (depending on how many cocktails you indulged in the night before), so hire a bike in town and slowly wind your way towards the ocean.
If you’ve been spending your travels in a cramped bus – or you’re simply in the mood for a bit of pampering – the award-winning Ginger Spa, set in tranquil Asian gardens, is a worthy first stop on your ride. Indulge in a 75-minute Aromatherapy massage ₫635,000 (AU$38) from one of the spa’s skilled therapists and you’ll be ready for whatever the next long-haul bus trip throws at you. Promise.
After the pampering is (sadly) done, join the other cyclists along Lạc Long Quân lusting for picturesque beaches. Head to An Bang Beach and you won’t be disappointed. It’s located 3km further north of the first beach you’ll reach – Cua Dai beach. While it’s tempting to dump your bicycle right there, those few extra kilometres are well worth it.
At An Bang, grab a light lunch of crispy Vietnamese pancakes at the nearby French bakery and restaurant, Nguyen Phan Vinh An Bang Village, or take a seat at one of the many restaurants vying for your custom along the An Bang beachfront.
With a belly full of food, you can easily spend hours at the beach, curled up on a sun lounger, sipping on cocktails at one of the restaurants (not too many if you’re riding back!), or taking a dip in the calm blue water.[related_articles]4426,63919,38637[/related_articles]
After you’ve had your beachside fill, cycle back into town for another glimpse of the charming city at sunset and to snap your quintessential Hội An shot at the Japanese Covered Bridge. The elaborate wooden landmark was originally constructed by the Japanese community in the 1590s to enable easier access to the Chinese quarters. Though it was flattened by the French to make it more suitable for vehicles, renovation in the ’80s restored it to its former splendour. It’s a beauty.
A short distance from the Japanese Covered Bridge is your tucked-away dinner destination, Nu Eatery. The food selection here is limited, but you needn’t look past the delectable pork belly steamed buns, followed by a market-fresh noodle dish and rounded off with their delicious homemade lemongrass ice cream (there’s a decent wine selection, too).
Finish off your 48-hour adventure by perusing the extensive wine list at the nearby double-story historic White Marble Wine Bar.
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(Lead image: Steve Douglas)