If you’re looking for a holiday that is jam packed with culture, cuisine and couture, but above all is unashamedly instagrammable then you’ve found the right places. The city of Hoi An is tailor made for fashionistas wanting fitted fashion in the fabric of their choice and just down the road neighbouring Da Nang offers unspoilt stretches of white sandy beaches. And all of this is just a 2.5 hours flight away with Air Asia.
We couldn’t decide whether to stay in Da Nang and have a beach based holiday or opt for Hoi An with its heritage – and let’s be honest, shopping opportunities. Both places appealed to different members of our family for different reasons, so in the end we decided to stay in both places for three days each.
Things to do in Da Nang
On your way into Da Nang you can’t fail to notice the eye catching Dragon bridge. Apparently it breathes fire and water each Saturday and Sunday night at 9pm. Sadly, we weren’t in town to marvel at the spectacle, so I can’t tell you whether a trip to experience this would be a roaring success.
Something we did enjoy though, was the bird’s eye view of the city that you can admire by perching on the edge of a balcony by the Lady Buddha statue. The impressive statue and its surrounding gardens are just a short car journey away from Da Nang’s beautiful beaches. If you are up at the crack of dawn, courtesy of your kids, I can imagine it would be the perfect place to see the sunrise. Also this would mean you could beat the heat and avoid coach loads of tourists. Tours are available to the Buddha and usually come as part of a larger tour package to see other attractions, but we just took a taxi.
Once you’ve ticked off the Buddha, beach and bridge from your list and if you want to escape to cooler climes then a trip to Ba Na Hills resort may suit your family down to the ground. Located in the Truong Son mountain range at an altitude of 1487m and 1 hour by road from Da Nang lies the intriguing resort.
One Tripadvisor review describes it as a cross between a bad Disneyland and Buddhist monastery, whilst others found it to be an enchanting fairyland. In my opinion, for what it’s worth, if you want to experience a beautiful authentic French village then visit France, to avoid disappointment. However, if you want to try out the highest and longest single track cable car in the world then this is where you will find it. Also at the top of the mountain is a mini theme park of which almost all the games and rides are free to go on, as entry to the park is included in the ticket to get access to the resort. Whilst this may be some people’s idea of hell, our children loved it and it would even put a smile on a tweens face, it that is at all possible! More information is available here.
When in Da Nang we stayed at the Fusion Suites Hotel. The hotel itself was pleasant enough, offering good quality fresh food choices. And the beach and swimming pool were just across the road. However, there was not much else to do around hotel. I think the main reason I booked it was not due to a fabulous location, but I must confess I was persuaded by the daily free foot massage!
Photo: Fusion Suites Hotel
Another Happy Go KL family recently stayed at Melia Danang and they were very happy with their Level rooms – club rooms with Level-only pool as well as evening cocktails.
Hoi An: things to do
Whilst I liked Da Nang, I loved Hoi An!
But without a doubt the highlight of our stay was a visit to the Bay Mau water coconut forest in Cam Thanh Village to catch crabs in a traditional boat and meeting a water buffalo along the way.
We chose the tour offered by this tour company partly because it was not a full day, so if it turned out to be a disaster it had only taken up our morning and also because they offered to come and pick us up in a taxi instead of making us cycle through Hoi An. Our kids are too old to be strapped into a bike seat and too young to be let loose on their own bikes when traffic is unpredictable, plus even if they were the ideal age to ride I am not sure I wouldn’t have passed out cycling in the 30°C heat.
Our first stop on the tour was meeting and riding a water buffalo. I was a little apprehensive as to whether the buffalo would be well cared for, but I am pleased to say he looked in great condition, so much so that I recommended this activity to my veterinarian friend. She too was not alarmed by these animals and would have happily hopped on herself if she hadn’t been seven months pregnant.
Having waved goodbye to the water buffalo we headed to the coconut village to travel in some traditional round boats and to catch some crabs. With the help of a local fisherman we did managed to catch some, which were then returned to their natural habitat when we were done.
The final part of this tour was a freshly cooked meal at the tour guide’s home. If like me you are concerned that this might be an awkward affair filled with long silences as you try to make small talk in your non existent Vietnamese, I can assure you it wasn’t. It was the perfect end to a memorable morning. The cost of the 4.5 hours tour was MYR130 for an adult and MYR65 for children.
Food in Hoi An
As well as beautiful surroundings, Hoi An is known for its diverse and delicious food. One of the things I love about holidays (and probably my family too) is the fact that I don’t have to eat my own cooking and get to sample the food made by people that actually know what they are doing.
One of our favourite restaurants serving local food was the Orivy on Cua Dai Street. We stumbled upon this little hidden gem and enjoyed an amazing lunch in a simple leafy courtyard. At first we weren’t sure whether to take a seat, but one of the diners encouraged us with her positively overwhelming review of the food.
Whilst the idea of actually taking a cooking class on holiday is my worst nightmare, I appreciate others may relish the idea. Hoi An would be a great spot to give it a go, as every other restaurant in the city seems to be offering cooking classes. Red Bridge comes highly recommended by another Happy Go KL mama, and is worth the trip even if you want to enjoy a ready-cooked meal.
Shopping and tailors in Hoi An
And now to the important part, the shopping opportunities. If you are in the market for lovely lanterns and made to measure garments and shoes then you will not be disappointed. The streets are lined with tailors and shoe makers ready to turn your designs into reality at a reasonable price. Having had clothes made in the past, I would highly recommend that you keep your ideas simple to avoid disappointment. You could either pick a design that they are already displaying and ask them to make it to your size and in your chosen fabric or you can take something along that you would like copied. Whilst a pair of sandals can be knocked up in less than a couple of hours, clothes will take longer, so I recommend putting any orders in at the beginning of your holiday.
As well as couture and handicrafts Hoi An is the home to shops selling lovely Vietnamese lanterns. These are particularly pretty at night. The great news is that they do fold down which allowed me to smuggle three into my suitcase. Whilst I have not yet found the perfect place to display them in my home, I just couldn’t bring myself to leave the city without a few as souvenirs.
Having shopped until I could no longer bear my family’s complaining, we had dinner overlooking the river and watched the sun set. We were very lucky to get a table as we had not booked in advance. So I would highly recommend you do your research beforehand and reserve a table especially if you are a large group. We ended the evening lighting candles and sending them off in paper boats down the river, it was a tad touristy, but nonetheless magical all the same.
If you only have a limited amount of time, in this Unesco heritage site, then you may want to hop in on one of the many trishaws that are giving visitors a whistle stop tour of Hoi An’s top sights. However, if you have more time to play with you could tag on a trip to the Imperial City of Hue, to marvel at the temples, tombs and the Purple Forbidden City or visit Marble Mountain which can be found en route to Da Nang.
We stayed in the Lasenta Boutique Hotel. It was a little way away from all the action, but worth it for the memorable views of the rice fields from the roof top infinity pool. They also provided a shuttle bus into the heart of the city and had bicycles available for people that are feeling more energetic.
If the idea of a trip to these vibrant Vietnamese cities floats your boat, I can guarantee you lots of lights, camera opportunities and plenty of action!