After a beautiful weekend, it’s a wet, cold and windy day in the Barossa so I can’t help but start thinking of the beach. So I thought it was a good time as any to share some of my favourite places in Vietnam starting with our favourite spot for both family beach getaways and girls weekends.
Hoi An and Danang are in the centre of Vietnam, on a long skinny strip of the country that is only about 50 kilometres wide with ocean on one side and mountains (and Laos) on the other. It’s an area with a fascinating long history with amazing Cham Kingdom ruins but was sadly also hugely affected by the Vietnam War (which the Vietnamese refer to as the American War). The Cham Museum in Danang is well worth a look. Other popular tourist sites include the ruins at My Son, Ba Na Hills and the 67-meter-high statue of the Bodhisattva of Mercy at the Linh Ung -Bai But Pagoda on Son Tra Peninsula.
Hoi An is an old fishing village which has been well preserved although it’s quite different from my first visit in 2003 when much of the Old Town was a tourist site. However you can still buy a ticket that gives you access to the Japanese covered bridge and some of the old shop houses, which have been restored. Hoi An used to be much quieter, but it is now a popular spot for local and international tourists. However it is still a wonderful escape from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and has some of the best food, hospitality, tailoring and hotels in the country.
Our first visit as a family was in 2011 when the boys were almost 1 and 3. We stayed at the Victoria Resort which was perfect for a family, the deluxe garden rooms being big enough for a spare bed and a cot – and we have been back several times. The Victoria is on the beach, and although part of the beachfront was lost during a series of bad storms in 2013, but they have built up another area of beach at the end of the resort. The gardens are beautiful and the breakfast buffet is one of my favourites. The hotel offers side car trips around the local area and is about a 5 minute taxi into Hoi An. It’s a popular hotel for families probably because babysitting is easy to organize through the hotel and there is a kids club and kids pool.
Getting around Hoi An with small children is also fairly easy compared to the bigger cities. There are still motorbikes but no cars in the old town so it’s actually a pleasant place to push a stroller around. Like most of Vietnam, children are welcomed and well looked after.
Hoi An is home to some of my favourite Vietnamese food including white rose dumpling, My Quang noodles, Cao lau noodles (a Hoi An specialty) and Hoi An chicken rice. I also had the best ban my (Vietnamese roll) at Banh My Phuong on our last visit 2B Pham Châu Trinh Street. Great restaurants include Bale Well – all you can each skewers and Vietnamese pancakes wrapped in rice paper wrapping; White Marble – fusion food and a great wine bar which makes it a good choice for snacks or dinner, Morning Glory (and their fabulous cookbook of the same name), Streets Cafe – providing hospitality training for local youth (and my pick for Hoi An chicken rice) and Q Bar for cocktails.
We had lots of things made at A Dong tailors on Le Loi Street but apart from suit and shirt fabric and some silk, there is limited choice so my best clothes were suits they copied or dresses with fabric I had brought with me. Other great shopping in Hoi An includes quirky Ginko t-shirts, Metiseko, Hot Chilli (Australian designed and locally made beachwear), as well as lanterns, pottery and other souvenirs. A fairly recent addition to Hoi An’s shopping scene is Ô Collective which brings together a selection of great brands from across Vietnam including Saigon Kitsch.
I would always recommend Hoi An to tourists and if you can, a trip on the train to Hue gives you an amazing view of the Hai Van pass. Otherwise fly in to Danang which is one of Vietnam’s newest (and best) airports and only about 30 minutes from Hoi An.
Living in Hanoi, Danang was a popular option for girls’ weekends and golf trips. There are a range of great hotels and spa resorts along the beach like the Fusion Maia which has spa villas and 2 spa treatments per person per day as part of the package or the secluded Intercontinental about 40 minutes north of Danang.
One of the only downsides to Hoi An and Danang can be the weather. We found it was still a bit cool for swimming in March but was beautiful by April. In 2012, we had five amazing days in July, but August- September tend to be stormy months and in 2013, there were still storms (and floods) through until November. Given how quickly Vietnam is changing, and the fact we’ve already been gone three months, I’d recommend Lonely Planet for general tourist information, Trip Advisor and local bloggers like Sticky Rice, Vietnamese God and Cameron Stauch for restaurant advice and Trip Advisor and Agoda for hotel reviews. Travelfish is also a good site for general information and good accommodation reviews. Travelling with children I have always tended to book directly with hotels just to ensure we can all fit and get the cot/spare bed we needed – and I found being a resident in Vietnam usually ensured we received a good rate. Over the next few months, I’ll try and post about some other places in Vietnam and the region, but please get in touch if there is somewhere you’d like to hear about.