Destination: Hoi An, Vietnam! It's Exactly What We Were Looking For (Almost)

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When people switch jobs, places to live, or even partners, they often look for the thing they didn’t have before.

Boring, but high-paying job? Your next one might involve leading whitewater rafting trips. Irresponsible boyfriend? Next you’ll be dating Ned Flanders.

When Brent and I chose to come to Hoi An, Vietnam, it was partly because we hoped it would have the things that were lacking in our last destination, Koh Lanta, Thailand. (We liked it there, but probably stayed one month too long.)

After six weeks, has it delivered? A qualified yes.

We wanted urban, and it’s more urban.

There’s much more energy here. The streets are thronged with scooters whizzing this way and that, constantly honking, because that’s a Vietnamese thing. The outdoor markets are jammed with local farmers selling everything from passion fruit right off the tree to shrimp right out of the sea (literally. It’s, um, still moving). The Vietnamese are a very industrious, very busy people. It’s a pretty nice change after sleepy Koh Lanta.

There’s much more to do.

Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage site with a wonderful Old Town that dates back to the 16th century. At night, gorgeous paper lanterns light up the narrow cobblestone streets, and the famous Japanese Bridge is thronged with mostly Chinese tourists.

Yes, you read that right: Chinese tourists crossing a Japanese bridge in Vietnam. Ah, Asia!

Hoi An is famous for its many tailors, which are shockingly affordable by Western standards. The (so-so) beach is less than two kilometers from our lodging, and Cham Island, another UNESCO World Heritage site, is a quick boat ride away.

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The area looks like the Vietnam of your dreams, with sleepy fishing villages, sprawling vegetable gardens, vast fish ponds, and—best of all—great swaths of beautiful rice fields which you can meander through on elevated bike paths. But watch out! We’re told the water buffalo are restless at dusk.

The people aren’t as polite and gentle as the Thai, but they are still friendly and eager to help you out. Oh, and our apartment here is way nicer and way cheaper than what we had in Thailand.

Finally, there’s a fantastic water park only twenty minutes away (and it’s nearly empty), and an even larger amusement park is about a half hour north in Da Nang, a vibrant city of over a million people. The Bà Nà Hills, with its Instagram-famous Golden Bridge, is a little farther, but it’s up in the cool mountains. And the Hải Vân Pass, called one of the best coastal drives in the world, is only a few hours distant.

So what’s lacking here? In other words, what will we probably be most looking for in our next destination?

We’re disappointed by the food.

The food in Thailand was considerably better. In Koh Lanta, we probably had three bad meals in three months. But it was Thailand, so… duh, right?

Here the street food has caused us “problems,” and the restaurants are mostly uninspired—or a little too “authentic.” They seem to really like chicken heads and un-shelled shrimp, even cooked in pancakes or spring rolls.

Speaking of which, we at least expected to find a spring roll-lovers’ paradise, and also fantastic phở. But so far, that’s been disappointing too.

The heat is unbearable.

This “signature chicken” dish came with chicken heads. Nothing wrong with that, but not what we were expecting.

This “signature chicken” dish came with chicken heads. Nothing wrong with that, but not what we were expecting.

Probably the worse thing for me has been the heat. It was no picnic back in Thailand, but it’s only mid-May here and we’ve already hit 40 Celsius twice. (That’s 104 Fahrenheit.) And the average humidity is 80%. Being outside for even a few minutes often means sweating through your shirt.

We’ve tried to adapt some of the Vietnamese customs in dealing with the high temps. The locals are early risers, often up and out the door before 6 AM in order to beat the heat. I usually do the shopping at the local outdoor market and try to get there no later than 7 AM to avoid the worst of the heat. Even then, I still arrive home sweaty. Just not as sweaty as if I went a few hours later.

In conclusion…

We really like Hoi An. The energy is exactly what we needed after sleepy Koh Lanta.

But we’re already hoping our next destination has better eats. And in the future, we will definitively pay more attention to when the hot season starts.