Hoi An Roastery Cafe Review Hoi An

review cafe hoi an roastery

Best for: Vietnamese coffee, International coffee, cakes, lunch, solo coffee outings

The beautiful lantern filled ancient town of Hoi An in Vietnam is somewhere that holds  a special place in my heart. It was a place that I had been desperate to visit for long time and when I went there on my solo travels in Asia Last year, I loved it even more than I’d expected to- in fact I loved it so much that I stayed twice the length of time that I’d originally intended. So, what makes Hoi An so special?

What I loved moved about Hoi An was its sheer beauty. Narrow lanes, covered in colourful hanging lanterns, with a little river running through the centre of it. There’s no denying that the town is touristy but having said this, it somehow manages to maintain its authenticity. I loved tucking into a big bowl of noodles at the bustling Central Market in the day, perusing the night market in the evenings and of course exploring the many wonderful cafes that Hoi An has to offer.

There are a lot of places to get your caffeine fix in Hoi An and out of all them, Hoi An Roastery was my favourite.  It’s actually a local cafe chain and they have six locations in the town but my favourite one was their original location by the Japanese bridge. I came here most days to  read my book and enjoy a Ca Phe Sua Da or an egg coffee.

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review cafe an hoi roastery an hoi

review cafe an hoi roasters an hoi

The Decor

What I loved about Hoi An Roastery was the way that it managed to look really contemporary yet still in keeping with Hoi An’s traditional buildings. All of the cafes locations are all really spacious, light and open plan. That means that even if it rains- and when I was in Vietnam it rained a lot- it still felt like I was outside in the hustle and bustle of the towns streets even if I sat inside. Each and every one of the cafes locations offers a different scenic view of Hoi An. The cafe by the Japanese Bridge was my favourite for people watching but I also loved the upstairs balcony on the one by temple and the views over the river from its riverside location too.

The Menu

Hoi An Roastery specialises in great coffee- in fact they source their own beans from nearby in Dalat, roast them in Hoi An and they have the best range of coffees around. While I would always advise to stick to the more traditional Vietnamese coffees (because once you get a taste for Vietnamese condensed milk coffee there is no going back), they also do fantastic espresso based coffees, great for travellers missing a taste of home. They also offer a section of sandwiches, traditional Vietnamese dishes and cakes. My advice- get the banana bread.

I’m not going to sit back and pretend these are the cheapest cafes in Hoi An- the little street side stalls frequented by the locals will always be your best bet, Hoi An Roastery’s cafes are however, still fairly cheap and as a chain, it beats Starbucks anytime.

Goc Ha Noi Review, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Goc Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

Goc Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

Goc Ha Noi in Ho Chi Minh City is a cafe that really stands out from the crowd. Located at the end of a little alleyway, stepping into this cozy Vietnamese tea room and coffee shop is like travelling back in time. Everything here is happily stuck in the past from the old photos on the wall, to the furnishings and the traditional tea and coffee menu. It’s like visiting your grandmother’s house, only Vietnamese style.

The Location

The cafe is located at the end of an alleyway in the tourist centre of Ho Chi Minh city at 165/3 Bui Vien Street, Pham Ngu Lao Ward.

The Decor 

Goc Ha Noi’s decor is old-fashioned Vietnamese style. The staff are absolutely lovely and the cafe has a really relaxed, low-key vibe making it feel really homely. Everything is a little mismatched from the black and white photos on the wall to the bookshelves and all of the little seating areas. It’s surprisingly spacious inside and packs quite a few seats in making it the ideal place to spend an afternoon.Goc Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh City VietnamGoc Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh City VietnamGoc Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

The Menu

If you’re after a traditional Vietnamese egg coffee (which is so much nicer than it sounds) then this cafe is the place to get it, however they have lots of other drinks too like Vietnamese milk coffee and teas. You can also get pho soup there and surprisingly, a lot of things on toast. I went for the iced jasmine tea set which came with a selection of traditional Vietnamese cakes including a really tasty little bean cake, something the lovely woman who ran it told me she used to have at her grandmothers when she was younger but it had fallen out of popularity now.

The Prices 

Prices in this cafe are very average for a place that’s aimed at tourists with drinks prices being around £1.30 for a coffee or 40,000 dong and food starting at 50,000/ £1.60.

https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g293925-d11827161-Reviews-Goc_Ha_Noi-Ho_Chi_Minh_City.html

Nola Cafe Review, Hanoi, Vietnam

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Anyone that knows me will be aware that I am a huge coffee addict. I love going to cafes and taking the time to meet a friend or spend an hour by myself enjoying a coffee and slowing down. Having a coffee feels indulgent but not excessive, it adds structure to an empty day or reflection in a busy one, it picks you up, it calms you down, it’s a chance to be social or to get lost in your own thoughts and wherever you are in the world, no matter how different the place is, a coffee shop is a coffee shop and that’s a comforting thought.

I’m writing up a list of reviews on my favourite coffee shops that I’ve been to around the world for a new section on my blog so here’s the first one: a review of quirky Vietnamese Nola Cafe in Hanoi. Hope you guys enjoy reading about these cafes as much as I did visiting them.

Nola Cafe Hanoi

Nola Cafe Hanoi

Nola Cafe, Hanoi

I didn’t realise how big of a thing coffee was in Vietnam before I went but this South East Asian country is the ultimate destination for coffee lovers with no end of intriguing and alternative coffees and an endless choice of quirky cafes to drink them in.

In a city as wonderfully chaotic as Hanoi, coffee shops are the one place you can go to escape from the madness and I don’t think I found another place on my trip that was as serene and tranquil as Cafe Nola. Hiding in plain sight with an entrance through a narrow alleyway in the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter,  I would have easily missed Cafe Nola if I hadn’t been looking for it.

The Location

Nola Cafe is located at 89 Pho Ma May, Hang Buom near the Hoan Kiem lake. It’s probably best to plug the address in Google Maps as it’s tricky to find.

I’d read about this cafe in my Lonely Planet guidebook that I’d been religiously carting round the country with me so I assumed that the cafe would be full of guidebook loving travellers but I was the only person there.

The Decor

If like me, you’re partial to posting a few Instagram’s then the arty decor of this cafe will win you over. Undoubtedly, getting up to the actual seating area of the cafe was a bit of a workout as I had to climb a steep, narrow flight of stairs to get there but once I did it opened up into a beautiful, wild overgrown garden and outdoor seating area covered with multi coloured patterned umbrellas, little lanterns and dotted with mismatched furniture.

Despite it’s location in the centre of the city, all of the noises integral to the city like beeping motorbike horns were silenced and all I could hear were the sounds of birds chirping.  As someone on their first solo backpacking trip, this little sanctuary was just the mental escape that I needed for an hour or two from the fast paced city.

The Menu

Cafe Nola offers food as well as drinks on its menu however it caters for tourists and food prices are higher than you’d pay in most restaurants and the food is less authentic so I’d recommend coming here just for coffee. Its drink selection is very westernised serving all the usual coffees that I’d have at home like a Flat White, Long black and cappuccino’s as well as smoothies and cocktails. I went for a black coffee and an iced sweet jasmine tea.

I preferred traditional Vietnamese coffees: they’re much more interesting, (you can read more about them on my coffee guide) but this cafe is more about the aesthetics (Let’s be honest, a cafe tucked up and alleyway with colourful umbrellas as a ceiling is always going to be aimed at photo seeking travellers, right?)

The Prices

Prices are high by Vietnamese standards but low in comparison to the UK with coffees averaging £2 and food around £3-£4 a dish.

How To Order Coffee In Vietnam

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Vietnam coffee guide: From Hanoi to Hue, How to order coffee like a pro in Vietnam (and where to get it from)

Whenever people ask me what my favourite destination I’ve travelled to so far is, I struggle but I usually come to the same answer: Vietnam, and that’s mainly for the coffee.

When I turned up to Hanoi in October as part of my first solo backpacking trip, it was an assault on the senses. Hanoi’s old quarter is a labyrinth of crazy chaotic roads, motorbikes coming at you from all directions, women selling eels at the side of the road, little alleyways with mismatched shops and street side restaurants with people perched on low seats slurping bowls of pho.

I was captivated straight away and couldn’t stop walking around with a huge grin on my face, although the traffic did take a little getting used to. (I spent the first evening eating a bowl of cereal for dinner because I couldn’t cross the junction to get to the restaurants).

However the one place I found solace in the city chaos was in the coffee shops. Coffee in Vietnam is as big as tea in England and wow, the coffee was good. There are so many different ways to have coffee in Vietnam and I couldn’t wait to try them all. What’s best is that coffee in the country is so dangerously cheap, (Costing around 20,000 dong or 66p) so it wont even make a dent in your budget.

Heres my guide to how to order coffee in Vietnam

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Egg coffee at Cafe Pho Co, Hanoi

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Egg coffee (Ca Phe Trung)

I will always remember my first coffee in Hanoi. It was an egg coffee or (Ca Phe Trung) at Cafe Pho Co. I’d read about this cafe and its trademark coffee in my Lonely Planet guide and finding it was a real adventure. Located by the Hoan Kiem lake the entrance to this hidden gem is entered via a silk shop that I only found by putting its location into google maps.

At first I wasnt sure if I was in the right place and as I walked in to the shop I was almost run over by a man on a motorbike who came racing past me out of the door. Welcome to the craziness that is Vietnam! I  kept walking through a narrow corridor and then sure enough the shop opened up into a beautiful cafe courtyard with a winding stair case going up several floors. I wandered up to the top floor where I was met with breathtaking views of the lake and I attempted to order my first egg coffee, with my very limited Vietnamese.

If you love coffee then you have to try egg coffee in Vietnam. I had no idea what to expect but I absolutely loved it.  This drink is particularly popular in Northern Vietnam and the consistency of the drink is that of a wet meringue but it has a sweet yet deep coffee taste that makes it totally addictive.

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Traditonal ‘Phin’ coffee at breakfast

Hot Vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk (Ca Phe Sua nong: Translates as Coffee, Milk, hot)

I first got addicted to condensed milk in drinks in Thailand where it is used to sweeten the ashy coloured Thai milk tea, but Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk is something else. This is the most common way to have coffee and I go served this numerous times in restaurants, hostels and cafes.

The coffee is filtered through a Phin (picture above) which is placed on top of a cup that already layer of condensed milk in it. When the coffee has filtered through, simply mix it with the milk. If you’re not keen on milk then you can ask for this black (ca phe den nong: This translates as coffee, black, hot). This will come sweetened. I tried ordering this without any sugar once (when I was trying to be healthy) but it’s just not nice. Vietnamese coffee isn’t like at home and the pure coffee is bitter and sour rather than smooth and sweet like an espresso.IMG_1476.jpg

Iced Vietnamese coffee (White: Ca Phe Sua Da) or (Black: Ca Phe Den Da)

Iced Vietnamese coffee is another really popular drink served in cafes. In fact one day I went to a little roadside cafe filled with locals and no menu and simply asked for coffee and this is what I got. This iced drink is served in a tall cup with the condensed milk already added, so it is lighter in colour. It usually comes with a free glass of iced tea (Something sold for next to nothing in most restaurants too).

If you don’t want milk then order it black (Ca Phe Den Da: Den being black and da iced). This comes with some sugar added, you can usually choose how much e.g medium sweet. Again I wouldn’t recommend having it without any sugar in, it just isn’t nice.

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Iced coconut coffees at Hoi An Roastery, Hoi An
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Cafe Nola, Hanoi

Coconut Iced Coffee

Out of all of the towns in Vietnam, the enchanting riverside town of Hoi An is the coffee capital and one of the best drinks that I had there was a coconut Iced coffee. This fantastically decadent drink is made from a mix of coffee, thick coconut milk and condensed milk. It’s really more of a dessert than a drink and sitting out in the sun with one of these, well you can’t really beat that. The best places that I had these were at two local Hoi An coffee chains: Hoi An Roastery and Cocobox. All of their cafes are fantastic places to people watch with extensive menus serving everything from local coffee, tea to all the basics like Lattes and cappuccino

Espresso based coffee

Sometimes when you’re travelling for a while all you want is a normal coffee just like at home. There are plenty of places that you can satisfy your caffeine craving in Vietnam. If you’re after somewhere a little more culturally enriching than Starbucks then I recommend the Highlands coffee chain. This Vietnamese coffee chain has locations all over the country from Ho Chi Minh city to Hue and Hanoi. They have both the traditional Phin filter coffees and espresso based coffees such an Americanos, lattes and cappuccinos.

If you don’t have dairy then don’t worry as soya milk is very popular in Vietnam so it shouldn’t be an issue. I really loved this place because they give you a little phone that rings when your order is ready, it’s usually full of younger locals and they have great wi-fi. I sheltered in one of these cafes when I got caught in a typhoon in Hue.

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Goc Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh City

So that’s it: Now you’re already to go to Vietnam and order some coffee for yourself. I hope this post has inspired you to dive straight into the country’s fantastic coffee culture. Vietnam is a country that runs on coffee, they produce it, they drink it and they value it and as fast paced, hectic and chaotic a country it might be, sitting in a cafe waiting for the coffee to filter through a phin, that’s when Vietnam slows down.

Why not step inside some of Vietnams best cafes and read my cafe reviews here.

 

 

Useful Things You Need To Know Before Travelling In Vietnam

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Vietnam was a country that had been on my bucket list forever so when I decided to add in as part of my backpacking South East Asia Itinerary I couldn’t be more excited. I knew very little about the country or the culture when I turned up in Hanoi as part of my first solo backpacking trip.  Perhaps this was a little naive but I was just so damn excited to get out there and explore I didn’t really leave time for planning.

As a solo female backpacker I found Vietnam to be a safe, sociable and relatively easy country to travel in and the food was out of this world good. My biggest concern was the traffic- Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh are an absolute nightmare to even cross the road!

If you’ve got the time then I’d say don’t overly plan an itinerary for Vietnam as its much better to take each day as it comes. ( A typhoon in Central Vietnam totally changed my plans forcing me to fly from Hue to Ho Chi Minh City then back up later on).

Either way if you are planning on travelling to Vietnam here are a few things to bear in mind first. 

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The visa situation

Ok so first of all if you are visiting longer than 15 days then you need a visa. You need to pre-book your visa before you’ve arrived. There’s a lot of conflicting information online about what you need and how much you need to pay. Basically the thing you’re after is an approval letter. If you book an e visa, it’s the same, just a letter.

I went with http://www.evisa.com.vn which is recommended by Lonely Planet. They are legitimate and can process and email you your letter in 1-2 working days for 20 USD or 30 USD if you need it urgently, which is what I did the last-minute. You can apply from home or in another country if you’re somewhere else before. I applied while in Thailand. To apply you just need to send a photo of your passport and a photo of a passport size photo of yourself. If you’re backpacking in Asia you should always have passport photos on you.

If time is short and you’re only staying 15 days and you’re from one of the eligible countries like the UK, you do not need to get an e-visa. However YOU NEED PROOF OF ONWARD TRAVEL. A lot of backpackers heading to another country after will not have a flight booked out of Vietnam. You will not be able to get on your flight without this. They will make you book one at the airport and this can be expensive.

Now we’re over the visa hassle, the rest is a lot more straightforward.IMG_2347

Choosing where to stay: hostels or hotels? 

I’m not a fan of the whole, arrive in a place, have no idea where you’re staying and walk around for hours with your backpack trying to find somewhere. It is A: Either going to be very hot or B-Going to be raining,  so save yourself hassle and prebook the night before. Always book just one night at first, incase the place is awful. It’s also often cheaper to extend a night in person rather than booking it all at once online.

In Asia but specifically Vietnam, you get a lot for your money accommodation wise. If you’re up for hostels, you’re looking at no more than £6 a night. I always book mine on Booking.com and now get special discounts because of it. Always filter by distance from city centre, ( You want to be in the city centre. 4.7 k outside anywhere is annoying), best reviewed, lowest price and free breakfast. With the amount of value hostels competing, there is no need to ever pay for breakfast, saving you money.IMG_2354

Getting around

Vietnam is a massive country. Loads of people go on epic motorbiking adventures and they will tell you there is no point going to Vietnam unless you have one. There is.

The easiest way to get around in Vietnam are sleeper buses. These two-story buses pretty much have routes across the whole country and are much cheaper than the train. They have vertical beds in them and you can actually sleep, so long journeys are actually quite bearable. Do not book these online. The prices will be in US dollars and that is expensive. You can book in person but it’s best to do it via your hostel or a travel agent. They do add a small commission fee but it is  usually worth saving the hassle of negotiating with a Vietnamese ticket seller. Pre book your bus at least a day in advance.

For any journeys over 10 hours, I would advise you fly if possible. If you are near a main airport then this is cheap. For example Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh. Danang (Hoi An) to Ho Chi Minh is a good example. It’s a 17 hour sleeper bus or a one hour flight costing just £20. You can book via a travel agent but it’s usually easier and just as cheap on Skyscanner.

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Money

The money situation is very confusion. Inflation in Vietnam is ridiculous. £1 GBP is 30,000 dong so 300,000 = 10 GBP and 3000,000 is around 100 GBP. This is always good as a base to work from. Download the free XE currency converter app. It works without wi-fi and will be a lifesaver while you get to grips with the currency. Always double-check your change, it’s common to be shortchanged and organise your money in chronological order in your purse. There are no coins in Vietnam so your purse can get pretty full.

You can get Vietnamese dong outside of the country but the exchange rate is much better if you change your money once you get there.  US dollars are always good to bring as these are widely changed.  There are caps on how much you can withdraw so don’t freak out if the first ATM won’t let you. Some banks, generally bigger ones, let you draw out 5 million, others only 2. There is always a high fee for withdrawing. This is unfortunately unavoidable.

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Amazing vegetarian Cao Lau (A Hoi An speciality)

 

Eating and drinking

Vietnamese food is unsung hero of Asian cuisine. Everything in Vietnam tastes amazing and it should never have to cost you more than 100 thousand dong (£3.30). As per usual, eat from street vendors for cheap food, restaurants for a little more.  Try the regional specialties in each area. Northern, Central and Southern food varies a lot. Try Bun Cha up North, White Rose dumplings in the middle and Ban Mi in the South.

The thing that surprised me most in Vietnam is their coffee culture. You can spend 50 thousand dong on a coffee in fancy places but generally the best places are little cafes on street corners without menus that the locals frequent. Here you can usually get an iced milk coffee, served with free green tea for 15 thousand dong.

Read more about this here if you’re interested: How To Order Coffee In Vietnam
Alcoholic drinks are cheaper than at home but not cheap in comparison to Vietnamese prices. Beer will only set you back 30 thousand, (1 GBP), but apart from that, the less alcohol  you drink, the less you spend. In most cities, the authorities crack down on nightlife after midnight so most bars shut or go ‘underground’ anyway.

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I hope you found this post useful. Any more questions about backpacking in Vietnam? I’d love to help

Why Hoi An Is My Favourite Place Ever

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When I was planning my Vietnam trip, Hoi An was the place I was looking forward to most. Everyone that had ever been to Vietnam had said it was their favourite city and I couldn’t wait to walk around the dreamy, lantern filled streets. Sadly,  I didn’t account for the typhoon that hit central Vietnam while I was there, which meant I had to go straight from North to South of the country.  A week later I heard Hoi An had cleared up and although it meant going completely out of my way, flying from Ho Chi Minh to Hoi An, so that I could then fly back to Ho Chi Minh to go to Cambodia a week later, I decided that I couldn’t miss it.

It’s sunset when I eventually arrive in Hoi An and the sky is a beautiful shade of pink. When I get to the waterfront Hoi An takes my breath away.

Lanterns everywhere light up this little city. Their colours reflect in the river that runs through this Unesco world heritage site and in the background someone’s playing the guitar. I feel like I’ve walked straight onto a movie set. On the river are little long tail boats taking people down the water, on which little coloured lanterns lit by candle are floating. In the centre street vendors are selling sweet banana crepes at the night market and high-end restaurants and low-key bars are filling up with people.

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IMG_2350.JPG Hoi An’s old town is a Unesco world heritage site. It’s free to explore but if you want to visit the museums and five ancient houses then you need to buy an entrance ticket costing 120,000 VND.IMG_2354IMG_2355.JPG

There’s nothing that symbolises Hoi An better than Lanterns. originally the locals, started to hang them as they believed that they bring happiness, health and good luck if they have them outside of the house. Now lanterns have become an iconic landmark for tourists and the crowds pile into the night market every evening to take photos and to watch them being hand-made.

Even the bigger ones fold up pretty compactly, making them easy to transport back home. Or fancy trying your hand at making your own? Try one of the many popular lantern making classes.

 

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One of the best things to do in Hoi An is people watch, and there’s no shortage of places to do that from. The centre of the city is car free meaning it’s the easiest of places to wander around. Hoi An boasts many museums that paint an interesting depiction of life in the city, back in the past. As well as being fascinating in themselves, most of these museums offer great views over the city streets from their balcony’s and windows.

 

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Although distinctively Vietnamese, Hoi An’s strong foreign influence can be easily spotted throughout the city. If visiting the city it’s impossible to miss the beautiful and ornate Japanese covered bridge as well as it’s many Chinese temples such as Cam Pho and Quan Cong.

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Hoi An’s location in Vietnam and it’s proximity to the river mean that it’s prone to flooding. However the water clears up pretty quickly when this happens. Hoi An was flood free when I visited until the day that I left. I got down to near the waterfront and couldn’t understand why everything suddenly felt different and I felt complete lost with where abouts I was.

When I walked down a little, I realised what had been one of the central streets was now the waterfront and the front two streets had been engulfed by water. The locals are pretty resilient when it comes to dealing with this, and boats take the places of bicycle’s on the streets. Still, the economic cost of loss of trade can be massive for the cafes and restaurants on the river front.

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Hoi An has countless places to eat, from fancy restaurants and wine bars, to cheap dishes at The Central Market and snacks from street vendors. More than anything, Hoi An is a place to satisfy your sweet tooth.  Spending some time in one of the many cafes and dessert eateries and bakeries is a must do.

Make sure to try the vegan coconut milk coffee at one of the Hoi An Roastery cafes and a raw pressed juice at Cocobox when you need to detox from the sugar.  The ‘Watermelon Men’ one is so refreshing. You also have to visit the Cargo Club to try their infamous desserts. The mango cheesecake is insane. It goes without saying that visiting Vietnam without trying a banana crepe topped with condensed milk at the night market is a crime. They make the perfect post cocktail snack.

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Hoi An fun fact number one: There are over 100,000 bicycles on the roads in the city. So although you don’t need to watch out for cars in the old town, take care not to get run over by bicycles while snapping your pics.

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If you’ve got the time then why not take one of the boat rides down the river once the sun goes down? There’s plenty of people offering these and they won’t set you back much money for a half an hour or so.

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If you walk around Hoi An at night, you may see local people burning fires outside of their houses. Many families burn ghost money made from paper and other paper items in vats, believing that it will pass to deceased relatives and be deposited for themselves in the afterlife. In Hoi An this act has a romantic and dreamy connotation to it.

 

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Hoi An’s Central Market is the best place to grab something to eat, with most meals costing just 30,000 VND. The local specialities that you must try are; Cao Lau, chewy noodles in a flavoursome sauce, usually served with pork and fresh greens and White Rose shrimp dumplings which are delicate, light and flavoursome.

You also can’t visit Vietnam without trying a Banh Mi, and Hoi An is the perfect place to have one. A tribute to Vietnam’s French influence, these soft baguettes are sliced open and filled with delicious fillings like pork or pate, and then topped with fresh herbs, veg and sauces. They can be picked up from a street vendor at any hour of the day. Opinions are divided between where the best Banh Mi is: Banh Mi Phuong or Madam Khanh. So I guess you just have to try both.

 

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Hoi An translates as ‘peaceful meeting place’ and it’s fair to say that it would be hard to come to the city and feel stressed. If you’re feeling inspired to visit, (how can you not?), then the best way to get there is by flight into Danang city airport and then by bus or taxi from the airport to Hoi An’s centre. The journey takes around 40 minutes. Wondering where to go next? Head North to the imperial city of Hue or South to the beaches of Nha Trang.

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Life on a desert island: The ultimate Halong Bay experience

IMG_1271IMG_1017IMG_2765IMG_2125IMG_1024 IMG_1022.PNG I’m still half asleep as I blink open my eyes in the morning. It still feels like night but the sun is starting to rise and daylight is streaming in through the window.
I check my watch. It’s 5:30, the time our guide said to wake up if we wanted to witness the most spectacular sunrise. Considering we’d all been sat around a campfire just hours before, I hadn’t thought that a possibility. I peer around the room at the only other 15 people on this island but I am the only one awake: perks of the window side bed. Within minutes the sky has gone from grey to bright pink, and I watch the sunrise in solitude from the comfort of my bed.

I booked this tour a couple of days ago, unsure of anything apart  from the fact it would take us by boat to Lan Ha island, “the new halong bay.” Identical in every sense, apart from the tourist numbers.

The travel agent explained, ‘you get what you pay for’ when I booked my trip, so considering what I paid, it’s safe to say I was a little dubious. However within a few minutes of sailing from the port, we’re already in the depths of some postcard worthy islands and chatting away over lunch. I’d seen pictures of these islands but nothing could prepare me for the sheer beauty of them as we sailed through.

Our first stop was kayaking, off a little cluster of wooden boards nailed together in the centre of the ocean but called a ‘fishing village’. We were given no instructions apart from to follow our guide, before we were pushed off into kayaks within a matter of minutes and set off sailing into the heart of these islands.

The islands are immense and block out the sun as we sail though and the two of us in the kayak can’t help but stop rowing and just sit for a moment. Of course, no suprise, we’re back of the group. We come to a rock, no higher than my head, and seeing the last of our groups kayaks glide underneath, we follow. Inside this cave it is eerie, yet beautiful and the sun at the end of this cave, that seems to go on for ever, gives the impression of moonlight on the water. When we emerge the scene is even more beautiful, and remote than the last.

I don’t think any of us had given much thought to where we were spending the night. Our guide said we were staying on Cat Ong, a private island situated opposite popular Cat Ba Island, a watersports hub. Like I said, I was forever sceptical.

The sun was already almost down when we arrived at the island. To my suprise, it really was a private island. There was a little stretch of sand, with small bungalows and a larger main building to eat in. Apart from that it was free of infrastructure, wifi and phone signal.  It’s fair to say we all felt like we were in a adventure movie.

After a late evening chatting and drinking a lot of beers around be campfire, watching sunrise the next morning and then falling sleep again, it was breakfast of banana pancakes and condensed milk coffee.

Key, our guide said that we could either sunbathe or choose to go on a short and easy hike to the viewpoint.
I chose the latter. About an hour later, after literally climbing up semi vertical rocks as sharp as knifes and walking through some very questionable looking paths, we finally arrive at the viewpoint. When I got my breathe back, the view was spectacular. From this point we could see all across the island and over the sea on to Cat Ba Island. With its tall hotels and it’s infrastructure, it looked like a world away from our little sanctuary, hidden from civilisation.

Want your own desert island experience? Book this trip with Ocean tours, Vietnam. Prices start from 99 USD.