Easy does it in Vietnam

Hoi An

Hoi An waterfront

Vietnam is one of the most popular holiday haunts in South East Asia. Visitor numbers are skyrocketing yet it’s possible to enjoy moments of serendipity by simply avoiding the norm and taking it slow.

One balmy night in Hoi An, a quaint World Heritage-listed town on the Vietnam coast, we ignored all the restaurants listed in the guide books, all of which were packed with travellers eating cheek by jowl.

By taking a simple stroll in the opposite direction, walking beside the Thu Bon River, we eventually arrived at the Cargo Club (107-109 Nguyen Thai Hoc) where on an upstairs balcony we had all the elbow room imaginable, along with enviable tranquillity, marvellous river views and a meal to remember. Sampans were moored along the banks below. The shouts of children at play echoed across the water.

This romantic setting and an excellent five-course set menu fired our spirits. So did the bill, an amount so negligible that my only diary mention is a hastily scrawled “Cargo – bargain!”

It’s possible to see a lot of Vietnam in just one trip but, like the local cuisine, it’s a country best sampled in tasty portions, and preferably at a relaxed pace.

UNESCO describes Hoi An as “an outstanding material manifestation of the fusion of cultures over time in an international commercial port.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABetween the 15th Century and late 19th Century, when the river silted up and closed the port, Hoi An hosted traders from China and Japan, England, Europe and America. A focal point is the red wooden Japanese covered bridge, housing a small temple for sailors, which spans the river to the old Chinese quarter where narrow lanes are lined with tiny houses.

 

A ceramics museum (80 Tran Phu St) has information in English about Hoi An’s history. There’s a score of assembly halls, temples and traditional craft shops to see. Some ancient houses are open to visitors, including the 200-year-old Than Ky House, a private home that’s been painstakingly preserved. It’s right on the riverfront, close to the the Cargo Club.

You’ll need to linger three or more days if you wish to take advantage of the renowned tailors of Vietnam’s made-to-measure capital. The is the main reason many tourists visit Hoi An. And while many mouth doubts over the quality of materials this doesn’t stop them spending! We particularly admired one woman’s bespoke jacket, made of a unique combination of mohair with Terylene.

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