What’s your travel style? If you aren’t limited on time, do you prefer to spend a few days in a whole bunch of places, making sure you see the highlights of an entire city/region/country? Or do you tend to spend longer amounts of time in only a few places? There are definitely positive aspects to both. The first of those two styles allows you to see the best of what a place has to offer. The latter allows you to soak up the culture of wherever you are.
Kenny and I spent 18 glorious days in Vietnam and chose to slow it down. In fact, we spent 18 days only in northern Vietnam. There is definitely no right or wrong way to approach a vacation because you really have to roll with whatever style suits you best. But Kenny and I really like to delve deep wherever we go.
We spent nearly ⅓ of our trip in Hoi An. If you read the guide books, 48-72 hours is usually the suggested amount of time. We initially only intended to spend the “recommended” amount of time there, but let’s just say we got swept away by the place and decided to stay longer and really explore what the city has to offer.
Here are some reasons why we are glad we slowed down the pace in Hoi An.
1. We were able to truly relax. Have you ever found yourself saying after a trip, “Fewwwf, I need a vacation from my vacation!” I most certainly have. Not to say that those trips weren’t filled with adventure, random/awesome moments and wonderful people. But sometimes trips can be exhausting when you have so much on your itinerary. Since we had 5 days to check out the town, we didn’t feel rushed to get out of bed and on with our day. Once we were out and about, we weren’t overwhelmed with the feeling that we have to see this particular place and try some delicious food that you can only get in that particular food stall. Kenny and I were able to go at our own pace and find out the the “must sees” as we happened upon them.
2. We had more opportunities to meet the “locals”. Hoi An is known for its affordable, professional and speedy tailors. And in some instances, these tailors can become your friend. We had the pleasure of getting to know Kenny’s tailor, Ken (yep, his name was the sole reason we walked into the shop. Luckily he is very good at what he does). Ken invited us to his brother’s New Year (Tet as the Vietnamese say) party. The Asian New Year is sort of like if we combined Christmas and New Year’s into one day. It’s a big deal, full of family celebrations. Anyway, Ken the tailor’s brother’s gym’s New Year’s party (did you follow that?) was… OUTRAGEOUS. The attendees were so very welcoming, friendly and desperately wanting Kenny to join in on the all-male dance party. When we see each other next, I’ll show you the videos. They are joyous.
But back to the whole “slow travel” business. Spending some quality time in Hoi An allowed us to have the opportunity to get to know Ken, who consequently invited us to the party, which turned out to be one of the most hilarious situations of all time! A lovely sequence of events, I must say.
3. We were able to discover delicious, local food at small, hole-in-the wall spots. Our Vietnamese culinary adventure began with Cao Lau, a dish that can only be enjoyed in Hoi An. It’s a combination of noodles, pork, greens and a semi-spicy rice vinegar based dressing that lightly coats it. We ate this perfect first meal on Kindergarten-sized red stools in an outdoor, dirt floored joint. As it turns out, we enjoyed most of our meals consisting of banh mi sandwiches (oh, the crusty baguettes were divine), pho (the best soup. EVER.) and a variety of noodle dishes in this type of setting. Sometimes we even found ourselves eating in what seemed to be a family’s living room. In fact, one of our favorite meals was when we were sitting in the Banh Mi Queen’s (yes that’s what they call her and indeed she is the cutest grandma ever) living room while she prepared our meal, her daughter served us, and her granddaughter, Lucky, provided us with entertaining conversation.
4. We saw places, not just “sites”. Sometimes it’s nice to explore the places of a city, rather than the must-see sites. On a few of the days, we enjoyed meandering by bike through the countryside. We each were able to rent a bike for $1/day and we definitely got our money’s worth, let me tell you! The town of Hoi An is surrounded by beaches, rice paddies, neighborhoods and gardens. We spent multiple days exploring the outer area, stopping at cute cafes and gardens for snacks and drinks along the way.
Tra Que Water Wheel was another fantastic place to visit in Hoi An. This spectacular vegetable and herb garden/cafe hosts a Vietnamese cooking class. On one of the mornings, we met our adorable class leader at the large market in town where she gave us a quick tour. Then we rode our bikes back to Tra Que Water Wheel. We had a group 7, including 3 New Zealanders and 2 Germans. We spent the day making traditional dishes, followed by eating those tasty dishes, and laughing profusely.