Hoi An: unforgettable glimpse into Vietnam past

Hoi An: unforgettable glimpse into Vietnam past

Hoi An is a remarkably well preserved historic location on Vietnam's South China Sea coast. Home to around 120,000 inhabitants, Hoi An was once a bustling trading port, its maritime traffic plying trade routes across Asia from the 15th to 19th centuries. It is well worth a visit because it's diverse architectural reflects all the influences, local and foreign, that have left their mark over the centuries.

Hoi An's old town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999, and the veritable army of taxi drivers, hotel bus drivers, receptionists and shop assistants alike are keen to continue promoting their home city to its many visitors.


If you feel like a break from browsing through the city's charming street markets, there are four museums highlighting the port's colourful heritage. The Hoi An Folklore Museum, opened in 2005, is the old town's largest two-storey wooden building. It answers almost 500 artefacts, split into folk arts, traditional occupations and contemporary memorabilia. The Museum of Trade Ceramics was originally built in the mid-19th century, and contains items from across Asia, including Iran, India, China and Thailand. The origins of each piece speak volumes about the importance of the city as a major trading hub for south east Asia. The Museum of History and Culture was once a pagoda built in the 17th century, adjacent to a temple. It contains a diverse collection of relics that trace the history of the region from its earliest inhabitants, through to the French colonial era and beyond.

The Museum of Sa Huynh Culture was established in 1994 and contains around 200 exhibits representing the Sa Huyhn culture. These are the people considered to be the region's earliest settlers, dating back two millenia; indeed, the collection of these artefacts is regarded as Vietnam's finest example of the Sa Huynh era.

Cultural aspects

Over the centuries Hoi An has been a melting pot for different civilizations. There is evidence of this wherever you look in the city. The old quarter is bustling with quaint colonial style buildings, their highly decorative balconies and arches making them look as if they have been transported from Europe brick-by-brick. There are numerous examples of fabulous pagodas, complete with carved dragons standing guard outside. A notable example of mythological art is the dragon fountain to be found at the back of the Cantonese Assembly Hall, Quang Trieu.

Elsewhere it is possible to soak up the atmosphere of this once thriving port, either by browsing through the bustling streets, or taking a stroll down to the seafront.

Introducing delicious Vietnamese cuisine

Introducing delicious Vietnamese cuisine

Vietnamese dishes are certainly not as widely known outside the country as, say, Chinese or Indian delicacies. But here's what you should know about the local food before visiting Vietnam – it is absolutely delicious.

Pho (Noodles)

The staple diet amongst Vietnamese people is Pho – spicy and hot noodles. These can be enjoyed at any time of the day, although they are particularly popular at breakfast. The noodles are made from a fragrant type of rice called Gao Te. Sometime the Pho is combined to form Pho Bo (noodles with beef), prepared by stewing cow bones (or pig bones) in a large pot for a considerable period of time. Slices of fillet mignon can be served with the Pho Bo, and ginger is added for a Pho Bo Tai, where the meat is always rare. Because western tastes often prefer darker meat, the beef slices can easily be cooked longer until they become well-done.

Cha Ca

Cha Ca is a serving of fish, minced and grilled, that has been a mainstay of Vietnamese cuisine for over a century. First invented by the Doan family of Cha Ca Street in Hanoi, this dish can be utilised as the basis for many types of fish meals, from tuna to sturgeon. The bones are separated and put into saffron water, which is later used as a sauce. The fish is meat marinated in salt, then grilled. Cha Ca is a ubiquitous dish, with people free to add their condiments of choice to enhance the rich flavour – mint, dill, shallots and many other alternatives.


Com, or boiled rice, can be eaten with any of the day's meals. It can be served as various different types, and as an accompaniment to a variety of main dishes. Many of the popular rice servings are fragrant, such as Nang Huong or Tam Thom. When the Vietnamese talk about 'mon an kho', this is, literally, 'meal without soup'. This will consist of Com, together with pork, fish or shrimp, as well as abundant vegetables, all deliciously cooked in oil. 'Mon canh' is 'meal with soup', which is a wonderfully filling soup made from spare-ribs, pork, crab meat or fish. Because Com dishes are so practical, easy to prepare and tasty, they are served throughout Vietnam from streetside food stalls.

Vendors will begin to set up their stalls at around noon, arranging tables and benches on the pavement to form makeshift restaurant areas. They will do a roaring trade throughout the day, removing their wooden furniture once the customer numbers begin dwindling into the evening. For visitors just needing a quick fix during their busy sightseeing schedule, the good news is that these dishes are convenient and inexpensive.

Mouth-watering restaurants in Hanoi

Mouth-watering restaurants in Hanoi

A sizeable proportion of first-time Vietnam visitors have never tasted Vietnamese cuisine before. If you fall into that category then rest assured, you are in for a range of tasty treats. The capital city, Hanoi, boasts a diverse range of restaurants that will provide fantastic examples of the local fare.

Vietnamese food is characterised by its light textures that are awash with subtle flavours. Naturally, for such a cosmopolitan city, Hanoi can also boast international choices, catering for every piece, whether your preferences happen to be Chinese or Japanese, Mexican or Italian, and all points in-between.

Al Fresco's

One popular choice for family outings is the chain restaurant, Al Fresco's. Situated in Hai Ba Trung Street in the lively Hoan Kien district, caters for visitors requiring something more substantial than the traditional lighter Vietnamese dishes. House specialities include enchiladas and ribs, washed down with Australian or South American red wine. You will also find Al Fresco's prices are easy on the wallet.

Bar 69

Located in the heart of the city's tourist area, bar 69 enjoys a historic location within a 300 year old traditional wooden building. The food on offer is mainly Vietnamese, but is refined for western tastes. This restaurant is particularly recommended for pre-dinner drinks and snacks, with beef strips a speciality. You must also sample cool glass of Saigon beer with your meal. Live music is also provided to enhance the dining experience.

Au Lac House

Situated in an old French colonial house in Hanoi's Hai Ba Trung district, the Au Lac offers are distinctly sophisticated eating experience. Meals are served starched white linen and the waiters are renowned for their attentive service. The high ceiling create a marvellous ambience that is brimming with tantalizing smells of local produce: from slow-cooked pork or fresh fish to Viet satay. If you are having a busy holiday taking in the country's abundant places of interest, and have been making do with snacks, you should certainly make the effort to spend at least one evening here. Enjoy being pampered while you taste the excellent meals.

Bobby Chinn

this restaurant is the only one in Vietnam to have received the prestigious five-star Diamond award. Bobby Chinn is even known Vietnamese restaurateur, and serves this signature dishes in a lakeside restaurant just outside Hanoi. The meals include unforgettable filet mignon spring rolls and crab cakes, glazed in tamarind.

Bun Cha

if you are looking for a taste of authentic Vietnamese cuisine, the Bun Cha serves excellent street food in the Hoan Kiem District . Choose from a mouth-watering array of dishes, including barbecued pork and a host of wonderful soups.

Places you must visit in Vietnam: Halong Bay

Places you must visit in Vietnam: Halong Bay

Vietnam is positively overflowing with visitor attractions, appealing to families, couples and travellers. Many people are drawn here because, as the world's 13th most populous nation, Vietnam is vibrant and exciting, its cities bustling with activities and tourist hotspots. Others prefer the idea of escaping the colourful urban centres to immerse themselves in the tranquil beauty of the Vietnamese countryside.

For those falling into the latter category, a trip to Halong Bay should definitely be top of the agenda. Located on the top eastern coast of Vietnam, this area boasts one of the world's most captivating natural landscapes.


Broadly translating from the Vietnamese 'the dragon descends to the sea', Halong Bay spreads over 1,500 square kilometres, with a 120 kilometres coastline. It consists of some 1,969 beautiful islands of varying sizes, of which 989 have been named. On the landward side, almost 2,000 inlets have been carved into towering limestone cliffs.

The bay is split into two zones, south-west (Halong Bay) and south-east (Bai Tu Long Bay). The islands within these zones are formed from either limestone or schist, and these are famous the world over for their countless caves and grottoes. It is no wonder that Halong Bay has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Artefacts have been found amongst the labyrinth cave systems dating back tens of thousands of years. If you are keen to find out more about ancient Vietnamese history and archaeology, then it would be well worth visiting sites such as Dong Mang, Xich Tho, Soi Nhu, and Thoi Gieng. Another important site is Van Don, once an ancient commercial port. Bach Dang River is deceptively peaceful now, but this location is where fierce naval battles were fought against invaders. Poem Mountain has many engravings of poems celebrating long-forgotten emperors.


By far the best way to experience the Halong Bay vistas is to book a 45-minute helicopter tour. Tourists are collected from their hotels, then transported to Gia Lam airbase, not far from Hanoi centre. From here a boat transfer takes you for a four-hour cruise around the stunning islands, while enjoying a sumptuous local seafood lunch. Afterwards, you climb aboard the air taxi for a breathtaking flight over the Bay.

For those wishing a more hands-on experience, there are ample opportunities for swimming or scuba-diving in the jade-green seas, or kayaking. Whichever way you choose to explore Halong Bay, the memories will linger.