Hoi An, Vietnam – First Impressions

Arrival in Hoi An

An uneventful taxi ride and an hour flight later we arrive in Da Nang, about half way up the coast between Saigon in the South and Hanoi in the North. We arranged for a driver from the hotel to pick us up and stop at the Cham Museum near the airport before continuing on to the hotel in Hoi An.

Cham Museum

The Cham Museum, in a bright yellow colonial-style building, houses relics, mostly stone sculpture, from My Son and other archeological sites in the area. The Kingdom of Champa ruled this part of Vietnam for about 1000 years, ending in the early 1800s. The Indian-influenced Champa practiced a unique mix of Hinduism, animism and Buddhism and their buildings and art reflect that. Although many pieces were pilfered off to Europe, what remains is an impressive collection of highly stylized multi-armed Hindu deities, animal figures and a few alters.

Long Life Riverside Hotel

In Hoi An we splurge on a $72 suite with a river view at the Long Life Riverside Hotel. Although the river is more canal than river and the view more dilapidated roof than river, the room is large, open and tastefully decorated with modern Asian dark wood furniture. A large Jacuzzi tub dominates the bathroom with a rain-style showerhead above.

Streets of Hoi An

Both of our guide books as well as other travelers say that Hoi An is quaint but touristy. The downtown pedestrian only streets are lined with myriad tourist shops in quaint old-crumbly buildings mostly painted a faded yellow gold. A mix of Chinese, Japanese and French colonial architecture. On these streets tourists replace the usual congestion of motorbikes.


We stopped at Citronella and had lunch on their patio facing the river. As we eat our fried-noodles we watch the portable restaurants set up their kitchen and dining room on the boardwalk that runs along the river.

Covered Market

After lunch we walk along the riverfront through the food market and over to Cam Nam island where we will go for a bike tour plus cooking class tomorrow. The covered market is packed with an odd mix of food vendors and stalls selling tourist items. Cilantro and bitter melon are sold alongside strings of pearls and lacquer ware. The merchants are more aggressive here, crying out for you to come see what they have. Even the peanut vendors follow you down the street insisting that you just have a taste. We retreat to the calm of our hotel room. We have plenty of time to explore Hoi An later.

Dinner at Cava

Diner was at Cava. Just two doors down from the hotel, it has a lovely outdoor patio with white table cloths, very low lighting and palms that give it a tropical ambience. The short menu is a mix of Vietnamese and Mediterranean. We started with one of the specialties of Hoi An, white rose, a shrimp filled dumpling. We had also inadvertently tried them at lunch under a different name. In both places they are good, but more dough than filling. The Western style eggplant on the other hand was tasty, drizzled with olive oil.

For the main course we tried two Vietnamese dishes, stir-fried beef with Chinese celery and the catch of the day. We enjoyed the beef dish, but although the Chinese celery is more flavorful than our cultivated celery the dish was nothing special. The catch of the day, pomfret, was served whole with tomatoes and onions. Unfortunately the fish was raw in the center and had to be returned to the kitchen.

The apologetic European owner brought back the cooked fish, saying how disappointed he was in the presentation (he had tried to put the fish back together) and that he would not charge us for it. It was good with flavorful tomatoes in a light sauce, but I’m not quite sure how this dish is Vietnamese. Overall a nice restaurant with a pleasant setting but if you are looking for Vietnamese dishes at a good value, look elsewhere.

For links to all the posts in this series see the Vietnam page.