The very mention of Hoi An and immediately images of yellow heritage buildings and colourful lanterns pop up in one’s mind. This is the scene that most tourists associate with Hoi An – a town in Central Vietnam where tourists come in droves to walk around the quiet streets of the Old Town, admire the Chinese-influenced heritage buildings, cruise on the Thu Bon River, and to take lots of IG-worthy photos of various styles and poses.
The Old Town of Hoi An is indeed captivating and pretty but has anyone wondered, is that all there is to see in Hoi An?
An Bang Beach
Just a few kilometres away from the tourist bustle of town is An Bang Beach, a pleasant 15-minute bike ride from the city. However, do not confuse An Bang with Cua Dai Beach that was once popular for its palm-fringed white sand and luxury resorts. Most of the luxury resorts are still there but sadly, Cua Dai Beach has been suffering from coastal erosion due to accelerated construction work in that area.
Since Cua Dai Beach is no longer the darling of Hoi An, An Bang is now the go-to beach in town and fortunately, An Bang is not overly packed with people. Its atmosphere is casual and laid-back, a respite from the boisterous crowds in Old Town.
I rented a bicycle from my guesthouse costing only US$1.30 for the entire day. Armed with my daypack and a hat, I pedaled leisurely to the beach while mopeds wheezed past me like flying rockets! The last time I cycled was in high school, so naturally I was cautious but after a minute or two, I got the hang of it 😊 While I kept to my side of the lane, there were occasions when mopeds and bicycles were coming in the opposite direction on my lane – that was slightly unnerving especially when there were other vehicles honking and speeding on the road!
The great thing about cycling to An Bang is the beautiful vistas of rice fields along the way. I couldn’t resist stopping for a while to take pictures of such pleasing views.
Upon arrival at the beach, you will find parking lots available for your mopeds and bicycles for 10,000 Vietnamese dong (US$0.50) and you will receive a free 1.5litre bottle of mineral water as well. You can leave your rides at the parking lot for the day, there’s no time limit.
There are plenty of sun loungers at the beach and you can use them for the day as long as you purchase a drink from the restaurants who own them.
An Bang Beach is amazing – its light-coloured soft sand and clear blue waters are so inviting especially on a hot blistering day. The sand burned my feet so much so I had to run towards the water but oh my, the water was unbelievably cool and refreshing!
For those who are not beach lovers but historical buffs, you can make a visit to My Son ancient ruins, located 45 minutes’ drive from Hoi An.
My Son is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most important heritage sites in Vietnam. My Son was the religious and political capital of the Hindu Champa Kingdom between the 4th and 13th century during which Hindu temple complexes made of bricks, stone pillars and sandstone bas-reliefs were constructed to honour divinities especially Shiva.
The ancient ruins were discovered by the French in the mid-19th century who found 72 monuments within a semi-circular spread over a 2km-wide valley. Unfortunately, much of the site was destroyed by US bombing during the Vietnam War, hence what you see now are clusters of towers dotted throughout the forest.
My Son is commonly visited as a half day trip from Hoi An, and I would recommend that you join a tour for which a guide will be provided to explain the significance of Hindu symbolism and mythology behind these ruins. Better still, if you have time prior to the tour to visit the on-site museum as it would further enhance your experience of the tour but chances are, you won’t have the time.
You will invariably come across tourism advertising declaring that My Son is the “Angkor of Vietnam”. To be honest, that’s not true at all because My Son ruins are not as well-preserved compared to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Fair warning, if you half expect the ruins to be as vast and spectacular like Angkor Wat, you would be disappointed with the tour.
Nevertheless, a tour to My Son is worthwhile the time and price to get away from town. The half-day tour costs around US$5-7 which might include lunch, visits to village islands and a boat ride back to the Old Town of Hoi An (the activities vary from one travel agent to another).
Accommodation outside Old Town
For a small town like Hoi An, there’s a glut of accommodation ranging from guesthouses to luxury resorts. During my one-week travel covering Hoi An and Hue, I stayed at Nu Ni Homestay for the first two nights in Hoi An. The guesthouse was walking distance from the Old Town.
*For reviews on Nu Ni Homestay, click here.
However, I wanted a different experience for the last three nights of my travels, and so I chose to stay outside of town – closer to the countryside – and the accommodation was Riverside Oasis Villa Hoi An.
Riverside Oasis Villa Hoi An is a budget hotel situated by the Song Do River and is in the Cam Thanh area, a 30-minute walk/15-minute bike ride/10-minute drive from town. The hotel is a three-storey high building comprising 11 rooms, an in-house restaurant, an outdoor pool (it’s more like a dipping pool, really) and a garden with lovely views of the river.
For a little less than US$40 a night, I enjoyed a large deluxe room with a private balcony facing the pool and the usual hotel room facilities. Wi-Fi was all right albeit spotty at times but good enough for me to spend a day catching up on work.
*For reviews on Riverside Oasis Villa Hoi An, click here.
What I really liked about Riverside is its location. Our neighbours were mainly locals who eat and shop in the area which has all the necessary amenities that one would expect in a local community – mini marts, local produce markets, shops and food stalls. I had the best banh mi on our street – banh mi means bread in Vietnamese and the bread is baguette introduced by the French during the colonial period in Vietnam. The sandwich consists of meat (usually pork), vegetables and condiments, and is quite cheap costing less than a dollar. The sandwich was so good that I went back again the following day!
Aside from being a local neighbourhood, the wonderful thing about the hotel is the Song Do River flowing next to it. The sight of those palm trees lined along the banks of the river and the calm serenity of the water immediately put me at ease each time I walked across the bridge to return to the hotel. The best view that I ever had during those three days in the countryside was when I saw a man rowing his boat away from the bridge just as the sun was about to set, as if he was bidding me farewell. And I, too, bade him farewell, and to Hoi An for changing my perspective and views that Vietnam was not too bad after all.
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