Somewhere in the middle of the country of Vietnam resides two coastal towns, Da Nang and Hoi An, just 30 minutes or so away from each other. We spent a week at each place taking it what we could of the Vietnamese coastline. I’ve combined the two posts because to our surprise there wasn’t much we did during this time due to weather. Our main intention was to spend lots of time on the beach and get a good tan before Christmas. Apparently, we didn’t get the memo that it was rainy season in Vietnam. Most of our days were pretty cold (enough to wear a jacket and long pants) very rainy, and windier then I’ve ever seen. All things aside, we still found ways to enjoy our time there.
Our first stop was Da Nang, we were staying in one of the nicest hotels I had ever been to, the Monarque. As soon as we were dropped off we noticed how amazing the service was and continued to be throughout our stay. The entrance way of the hotel itself is a red carpet, leading up to two massive doors opened by the hotel staff, a marble staircase to your right and a massive decorated Christmas tree in the center. I was already a big fan of this place. We were seated in the lobby while we sipped on some refreshing juice and snacked on dried coconut and mango slices. Our bags were magically whisked up to our room and the hotel staff talked us through what they had to offer, including a complimentary buffet breakfast every morning, complimentary afternoon tea with all the fixins, and live music every night on the rooftop with a coupon for a free bowl of Pho. This place was really worth the splurge.
We checked the weather forecast and it was rain, everyday, for 10 days. Big bummer. Not one day that we were in Da Nang did we see the sun, the beach was extremely cold and wet, and the waves looked treacherous. So, there goes plan A. This whole trip has been about rolling with the punches though so we took advantage of our beautiful hotel, tried to save some money by eating as much complimentary food as possible, and maybe form some semblance of a routine.
Most mornings we woke up and enjoyed the absolutely massive breakfast spread the hotel provided. There was something for everyone, sweets, breads, salads, veggies, fruits, western food, Asian food, pho, dumplings, omelettes, waffles, it had it all. Our first few breakfasts we looked like absolute pigs trying to sample everything and figure out which things were worth getting. By the end of the week we had it down to a science and didn’t look like we were overeating with every meal. Scott especially enjoyed the extra protein from regular hard boiled eggs, and I was indulging in a childhood favorite of peanut butter toast. Silly as it sounds, those two things haven’t been the easiest thing to come by on our travels through Asia.
After breakfast we would either go on a walk, or head to Starbucks, where I could study and Scott could do whatever it is that he does on the computer while I study. After some tea and good WiFi we would return to the hotel, get a good workout in and enjoy afternoon tea upstairs by the pool. The weather was too terrible to actually sit outside, but there is something comforting about watching the storm and drinking a warm cup of tea. Along with the tea came small cakes, sandwiches, macaroons, and fruit. We tried to make this our lunch so that we only had to buy one meal a day, but it was a pretty unhealthy option… delicious, but sugary.
In the early evenings we would walk around Da Nang, check-out night markets (which we all know are basically the same throughout Asia) and maybe get a nice happy hour before deciding on dinner. We did end up checking out a cool brewery called 7 Bridges started by a guy from the states, who happened to go to school in Oregon. The brewery was conveniently placed right next to the dragon bridge, which at night lit up and on weekends “spit” fire. Vietnam has quite a few microbreweries and this one was wonderful, not only did they served really good popcorn with their brews, they had REAL, American tasting pizza. I was in heaven. What more could a girl want: popcorn, pizza? I’m in.
We had been experiencing a sort of blandness of Vietnamese food. Maybe we didn’t know the right places to go, or maybe we were just tired of Asian food (I, for one, didn’t think it was possible to be sick of Asian food, but alas this trip has taught me many things and one of those is that I like A LOT of variety in my food). So I was starting to feel less guilty about searching out western or Mexican food at each spot we went to because in all honesty, I needed a change up! Pho is standard in Vietnam, along with spring rolls, rice noodles, pork, and other variations of those ingredients. For some reason I was hoping that Da Nang, Vietnam would have the exact food that the food cart in Eugene called “Da Nang” had. I was looking for my steak and rice bowl topped with spicy sauce, sweet vinegar, cilantro, and crunchy, fried shallots… and to no avail did I find it. (If you’re in Eugene right now, please go get steak and rice from Da Nang, you will not be sorry). Maybe it’s just a traditional dish that was transformed to sell in the States. Anyways, I sought out Mexican food in Da Nang, and you know what, it was absolutely delicious. I got my fix of carnitas nachos, and Scott a chicken burrito from Tacos Danang. A Californian expat had come to Vietnam, craving food from home and ended up opening this delicious shop, which was always busy, and we enjoyed it more than a few times!
Each day one of the hotel staff would chat with us about our plans and wondered if we were content with our visit. They were so kind and always telling us they wanted us to feel like family there. Apparently, they don’t get many Americans so we were told to tell all our friends, so here it is: If you are going to Da Nang, stay at Monarque, you won’t regret it! I’m not just saying this, it really was fantastic. We were offered complimentary massages, they made us a cake upon arrival, and our last night the chef prepared us a special five-course meal, paired with wine, on the house. We had traditional mango, shrimp salad, chicken rice, hot and sour soup, Banh Xeo (Vietnamese crunchy pancake with veggies and meat), and creme brulee. They may have been trying to butter us up for their American clientele, but it worked!
On our last day at Monarque, we said our goodbyes to the wonderful staff and headed down the road to Hoi An. We had heard nothing but good things about Hoi An, being a quaint little town known for it’s lanterns and beautifully renovated old town. The place we were staying at for this next week was a small villa just outside of town set in the middle of rice paddy fields called Lavini Boutique Villa. We were greeted by friendly hosts, a yappy dog, and another fresh cake. The villa had about 8 rooms, a pool, free bike rental and provided breakfast every morning. Our first night we took advantage of Grab Eats (like Uber eats or any other food delivery company) and ordered in Greek food because it was already very dark and we were a ways outside of town. MIX Greek restaurant turned out to be another pleasant western food surprise. Chicken gyros with fries and Greek salad hit the spot. The best part of all was that each entree came with a small dessert that was to die for. There is no name for the dessert, we have scoured Google to figure out what it was, and it’s even hard to describe in itself. But the best I can do is, something like crushed Nilla wafers, with a rice gooey chocolate sauce (almost like brownie batter) that coats the roofs of your mouth and leaves you scraping the sides of the bowl for more. Odd looking, and unassuming, this was delicious.
The next few days we spent wandering around Hoi An’s old town and finding all of the things we loved to eat. One day was spent wandering through the streets of yellow building filled with crafts, art, and leather goods. Hoi An is known for leather as well as tailoring. People will come and get 15+ garments hand-tailored and shipped home. There were small food stalls, tea houses, wine bars, breweries, and along the river that separated two sides of the city it was lined with bars and restaurants. Boats that floated along the river were adorned with bright colored paper lamps and tourists in life jackets.
At night the streets were lit up with lanterns, the boats were colorfully decorated with lights, and you could pay for a little paper boat with a candle to send down the river. We had some mixed feelings about this one because it seemed to be a tourist money grab and all the paper lanterns were being sent down the river and into what we would assume would be the ocean… not so eco-friendly. We even happened to be in Hoi An during their full moon festival that happens once per month. During this time the streets of old town are only lit by candle light and people send hundreds of paper boats down the river. That evening we went to a brewery on the water called Pasteur Street Brewing Co, met the owner who is from the states, and enjoyed many beers, laughing and singing along with the live music.
During this time in Vietnam I was pretty immersed in studying, my tests were coming up quickly and we were going to see my family in Malaysia right after I finished, so head in the books. When I wasn’t studying, I joined Scott at the gym down the street, we would go to coffee shops (where I would study some more) and we found some delicious food spots. A few in particular were Mot Hoi An, the unnamed food market at the beginning of walking street, and a sweet little tea house called Reaching Out. Mot was known for a sugary ice tea drink (tasted like honeycrisp apples and cinnamon) that every tourist we saw had, but they also had amazing chicken rice and a Hoi An specialty, Cau Lau. Cau Lau was also the dish we ordered from the food market, it was made of thick, gummy noodles, like udon, with a brown broth, veggies, pork slices, and fried pork strips. Delicious, and unique to Hoi An. Reaching Out tea house provided a sweet tasting tea, a biscuit set and unique decor. We realized that the tea house employs disabled local people that can not speak or hear so in order to communicate we used small blocks with words written on them. It was a very neat experience and the biscuits were good too!
Like all the rest of Vietnam, the weather had been cold and we still hadn’t seen the sun. Fortunately, on one of our last days in Hoi An we saw the sun and took full advantage of it. We borrowed bikes from our hotel and headed down to the beach. It was nice to take in some sunshine, and watch the waves crash while enjoying a cup of tea at a local home stay. The best part was riding bikes through the rice paddy fields to and from the ocean, an experience that you don’t get everyday! Hoi An was definitely our most favorite spot in Vietnam thus far.