28 Tuesday January, 2014
“Xin chào” and hello from Ampersand’s marketing manager, Sacha Smith-Laing, who recently returned from Vietnam where she caught some rays, ate many a phở and strolled the fairytale lanes of Hoi An.
Here, she picks out the top 3 highlights of her trip…
The phenomenal food…
There are many things that tempted me to Vietnam this year: winter sun, the crumbly colonial charm, the moped chaos and the weird and wonderful idiosyncrasies that are unique to Vietnam. The number one reason, though, was the food. My fiancé and I went for 10 days and had at least a bowl of phở a day, which made us very happy (we have become devoted phở fans since discovering Café East in London’s Surrey Quays – check it out!). Throughout our trip we stuck to a ‘Vietnamese-only’ policy when it came to ordering food and we had so many excellent meals… daily beef phở breakfast, lemongrass chicken curries, whole seabass stuffed with Vietnamese herbs, banh mi (baguette stuffed with barbequed meat and a slathering of mayo, pickled carrot, daikon, cucumber, chilli and coriander leaves), cao lau (thick, smoky, soupy noodles) and another Hoi An delicacy, banh bao vac or ‘white rose dumplings’, as they were dubbed by the French (shrimp wrapped in translucent white dough and shaped like a rose).
My favourite foodie experience was at the famous Morning Glory Cookery School in Hoi An. They offer several options but we went for the ‘Masterclass with traditional Vietnamese Breakfast’ (8am – 1pm). The breakfast included an astonishing choice of all-you-can-eat dishes cooked right in front of you at the Market Restaurant, a vibrant self-contained street food-style market/restaurant. Next, a guided tour of Hoi An’s buzzy central food market, followed by a cookery class taught by the legendary Ms Vy – the grande dame of Hoi An, who has established a veritable food empire including the Market Restaurant, Mermaid Restaurant, Cargo Restaurant, Morning Glory restaurant and cookery school, and her own cookery book, Taste Vietnam.
Pampering and perk-packed Fusion Maia…
The resort Ampersand usually opts for near Hoi An is the ultra slick Nam Hai. Just down the road in seaside Danang is the more affordable and utterly feel-good Fusion Maia Resort, which is where we headed for a few days of R&R. It is a promising resort concept jam-packed with fantastic perks: firstly, this is Vietnam’s largest spa and the only resort in Asia that offers all-inclusive spa treatments (at least 2 a day and more dependent on availability), ranging from their 90-minute signature massage to an aroma flower bath, a mani-pedi, or a ‘Yogurt Splash’ to cleanse and condition your body. Treatments take place in a luscious green sanctuary with a spa pool at its centre surrounded by seating pagodas. Guests can also join in daily wellness programmes including beach walks, yoga sessions and lantern ceremonies.
Breakfast (delicious tarts, exotic fruits, homemade yogurt compote, beef phở, toast, jam, juice, coffee etc) is also included, which can be had at any time of day anywhere on the resort, or even in the Fusion Maia's ‘Fusion Lounge’ which is in a fabulous riverside spot in Hoi An. There are free shuttle buses taking you to and from Hoi An, which is about 40 minutes drive. The resort’s décor is chic and slick, and the private pool villas are particularly sexy. They have a separate living room, a decent size pool and an outdoor seating area. The bathroom has a deep-set slate tub and a flatscreen TV which swivels so you can watch it in the tub or in bed. There is also a large main swimming pool and a gorgeous stretch of beach beyond, which is scattered with 2-person white lounging beds. Each guest has a ‘Fusionista’, which is Fusion Maia’s friendlier term for personal butler. As lovely as our Fusionita was, it was testament to the resort that we didn’t call on her – still, it’s nice to know we could have!
Hoi An at dusk…
Nothing terribly revelatory here, but strolling along Hoi An’s riverbank as dusk settles in is simply one of the most magical moments imaginable. This UNESCO-protected town is famous for her colourful lanterns, which are strung up along the river and hung on every crumbly old building. During the half hour window as day turns to night, the colour of the lanterns blur together to cast a mesmerising glow on the water. Soak up the atmosphere as you stroll, or perch up at a waterside café and just watch – the scene is as bewitching as it gets!
Hoi An is a tourist town – each of her historic townhouses are now either a restaurant, a bar, a hotel, a tailor or a souvenir shop. If you can accept this and just enjoy it for its architectural beauty and charm, you will love it. Foreign traders have been coming to Hoi An for over 1,000 years and leaving their mark: there are Chinese pagodas, arched Japanese bridges, French wooden shutters, tiny lanes of the Old Town and densely packed merchant townhouses – all of which have lanterns hanging outside and in.
Rarely does real life compare to the fairytale painted by travel writers and travel brochures. Hoi An really does though!
For more information browse our luxury Vietnam tours and our handpicked Vietnam hotels. To start planning a tailor-made holiday to Vietnam please contact our Vietnam specialist Mark Wright at email@example.com or phone +44 (0)20 7819 9770.