Japanese bridge in Hoi An
As soon as you step out of the airport into the tropical heat, you are overwhelmed by unfamiliar sensations. But instead of helicopters playing the Ride Of The Valkyries, you hear the scream of tropical birds. Instead of the scent of napalm in the morning you get the scent of the frangipani flower at night and instead of the psychedelic rockets blasting off into the sky you see beautiful multicolored silk lanterns lighting up the ancient streets.
It is a country that long ago emerged from the war that defined the 1960s to become a modern, vibrant and welcoming place with a rich heritage, fantastic cuisine and wonderfully friendly people.
We landed in Da Nang, in central Vietnam. While the north of the country is considered the political center and the south as the economic center, the central part is considered the cultural and religious center and, as such, is the ideal starting point for any tourist.
Just an hour’s drive from Da Nang is the Laguna Resort, which was our base for exploring. Situated on a 2 mile stretch of pristine white sands and beneath the lush forests of the Truong Son mountain range, this is a large, yet tastefully designed resort of two grand hotels – the Angsana and the Banyan Tree – an 18 hole golf course designed by Sir Nick Faldo and a number of residential villas.
We stayed at the Angsana Hotel, a family run resort with a huge range of suites, from one bedroom garden rooms to two bedroom loft style apartments on three levels with their own pool, terrace and separate living room.
The hotel has a winding 300m swimming pool in which you can float in a rubber ring and sun loungers on the beach with waiter service for drinks.
There’s a spa and plenty of free activities including paddle boarding, kayaking, and bungee trampoline.
Fantastic silk lanterns adorn the ancient streets
The hotel offers free transfers to the airport and there is a free shuttle bus to Hoi An town.
There are four restaurants offering a range of cuisines. They include Vietnamese dishes such as pho. One restaurant specializes in Japanese-style bento boxes while another focuses on Indo-Chinese style cuisine. There is also the Market Place restaurant for a range of breakfasts.
The hotel is keen to give its guests a taste of Vietnamese life and organizes excursions for this, we tried traditional fishing in the nearby village of Canh Duong.
A local fisherwoman took us down the river in a circular bamboo basket boat. They are perfect boats for maneuvering around the mangroves that line the shore. We let go of a long net as our guide paddled furiously.
She ordered me to pull up a net she had laid earlier. We caught about 10 small crabs, barely enough to keep the wolves at bay. Experience gives you an idea of ââhow difficult their life is.
We also had a fun cooking class where chef Nho taught us how to make Vietnamese spring rolls and chili sauce. These are much healthier than traditional spring rolls as they are made from rice paper with raw vegetables and herbs and are not fried.
The Laguna Resort is committed to giving something back to the local community and donates 15 tons of rice grown on the rice fields of the golf course to the local people every year.
Savvas loves local food
They also have an education program to support local children. We went on a trip to the nearby school where teachers and hotel guests volunteer to help Vietnamese children learn English. Teaching under the gaze of the Ho Chi Minh statue, we found that the 11-year-olds we were teaching English was as good as the kids back home.
No visit to central Vietnam would be complete without seeing the ancient city of Hoi An. This Unesco World Heritage Site is one of the most famous and popular destinations for Asian tourists, but is almost unheard of. westerners. It was once a hub of the spice trade and attracted merchants from all over Asia and Europe.
Cars and motorcycles are prohibited in the center, making it a pleasant place to walk around and enjoy the architectural influences from China, Japan, and French colonialists, as well as Vietnam itself. There are several preserved old shops and it is fascinating to walk into a 200 year old property to see how the people used to live.
The most alarming fact is that the river floods the streets during the rainy season and houses have been built to accommodate it. During the summer months people lived and worked downstairs, but once the rains set in they moved their furniture upstairs using ropes and pulleys and hatches on the upper floors.
The symbol of Hoi An is a covered wooden bridge built by the Japanese, oddly enough called the Japanese Bridge. If you cross, there are lines on the wall indicating the height of the water levels each year.
Hoi An is a great place to shop for souvenirs and it really comes alive at night when the streets are lit with colorful silk lanterns.
The Angsana hotel in the resort town of Laguna is a family resort
You can buy lanterns for just Â£ 2 and it is also famous for its silk clothes and wood carvings. I bought bowls made from coconut shells for under Â£ 1.50 each.
While in Hoi An, you must try some of the dishes that the city is famous for. The first is the cao lau noodles. The noodles are made from rice that has been soaked in lye water, giving them a unique texture and brown color.
They are served with greens, bean sprouts, fresh herbs and crispy pork. The flavors of sweet, salty and bittersweet, combined with the acidity of lime juice explode in the mouth.
Another famous dish of Hoi An is the banh mi, or baguette sandwich stuffed with meat and vegetables, cilantro and chili peppers. The late chef, Anthony Bourdain, described the banh mi served by the Banh Mi Phuong street stall as the best in the world. What’s better is that it will cost you around Â£ 1.
Made with rice flour paste, they’re filled with shrimp or pork, steamed, and served with crispy shallots and a spicy dip.
If you love food, Vietnam is a delight with fresh ingredients and a simple, no-frills cooking style. We had a sumptuous meal of oysters, squid, shrimp, clams and steamed vegetables with fresh coconut juice to drink straight out of the coconuts at the Lang Chai restaurant built on the lagoon by Lap An.
Hoi An Old Town
Cao lau noodles with pork
In Hoi An we had a delicious menu consisting of papaya salad, fried wonton, barbecue pork, chicken satay, fish with pineapple and banana fritters. At The Angsana hotel, we had a delicious fresh food tasting dinner at Moomba restaurant, which included Vietnamese spring rolls, coconut pumpkin soup and satay skewers.
On our last trip back to the airport, we played a game of spotting the scooter carrying the most people. We saw a family of five crammed into one and a man carrying crates of chickens, but the prize went to a man carrying a full size cabinet. Now it’s an apocalypse waiting.
Rooms at Angsana Lang Co (angsana.com/en/vietnam/lang-co-centralvietnam) start at around Â£ 102 per night in a Garden Balcony King Grand room on a B&B basis. The hotel offers free airport transfers. The rooms at Banyan Tree Lang Co (banyantree.com/en/vietnam/lang-co) start at around Â£ 370 per night for a Lagoon pool villa on a B&B basis.