So we recently spent a week in Hoi An and Danang, Vietnam. This has suddenly become the ‘it’ destination on the mums groups I’m on, and while I’m not exactly a follower of these trends (even if I could afford to keep up with them), this destination was on my radar because I’ve been wanting to do a relaxing beach holiday with the kids in a kids-friendly resort to see if those facilities are really worth it, and I’ve never been to Vietnam. Also, Vietnam is a super short flight away, and there’s only an hour time difference, which fits my parameters for holidays with the kids.
Initially, I had my sights on the Hyatt Danang, because that’s the one that gets named a lot, but given that it turned out to be super expensive, we decided to do 3 nights there are three nights in a cheaper hotel, which is when I hit upon the idea of going to Hoi An, which is the historic town, first.
Since I no longer have time for long rambly post, here are my hopefully truncated thoughts:
The hotel we picked Hoi An River Town Hotel was probably one of the best hotels I’ve stayed at ever. I’m not sure about its star rating and it’s definitely not a huge sprawling five star facility, but it hit the spot on all count. It is small but beautifully decorated, it had two adequate pools that were never crowded, the rooms were clean and comfortable, the wifi was excellent, the buffet breakfast was lovely, and the staff were amazing. Nene fell sick on the first night, and couldn’t really eat much. I requested to be allowed to take up a few items from the breakfast buffet, and they readily obliged. At night, when Nene refused everything and demanded only the yogurt from the buffet, I went down and asked Reception if there was any, and they got it for me from the kitchen (Nene unfortunately puked it all up, but that’s another story). When he finally came down, the staff all fussed over him. It was truly warm and personalized service, and for that I would totally go back to this hotel, and recommend it anyone. The hotel is not in the thick of town, but a short walk to the night market and the back end of the old town, overlooking the river. So close to the action but not so close that it’s noisy, which suited us.
Because Nene was ill, we didn’t get to do as much as we might otherwise had. Not that I had planned a lot, but the one thing I wanted to do was walk around the Old Town, which is a UNESCO heritage sight. And it did not disappoint. It is quaint and beautiful. We went into one of the shops where they do silk embroidery so intricate that it looks like a painting and on the upper floor you can buy silk scarves or get stuff stitched. Apart from that, they showed us the process of silk making, including the worms, the cocoons and the loom. That was interesting for the kids. Though the cocoons are boiled with the butterfly/worm inside which is pretty ick. Seems like hard to find a cruelty free product if you think about it.
The highlight of the evening for us was taking a boat ride down the river. It was so peaceful and they give you candles in little paper holders to float down the river. Since my grandma had passed away we used this as a little ceremony in her honour, where the kids said what they remembered of her. The paper thingies and candles overturn and sink almost right away, and are probably pollution the river can do without, so would probably skip that part if we did a do-over, though the kids enjoyed it.
Another highlight was the beach at Danang. Glittering blue from afar but a bit more murky up close, with light sand, water just the perfect temperature and waves just rough enough to be fun, it is probably the most perfect beach I’ve visited so far. It is a private beach so not crowded (though I am not a fan of a private beach on principle). I wanted to stay near the beach so we could go every single day (and I knew that wouldn’t happen if there was a bit of a journey involved, because V just doesn’t truly see why people need to go to the beach every day, whereas I am a Goan who went to Goa every summer as a child, and basically hung out at the beach twice a day or more). My kids love the beach and so do I, it is the thing that calms me when I am angsty.
The one attraction that I was keen to visit in Danang was Marble Mountain and it did not disappoint. It is a short cab ride away from the hotel (adults could walk, but since there’s a fair bit of walking up the mountain itself, the hotel suggested we cab it, and that was a good call). We went at 7 am and were pretty much the only one’s there except a couple of others. We took the elevator up to a point, and then walked. There are enclaves with Buddhist shrines all over, but the highlights are the caves with shrines in them. There’s actually a bit of scrambling and climbing in the caves that Nene especially loved (though you could take an easier stairway too). When we got into the biggest deepest cave, I gasped – it was so eerie-peaceful-beautiful. One of the unexpectedly best sights I’ve ever seen.
The pretty good
There are number of tours offering bike, boat and cooking tours to the countryside. Thankfully, I didn’t go with the popular recommendation in Hong Kong and book one in advance, because Nene fell sick and it turned out the hotel had a more reasonably priced recommendation. In the end, Nene and V were unwell, so only Mimi and I went. Although I was not super keen on a cooking tour (because you know my love for cooking), Mimi seemed keen on it, plus it was the only one that didn’t involve a bike (as I wasn’t sure there would be a kid’s bike for Mimi).
We started off walking through the market and picking up supplies, though these are not really the supplies you use to cook. This part did not wow me because a) it was hot b) the wet markets in Hong Kong were similar (I wouldn’t have been averse to a walk through the market myself, but at a cooler time). We then boarded a boat for a longish ride down the river to location of our basket boat ride/cooking trip. This boat ride is nice, but a bit long and the guide didn’t provide any commentary (though she probably would have had we asked her. I had a five-year-old to amuse so didn’t). From there we boarded basket boats to be paddled into an artificially created maze, where we were to do crab fishing. It was an interesting experience although super hot (tip: do not pick the afternoon tours for this). Fishing involved dabbling a piece of meat affixed to a stick into the crevices of the pier, and pulling it up when a crab caught on. I did catch a crab, but ended up hurling it into our boat where it scuttled around to the alarm of Mimi, so we finally had to disembark.
Then began the cooking part of the tour. First, the guide demonstrated how to sift rice, grind it into rice milk, and steam rice cakes (and we all had a go which was nice). We ended up cooking four dishes – pho broth, spring rolls, egg pancakes and stir fried noodles. This is basically more cooking at one go than I have done in my entire life. The spring rolls and sauce were surprisingly delicious if I may say so myself. While Mimi was into the cooking initially, four dishes was a bit too much for her, and as expected, she ended up not liking any of the food (except the pho, which thankfully she slurped up at the end). The guide was extremely sweet and friendly to her though, and my big regret is that I did not leave a bigger tip.
On our final afternoon, we dined in the hotel restaurant, and I had this. It was not the most fabulous thing I’ve ever eaten, but it did hit the spot. Overall, I have to say that I was not crazy about the food in Vietnam, though we were hampered by the kids who did not take to the food (well, that’s putting it mildly – Nene had a full on attack of food poisoning from the little place we went to the first evening, though he was already fighting a cold).
We then proceeded to Danang for our Hyatt part of the experience. The hotel is a sprawling (but not huge) five-star property right on a private beach. We got a two bedroom apartment, which is helpful with kids as we could prepare meals.
I was surprised when we arrived that the lobby where check in/check out happens is an open air area with very scanty seating and not very comfortable (we later wondered whether this was to prevent guest idling there after check-out). The property is not new and there’s a bit of wear and tear but our apartment was spacious and perfectly lovely, with a beautiful view. When I looked out of our balcony what met my eyes (the hotel pool, villas and the sea beyond) was basically the exact thing you’d see in a promotional brochure.
The hotel has two pools – a kiddy pool that my kids avoided and a huge meandering main pool, with a water slide at one end and an artificial beach at the other. I avoided the artificial beach because I wanted to keep our sandy and pool suits separate. Anyway once our kids discovered the water park, there was no looking back. I had actually imagined more water slides when we booked the hotel, but I guess that was unrealistic and the kids had a good time in a pool. More than the pool though, the beach was lovely and the real highlight of the stay. I was given to understand that the hotel has a grocery where we could shop for supplies, but actually it is a rather fancy bakery, with some (expensive) supplies. Given that the apartments allow for cooking and the resort is sort of isolated, I would have expected something better, but alas that was it.
Another reason for picking this hotel was that it has a kids playroom and scheduled activities for kids, which I thought would give us adults a break. Later, I read reviews that this is not all that – my experience was somewhere in between. I had been expecting an indoor playroom that is at least as large as the (admittedly large) one in our estate in Hong Kong. It was much smaller. There are indeed activities and they are free, but they lasted only 20 minutes to half and hour or so and if we wanted the kids to stay longer we’d have to pay US$6, which was fine but it didn’t seem that there was enough to amuse them for half an hour there (and I figured they’d end up watching TV which they could do free at home). Nevertheless, Mimi did love the activities, and the ladies running it were very sweet, so I will give Camp Hyatt an overall thumbs up.
So basically to shop for supplies, we went to Han Market which is a proper wet market combined with cheap clothes and souvenirs. I ended up buying fans and a few coconut shell inlays bowls as gifts in addition to bananas, shrimp, onion etc. Danang town is not much (though apparently there are some good spa deals and we on Saturday nights the bridge lights up and spits fire), but we had a nice lunch at Retro Kitchen and Bar. The food was okay, but the drinks were really amazing – hello Earl Gray Passion Fruit Iced Tea.
On our last day, we had a bit of time (unfortunately in the afternoon) to kill between check out and our flight. We considered booking spa treatments for ourselves and leaving our kids in Camp Hyatt, but the spa treatments were so expensive we decided against it (and I did not have even a massage in Vietnam boo hoo!). Then, we decided to go to this amusement park called Asia Park, only as we got there the skies opened and so we hastily took a cab to a mall called Lotte Mart, which actually turned out to be a good call. There was lots of decent but cheap shopping, and frankly I could have spent more time there. It’s also where I discovered that Vietnam has lots of Kipling bags on sale, but we couldn’t figure out if they were fake or not, and after a lot of googling, it appears that they must have been fake. It’s weird though, they’re selling them at the airport too. I would recommend a stop at this place for cheap deals on stuff like T-shirts, and also some nice Vietnamese outfits, if that’s your thing.
Nene fell sick. That meant we lost a few days, plus I was pretty much on edge the whole time.
V and I fought a lot. Small stuff that turned into big stuff, and I realised that we both just set each other off. We made up, but I still cannot get over that we sullied paradise with our bitching and ranting.