The Last Great Taste of Hoi An Food Tour (Hoi An, Vietnam)

Hoi An is a magical place in Vietnam. Full of color and beauty. The cuisine is also one of the best we tasted on our journey through Vietnam.  With more than 100 restaurants catering for tourists, there were so many restaurants to choose from and within the restaurants so many dishes to interpret. Most offer some Vietnamese dishes including the local specialties of White Rose, Fried Wontons, Cao Lau and Mi Quang along with some house variations of Vietnamese food.

The best way to learn more about Hoi An delicacies was through a food tour of which there were a handful. After a lot of research over the internet through tripadvisor and other travel review sites, we settled for one led by an old Australian couple who have resettled in Hoi An (something I wish I could do). The tour is called, The Last Great Taste of Hoi An and is highly recommended (although it is quite expensive for Vietnamese standards).

We started our walking tour visiting the colorful local Tan An Markets where we met and chat with stall holders about their food. Our walk then continued along both high streets and back streets, discovering out-of-the-way producers and street vendors making and selling a wide variety of exotic foods. Our final destination was a local restaurant where we enjoyed refreshments and tasted small samples of a wide selection of the local delicacies bought directly from the vendors – most of whom we saw or met on the tour.

Information for visitors:

Tour Times
7.30 am – 12.00am

Bookings Essential
Family Restaurant
108 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street
Hoi An Ancient Town
Telephone:  09053TASTE (0905 382 783)  or 0121 7621 693

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Journey to Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam)

After almost a week in Hoi An relaxing by the beach, eating delicious Hoi An specialties and buying enough lanterns to fill an entire suitcase, we took a flight to Ho Chi Minh City (former Saigon).  HCMC was exactly the opposite of Hanoi, commercialized, busy and overall what you would expect from a large city. Besides posters of Ho Chi Minh and communist flags there was little evidence of communism.


We spent 2.5 days in Saigon which in my opinion was enough time if you have a tight travel schedule. The best part of our trip was our incredible stay at the Intercontinental Saigon which was well located in the middle of everything, the rooms were incredibly comfortable, service top notch and the breakfast buffet was a feast not to be missed.



Day 1: Starting off at the Intercontinental we walked to the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral.

Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral- No. 1 Cong truong Cong xa Paris St.  A massive site and reminder of French colonialism dating back to the 1800’s. The Cathedral is made from materials shipped in from France like the red bricks of the outside walls which retain their bright and lively red color.  To the right of the Cathedral stands the Central Post Office another beautiful site designed by France’s own Gustave Eiffel (as in the Eiffel Tower). The walls are covered with paintings of historic maps of Saigon, Cholon and South Vietnam. Walking further across the square in front of the Cathedral, we arrived at 30/4 Park, a perfectly manicured green space with many large signs of Ho Chi Minh, reminding those who forget that the country is formally a Communist nation. After a walk through the park, we arrived at the grand Reunification Palace (formerly the Independence Palace).





Reunification Palace:  135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City.  It is a site worth visiting for the history buffs and those who remember the North Vietnamese tanks breaking through the gates of the Palace on April 30th, 1975. The palace was built on the site of the former Norodom Palace, a landmark in Ho Chi Minh City and designed by architect Ngo Viet Thu. As Vietnam was split into North Vietnam and South Vietnam, the building served as presidential home and workplace (with eerie underground bunker beds and war rooms).  It is now a museum and a reminder to all of Vietnam’s past. The building itself is a mix of traditional and modern design.


Next, we walked across town to the newly built Bitexco Financial Tower which really seems to represent today’s Vietnam. For 200,000 dong you can ride all the way up the 68 storey building to take in the view of Saigon. The building is designed in a shape of a lotus flower bulb although I really did not see the resemblance. Walking through a close by market really highlights the contrast of the old and the new, summing up today’s HCMC.

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In the afternoon, we decided that the best way to see as much of HCMC as we could we would sign up for a city tour. It turned out to be a great experience, our tour guide well conversant in English and explained the history and importance of every place we visited thoroughly. The tour started off at the Jade Emperor Pagoda.



Jade Emperor Pagoda- Phuoc Hai Tu, 73 D Mai Thi Luu)A small pagoda set north of the botanical gardens on Nguyen Binh Khiem, in a side street filled with turtles, birds and clouds of incense smoke. Did you know that the smoke from the incense represents a path for followers to send their message to the Buddha?  The pagoda was built by the city’s Cantonese community at the turn of the century, the Jade Emperor guards the entrance to heaven and decides who gets in. Inside of the main sanctuary is the Hall of the 10 Hells. I would have understood nothing had it not been for our tour guide who explained that the wooden panels depict the 10 levels of hell and what is awaiting sinners in each level.


We then made our way to the Ben Thanh Market where our guide gave us 30 minutes to shop around. We were told to offer 30% of the asking price on anything (sadly we only learned this on the second to last day of our trip). This made things difficult as it’s hard to bargain when coming from a country where bargaining is practically non-existent. The market itself was also built by the French in 1870 and was called Les Halles Centrales (similar to Les Halles in Paris) before being renamed in 1912. You can find practically anything in the market although nothing is that cheap. We left with little in hand. And made a visit in the evening to the neighboring night market to scavenge for good deals. Again left empty handed. But the food at the market is not to be missed. This is real Vietnamese food at its best. One section of the market is lined with food stalls offering freshly made to order dishes.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were then transported to buzzing, energetic and colorful streets of Cholon in District 5– the Chinese district of Saigon. Prior to visiting the area I had my Western vision of a distinct ‘Chinatown’ like the ones I am used to seeing in Canada and the US. However, there was nothing distinctly Chinese about the area except the history. Cholon meaning ‘big market’ is covered with a series of streets filled with various vendors including traditional chinese herb shops and everything else you may need if you search long enough. The area also is home to the Binh Tay market, a Chinese style architectural market which strictly sells wholesale goods.


While traveling through the area we were repeatedly told to watch out for our belongings, even to the point of taking off any gold necklaces, storing cameras in our bags and keeping a low profile. But more scary than the prospect of being robbed was dodging the millions of motorbikes which drove on with purpose and an amazing orderly chaos which is quite admirable. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADay 2: Cu Chi Tunnels

We decided that our second day in Saigon would be spent floating through the Saigon river to the Chu Chi Tunnels. Although hesitant at first I am glad that I chose to do this as it was one of the highlights of my trip (although my minor in college was history and I spent a lot of time studying the Vietnam war- it might not be a priority for those who don’t care much about war remnants).  We went with a boat tour that served breakfast and lunch on the high speed boat arranged through our hotel. It was the best way to visit the area. Once off the boat we were taken to a shelter where we were shown a black and white war propoganda movie. Next came the tour of the underground tunnels which are slightly scary, especially for those who have claustrophobic tendencies. I for one could only make it half way and had to retrace my steps back out gasping for air. To think that entire villages lived underground in these conditions for years during the Vietnam War is truly heartbreaking.


Our stay in Saigon was short and sweet. Despite it being a large city there is plenty to do and see. During most of our stay in HCMC we were warned by hotel staff, restaurant staff and anyone who chose to talk to us to becareful with our belongings and my prized Nikon (I chose to leave it in the hotel safe on the second day out). Despite the warnings, we had a relatively safe stay in HCMC, with the only minor detail of paying a coconut street vendor almost $20 dollars for 3 coconuts. If you have good bargaining skills and street smarts you should be okay. Ending our trip to Vietnam in Saigon was bittersweet. I fell in love with Vietnam, the people and the food. There is so much history and so much beauty to this place, it’s no wonder so many countries were fighting over it for so long.
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A relaxing stay at Palm Garden Resort (Hoi An, Vietnam)


Our stay at Palm Garden Resort in Hoi An was to put it simply perfect. It only took seconds to realize it. As the taxi drove up the drive way to the open air grand entrance of the Resort I knew we were in for a treat. The entrance of the hotel is grand and beautiful. The staff welcoming, warm and professional. And if the modernity and bright cleanliness of the hotel is not what you envisioned Vietnam to be like, the traditional clothing worn by the staff will quickly remind you of where you are.  Before arriving, we were concerned with the distance from the actual town of Hoi An but all our worries were put to rest as soon as we arrived. There were free hotel shuttles taking guests to and back from town which is only 5 KM away. It’s best to stay at the beach resorts rather than the town because the hotels have so much more to offer as oppose to staying at the town.

The Grounds:

After a smooth check in we were walked through the lush green grounds of the large hotel to our room. The hotel is split into various sections across 5 hectares of beach front property. Of course not all rooms are ocean view but I certainly enjoyed the tropical garden view to that of the beach. Pathways connect all rooms and buildings to the beach, central pool, spa and various restaurants.

 The Room:

Our room was exceptionally clean, with large sliding windows leading out to the patio and directly on to the gardens offering a peaceful and relaxing environment where you can only hear the birds and bees. The furnishings were modern Vietnamese. The air conditioning was on full blast and worked really well. The bathrooms were nice and modern although they could use an update as there was a musty smell in the air. My only real complaint about the rooms were the thin walls. In the case that you had a neighbor staying next door, conversations and television noise came through the thin walls. It wasn’t much of a concern of ours since we started our days early in Hoi An either in the fishing village or lying by the beach and ended our nights by coming back late from the village, hands full of shopping bags (I happened to buy some amazing art in the village).


The food at the hotel is really good and authentic but costs well above what an average meal in Vietnam typically costs. The traditional Vietnamese food specific to the region of Hoi An is available on most of the menus at the hotel and is not to miss. Definitely try the white rose dumplings and lemongrass beef. The breakfast buffet is out of this world with a selection of European continental treats such as waffles and pancakes but also a selection of chinese dim sum, congee, vietnamese pho and much more.


The Spa is serene and beautiful from the outside. There are fish ponds surrounding the spa and many of the hotel grounds. And while the grounds are beautiful, the actual services are not very professional (and cost more than what you would typically expect in town). I had a massage and a facial at the Spa which was definitely not what I expected and paid for. The change rooms include a steam and hot sauna and an older jacuzzi.


The experience at the Palm Garden Resort was exactly what we needed after our dizzying whirlwind experience in Hanoi and Halong Bay. It is the perfect place on the beach to relax before making your way south to Saigon.

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The Hungry Nomad’s Guide to Hanoi (Vietnam)

Before leaving for Vietnam, I had heard mixed reviews. Travelers either loved it or hated it. Many said it was their least favorite country based on the attitude of the locals and how they were treated. I was skeptical going in and was expecting to come out the other end disliking it. I went in equipped with my prejudice and tales of other’s travels. But, after spending several weeks in the country, the verdict is in: I loved it (and my travel companions loved it). I loved the people, the food, the country and history. Of course, there are always isolated incidents of doing bad business, not bargaining properly and getting ripped off, or coming across someone who is having a bad day and just feels like being nasty. But I didn’t find my experience to be any different from my time in other countries like Thailand (remind me to tell you the story of the time I got kicked by a seller in Bangkok after walking away from a bad deal on a necklace).





We spent three whirlwind days in Hanoi. Arriving late at night, we were greeted warmly at our hotel, Le Mercure in the Hoan Lake District (94 Ly Thuong Kiet Street) [See map]. Our first traveller mishap occurred when my travel companion left his brand new iphone in the taxi. The hotel which had cameras on the outside, called the taxi agency and tracked down the driver who within 10 minutes brought back his phone! Besides their wonderful service, the hotel was beautiful, elegant and very clean. The staff were professional, courteous and very helpful. A continental and Asian breakfast was served from 6-10 am. A travel and tour agent desk was also located close to the dining area which helped us book many tours around Hanoi. After having spent a few days in Hanoi, we were extremely happy with our hotel choice and chose to spend an extra night after returning from Halong Bay.

Day 1 in Hanoi:

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Street Food in Hanoi: Bún Chả (Bún noodles with grilled pork patties in broth)

Hanoi is a major foodie destination and many like myself come equipped with an appetite, ready to try almost anything and everything (although I draw the line at eating Vietnamese dog, which I learned is still common amongst the elders).  Every foodie traveling to Hanoi should already know that street food is a way of life here. A life which many tourists don’t dare to try.  And while I was daring and ready to sit down at any of the many small street food stands, traveling with a physician prevented me from doing so. I was constantly reminded of all the reasons I should not be eating street food including parasites and traveller’s diarrhea to name a few. But how could I ignore all the smells and aroma permeating the Old Quarter. So, I took the risk and dragged the physician along with me (he refused to try but instead stared at me in horror while I sat down to eat).


Street food is central to the life and culture of the city. At any time of day, you will see crowds of people crouched on street corners slurping away on fresh pho (literally fresh, the chicken was alive only a few hours prior to cooking). While I was excited to try some phở, I ended up sitting down on my first day for a mystery meal. Mystery because each stand only serves one dish. And I did not know what dish it was I would be eating, having selected the spot based on the crowds of people munching away. All I know is that it was good. Very good. And I wanted more. But what was it? No one spoke English. So I took a photo and decided to investigate later.


I later learned that the mysterious and delicious meal I had (all less than a dollar) was the popular and quintessential bún chả dish. A serving of crispy, caramelized slices of pork (although at the time I could swear it was chicken), along side a a bowl of bun noodles, and a bowl of warm light fish sauce based broth with small slices of pickled green papaya. A plate of fried spring rolls –nem cua bể was served alongside the bún chả. Probably the most delicious spring rolls I’ve yet to taste in my quest for Vietnamese food. A combination of minced pork, glass noodles, mushrooms and bean sprouts wrapped in egg roll and fried. All this was served with a basket of fresh herbs and vegetables.


Once the dish arrived, I was not sure what to do with it or how to do put it together. In such a scenario, imitation is essential. I looked around and noticed that all the localers (who were eyeing me suspiciously) dumped the grilled pork patties (thit bam) into the broth. Next, the noodles were dipped in the broth picking up a piece of pork on the way before gently placing in the mouth.


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Vietnamese Cà Phê adventures in Hanoi, Vietnam

One of the highlights of our trip to Vietnam was the abundance of high quality, rich, chocolatey coffee on every corner- all for less than a dollar. The Vietnamese know their coffee and take it very seriously. Yet, don’t go searching for fancy shops with overly happy baristas serving multiple lettered coffee drinks. Some of the best coffee we had were on street corners and curbside food stands. Just some shabby plastic stools, laminated tables and the buzzing sound of motorbikes.


One of the best discoveries was cà phê sua chua or known to us foreigners as yogurt coffee. At first, a bit apprehensive to try coffee with yogurt. What could be so good about that? But after first taste, we were left wanting more, ordered seconds and for the remainder of our trip searched for ca phe sua chua on every occasion (sadly it was not so popular in the South). The bitterness of the coffee blends perfectly with the slightly sweetened yogurt.

2-DSC_0337Cà phê sua chua consists of a Vietnamese vinamilk yogurt (delicately sweet and delicious), a splash of condensed milk and strong Vietnamese coffee. Ice is optional.

Another treasure was the Cà phê sua da, rich and smooth drip coffee served with condensed milk. I probably had 10 of these a day, shaking and jittery on a coffee high after each drink. In fact, most of my time in Hanoi was spent on a coffee high.

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In order to get the ultimate coffee experience it was essential to learn how to order these  drinks at places where English was hard to come by. Usually pointing to the drink did the trick but otherwise the coffee vocabulary musts include: cà phê  (coffee); đen or sữa (black or sweetened;  nóng or đá (hot or iced).

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10 days in Vietnam- The Itinerary

Our trip to Vietnam started in the energetic capital city of Hanoi in the North and ended in Ho Chi Minh City (former Saigon) in the South. Many travelers to Vietnam choose to work their way down the slender country or work their way up from Saigon.

Orderly Chaos in Hanoi, Vietnam

The Itinerary:

Three days in Hanoi were plenty to experience the buzzing commercial chaos of the Old Quarter with its endless markets and street food stalls, the tai chi sessions along the vast lakes and all the amazing yet daring street food.


We then headed to Halong Bay where we spent the night on a Junk boat and took in the magnificent and majestic scenery and sea air.

Sunrise and Tai Chi in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Departing Halong Bay at noon the next day, we arrived back in Hanoi at around 5 in the evening. We spent the night in Hanoi having a great dinner and catching a performance at the water puppet show in the Old Quarter. The next morning we took an early flight to Hoi An (via Danang International Airport). We decided to skip the Imperial City of Hue (pronounced Hoo- eh) adding two extra nights in Hoi An soaking in the unique French colonial atmosphere, pagoda’s and amazing food while getting some sun on the virgin beaches.

Colorful streets of Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An, Vietnam

Finally, we flew from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh City spending two nights in the buzzing city spending our days touring the town and the evenings shopping and eating in the night markets.

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