Asia

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul

Ahhh, Seoul.

My home away from home, and a vastly underrated travel destination.

From endless underground shopping to incredible nightlife... a vibrant, well-preserved culture and amazing, modern architecture... this sprawling city seriously has it all. 

Turns out, it's also a photographers paradise…

In no particular order, Here are 10 urban photo spots you won’t want to miss.


Ewha Womans University

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld

I was pumped when my friend Nick said he wanted to shoot here because, despite living in Seoul for years, I still hadn't been. We arrived so early on that Saturday morning that the, typically crowded, famous walkway on campus was practically empty... which made for some incredible shots.

According to google images, this is also an epic spot to shoot after the sun goes down and the buildings light up. I didn’t get a great shot of the buildings (because I only had my phone camera, and, when it comes to night photos, its shooting abilities are subpar at best). I did, however, get this cool photo of the empty cafe area.

Getting there

Head to Ehwa Womans University Station on the green (2) line. Take either exit two or three and walk straight for a few minutes. You'll run right in to the university grounds!

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld

CanonPlex

On the southside of the Han, in an unsuspecting camera shop, is one seriously swoon-worthy spiral staircase. There's really not much to see here other than that... (unless you're in the market for some new Canon stuff), but it makes for a pretty cool "Down the Rabbit Hole"-esque shot.

If you're in Apgujeong, pop in to the CanonPlex for your next insta-post!


Getting there

Head to Apgujeong Rodeo Station on the Bundang (yellow) line and walk straight out of exit 5. The CanonPlex will be just down the road on your right!

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld

Dongdaemun Design Plaza

CAN I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION, PLEASE... YES, YOU! If there is one place in Seoul you HAVE to go… it’s here. Seriously.

This was one of my favorite areas in the whole city since I first moved to Seoul in 2015. My friends made fun of me for loving it so much, but who could blame me!? - Look at those curves! (Side note: I also had a really adorable first date, first kiss on a butt-statue chair here, therefore, it will always hold a special place in my heart. The place, not the butt statue...).

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld

Aside from its sentimental value, the DDP's futuristic architecture and design never cease to amaze and inspire. Be sure to wander inside the spaceships as well. Scotty might not beam you up, but I guarantee you'll find an exhibit, stairwell, or spacey corridor that'll make you feel like you're on another planet.

Getting there

Head to Dongdaemun History and Culture Park Station, (located on lines 2, 4, and 5), and walk out of Exit 1.

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld

Blue Square

Blue Square is a culture complex with a bookstore, cafe, and even a performing arts theatre. The walls of its Book Park are lined with books from the floor to the ceiling, and the massive windows, giving this aesthetically pleasing location an even cozier feel.

There are several little nooks and lofts where you can literally sit amongst the bookshelves... so, that's exactly what I did. I got a cup of tea, pulled out my journal, and was happily stuck here waiting out a rainstorm for the rest of the afternoon.

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld

Note: BYOB(ook). 

There are lots of books here, but, as I wasn't here book shopping, I'm honestly not sure if any of their books are actually in English. It isn’t uncommon to go in a book store in Korea and find fake English books on display.

Getting there

Blue Square is located at Hangangjin Station on the brown (9) line, and just outside of exit 2. Pair this with a visit to Leeum Art Museum (mentioned a bit later).


Sulwhasoo Flagship Store

This location is a spa, a boutique, lounge, and the home to what may be the most genius staircase concept I've ever seen. The metal grid alongside the outdoor stairwell seems to go on forever... and, though it actually stopped at the rooftop garden lounge, it was still awesome.

We got some really cool, minimal shots here - in most of which, I was either sticking my tongue out (or taking photos of Nick taking photos of me)... but I was such a minimal midget, you'd never be able to tell... (which is why I LOVE THIS TYPE OF PHOTOGRAPHY - as there's zero pressure on the person in the frame).

The golden metal staircase at Sulwhasoo would undoubtedly be an amazing background for portraits as well... but, unfortunately, at this point in the day, my sniffly nose was wayyyy too red and runny for that

Getting there

The Sulwhasoo Flagship Store (not to be confused with the Sulwhasoo Spa in Jamsil) is also accessible from Apgujeong Rodeo station.

Take exit 5 and walk straight along Seolleung-ro (선릉로).

When you reach the first major intersection, past the CanonPlex & Sony store, turn right on to Dosan-daero (도산대로). Turn down the third road on your right. This spot will be down the road and on the right - can't miss it!

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld

Anyang Art Park

This park deserves a post of its own… because it is quite literally the most elusive park I have ever been to. The installations are scattered throughout the woods… and the signage is all in Korean… so the first time I attempted to go, I didn’t find any of them.

The second time, I found a few installations but most of them were locked… so I tried a third time… (and, surprise surprise, still didn’t find all of the installations I was looking for).

Thankfully, Seoul photographer James Lucian let me snag a few of his photos for this article!

Each installation is so unique. I love the different compositions you can make of the textures and colors.

Getting there

Gwanak is the nearest Metro Station to the art park. Like I said, it’s super tough to sort out where everything is… I’ll go into more detail in a post just for this a bit later.

In the meantime, I’ve pinned it in the map below - Pay attention to the signage when you leave the station and be prepared to walk through the woods. May the odds be ever in your favor!

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld

StarField Library

The beautiful StarField library is located in the COEX mall, Asia’s largest underground shopping center. It is well lit, aesthetically pleasing, and has the cutest little photo spot at the curve of the shelf.

Though it isn’t the quietest library in the world, it’s definitely a cool spot to check out while visiting the city.

In addition to the library, there are so many other things to see and do within this complex. There is an aquarium, clubs, hotels, restaurants, and, of course, lots of shops.

Right across the street from COEX, you’ll find the Bongeunsa Temple - one of the largest Buddhist Temples in the city.

Getting there

Take the metro to Samseong Station and take exit 5 or 6 to get to the mall!

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY BRITTANY VARANO

PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY BRITTANY VARANO


Leeum Art Museum

On my second weekend in the country, I braved the metro and headed to Itaewon to visit the Leeum Art Museum and explore the area… making this museum one of the first places I visited on my own… not just in Korea, but probably ever. Prior to moving abroad by myself, I had a group mentality, and was honestly a bit scared/nervous to go places on my own. This would be the first of many times I ventured out solo.

Unfortunately, being by yourself sometimes means missing out on epic shots like these. Thankfully, Brittany of LifeOfBrit let me borrow this shot of her in one of the Museum’s most well known exhibits.

The Leeum Art Museum has many permanent and rotating exhibits of traditional and modern art. Museum 1 showcases traditional Korean art and Museum 2 features modern and contemporary pieces.

There is an admission fee of 10,000 won, but if you are a university student with school ID, under the age of 24, or over age 65, you can get a 50% discount.

Getting there

Head to Hangangjin Station (Seoul Subway Line 6) and take exit 1. Walk straight for 100m then take a right down the first alley. Walk about 5 minutes up the hill to reach the museum.

Pair this with a trip to Blue Square (located at the same station) or a day of eating your way through Itaewon.

PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY BRITTANY VARANO

PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY BRITTANY VARANO


Seoul Botanic Park

This gorgeous Botanic Park opened in Western Seoul in October 2018… (which is a huge bummer for me because I had already left the country by then).

Like the famous Cloud Forest in Singapore, the Seoul Botanic Park has a skywalk through its upper canopy. There are currently about 3,100 kinds of plants, but their goal is to eventually have 8,000 plant species.

The architecture of the park looks gorgeous… especially in these golden hour shots by James Lucian… plus - I love plants. The best part… during their trial period, admission is free!

Getting there

Seoul Botanic Park is a short walk from exit 3 of Magongnaru Station on subway Line 9 and the Airport Express Line.  They are open from 9 am to 6 pm.

Visit their website for more information!

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN


Ttukseom Resort Station

Okay, so I know I said the DDP was my favorite spot in the city… but that’s not entirely true. This riverside station actually takes the cake for my number 1 favorite spot in Seoul.

There are plenty of parks by the Han, but, the first year and a half that I lived in Korea, I’d ride the train 40 minutes across the city just to get to this one. Thankfully, my last apartment in Korea was just a couple stations away!

The spaceship-esque building connected to the station is actually a small library and events center, so if it’s too cold to be outside, you can go inside and still get a great river view.

This is a great spot to chill and have river beers, go biking, or just do some people watching. On weekends when the weather is nice, the lawn areas are filled with tents and blankets as friends and families picnic together (one of my favorite Korean pastimes).

Getting There

Directions for this one are easy. Take the train to Ttukseom resort station… and then you’ll be at Ttukseom resort station!

Make sure to take exit 2 or 3 so you come out of the station on the river side.

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

PHOTO BY JAMES LUCIAN

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld

BONUS PHOTO SPOT

While you’re in the area, I’d recommend walking or taking the train one stop to Konkuk University station area and heading to another super trendy photo spot in the area - Common Ground.

Common Ground is a shopping and restaurant area made from shipping containers where lots of festivals and special events are held.

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld

MAP

Need a little help finding your way in Seoul? Click around my custom map to discover the best urban photo locations in and around the city.


About the Contributors

Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld

Nick Classen

Nick Claasen, a New Zealand born photographer based in Hong Kong, is absolutely incredible behind the camera.

During his visit to Seoul last year, we teamed up to create some minimal shots that show off just a handful of the city’s many futuristic, architectural masterpieces.

I can say without a doubt that he is one of the most creative people I've ever met and has what is easily one of my favorite urban photography accounts on Instagram


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Brittany Varano

Originally from the states, Brit quit her job to move abroad and  teach English in Daegu, South Korea for two years.

She has loved spending her weekends finding the most picturesque spots in Seoul and  
practicing her photography along the way.

Brit shares all of her Korea travel tips, guides and recommendations on her blog LifeofBrit.com.

Follow her adventures on Instagram.


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James Lucian

Originally from St. Louis, James is now lives and teaches English in South Korea. Though his interest in photography began in high school, and he majored in photography in university, James says living in Seoul really rejuvenated his desire to pick up the camera.

He bought an old camera at the Namdaemun Market and started taking pictures again.

James says that living in Seoul has given him a great canvas for photography. “The streets of Seoul are so different from home and I am constantly stimulated by them, even after three years of living here. It’s been such a pleasure to go photograph them!”

Check out his work on Instagram.


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Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld
Urban Photographers Guide to Seoul - HallAroundtheWorld

The Most Delicious Meal in Hoi An... (under $2)

If there’s one thing that keeps me dreaming about Vietnam (aside from the beaches and the people and the general laid back way of life)… it’s the food.

Vietnamese food is fresh, flavorful… and, best of all, it’s cheap.

This summer, while visiting Hoi An, I ate my way through the city in an attempt to find the best places to grub. I was surprised to discover an up and coming Western style Brunch scene… and was unsurprised by the associated Western style prices.

Click here for: 7 Budget Friendly Brunch Spots in Hoi An

I’m a big fan of brunch… however, as tempting as it might be to eat those comfort foods, I stronglyyyyy suggest you try to eat locally whenever possible instead.

The BEST meal I had in Hoi An, in terms of taste, affordability and ambience (because, yes, that is a thing) was at a little family run tea house called Mot Hoi An.

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If you’re walking down Tran Phu Street, you might notice the Mot’s adorable shop front… or you might not… because during opening hours it’ll likely be blocked by a huge line of customers.

Mot’s attracts loads of drive by visitors each day with their delicious (and very photo-worthy) take-away herbal teas.

This signature tea is made from a blend of herbs which can be seen displayed in ceramic bowls at the store front - cinnamon, lemongrass, honeysuckle, and lime, with a lotus petal added as a decorative touch.

It is the perfect refreshment on a hot day, and will only cost you 10,000 VND, (roughly 43 cents). However, as delicious as it is, this tea does have one very obvious downside… its single use straw and the plastic cup that it’s served in.

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Though it might be tempting to grab one on the go, I suggest you go inside and grab a bite to eat, too… that is, if you can find a seat. There are only about half a dozen tables inside the cozy restaurant, but if you can get one, it’s so worth it. (Plus, maybe as Hoi An continues to get rid of single use plastics, Mots will provide reusable cups for its dine-in customers).

I decided to have the Cau Lao, a Hoi An specialty, a herbal tea - and the whole meal only cost me 45,000VND. That’s about US$1.50! As far as Old Town restaurants go, that is a steal… and it tasted ohhhh so good!

Mot’s has a wide variety of other options on their menu like curry noodles, wonton soup, and (of course) pho. For or all you vegan/vegetarian travellers, they also offer meat-free options. Overall, their prices are incredibly affordable, with the most expensive dish ringing in at just over US$1.

Mot’s offers great food at a Great price (in a great location). It’s a win, win really.

Do yourself a favor and skip the flashy waterfront restaurants of the Old Town. Head to Mots Tea House on Tran Phu Street instead! This family run joint is a cozy, delicious, and affordable spot that you' won’t want to miss.

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Have you been to Mots? What’d you think?

Let me know in the comments below!


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Top 9 Hoi An Photo Spots

From its beaches and lush rice fields to the lantern lined streets of the Old Town, all of Hoi An is just screaming to have its photo taken… And everyone knows it. To be honest, the selfie sticks and posing tourists are actually my least favorite part about Hoi An… but who can blame em - the town is flippin’ adorable.

Here are some of the top photo spots in Hoi An and a map to help get you there!


 
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COCONUT BEACH

Depending on when you go, you’ll likely find more bamboo boats than tourists on this quiet beach. This not only makes Coconut Beach a great spot for some very insta-worthy sunrise and sunset shots, but also my favorite spot for beach hangs in Hoi An… Easily! More on that here.

Once you get your shot, be sure to stick around! - Put your cameras away and enjoy.

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RICE FIELDS

Aside from lounging on the beach, another thing I loved to do in Hoi An was starting my day with a morning run, or taking the scenic route to town through the city’s lush, green, rice fields. Though it was my second time visiting Hoi An, the beautiful landscape still blew me away.

To the locals, I probably looked ridiculous stopping every few meters and snapping away - but I mean… come on… the rice fields green and beautiful and unlike any of the (many) fields we have in North Carolina.

Though there are plenty of rice fields to choose from around Hoi An, my favorite spot for photos was behind Hub Hoi An - (a co-working space that is also very insta-worthy and worth checking out if you’re looking for a cozy spot with good WiFi to get some work done).

I recommend getting up early and heading there for sunrise. At this time, the roads are (more or less) quiet and the lighting is still soft.

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OLD QUARTER

For the most part, all of Hoi An is photogenic, but, with its bright walls and lively streets, Old Town stands apart from the rest.

I loved capturing the buzz of the area, but if you want one of those quiet “wow I’m the only one here” shots for your insta feed, you’re gonna either have to get creative… or get up at the crack of dawn.

Here are a few of my favorite old town shots. The particularly colorful, (and oddly quiet) spot pictured below is located just around the corner from the Japanese Covered Bridge (by Rosie’s Cafe - one of my favorite spots in the city to grab a bite).

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Pro Tip: Hoi An is hot… if you’re out taking photos, at some point, you’re going to need to stop for a drink. As tempting as it may be to down yet another Vietnamese coffee, cooling down with a delicious herbal tea from Mots Tea House is a tasty alternative.

Mots is a cute little family run restaurant that also serves up local favorites like Cao Lau and Pho. Their signature herbal teas are as refreshing as they are cute… If only they’d get rid of the plastic cups and straws, then these teas would be perfect.

More on Mot’s famous herbal tea and their other affordable menu offerings here!

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TEMPLES

Just like rice fields, there is no shortage of temples to explore around Hoi An.

We really enjoyed Chùa Long Tuyền, a Buddhist temple located just around the corner from one of our Homestays. It’s a bit off the beaten track and away from the Old Town… which we didn’t mind at all - this meant it was totally empty.

It’s a great spot to stop and snag some photos, but make sure you’re dressed appropriately (which I unfortunately was not in some of these pictures).

When visiting temples, you should always make sure that your shoulders are always covered. Vietnam is HOT, and I, having not planned for a stop at the temple, made the rookie mistake of wearing a tank top. Learn from my mistakes and either go in a top with sleeves or bring a scarf with you to cover up!

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HOI AN CENTRAL MARKET

If you go to Hoi An and don’t go to the Central Market, you’re doing yourself a massive disservice. If you do plan to go, prepare for sensory overload. This lively market is a great place for snapping photos, grabbing a bite to eat, or just people watching.

I recommend heading here early for a traditional Phở brekky. Early as in, before the cooking school tours roll through… not that there’s anything wrong with being a part of a cooking school tour! I’ve done a couple in Hoi An and really enjoyed them, however, I just suggest you explore the market on your own, too!

Pro tip: look out for bikes and scooters on the side streets surrounding the market.

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CAM THANH VILLAGE

Taking a bamboo boat ride through the water coconut palms forest is also a must while visiting Hoi An. It’s such a fun experience, not to mention an awesome photo opp.

Kill two birds with one stone and book a cooking class with Hoi An Eco Cooking Class. They begin the class with a tour of the Central market, a bamboo boat ride, and then an awesome cooking experience.

If you’re lucky, you might get to see how the pro bamboo boaters have fun on the water. (Hint - there’s lots of spinning involved).

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“Hoi An Vibes Only” Mural

Sunday in Hoi An is an adorable shop that sells everything from housewares and gifts to clothes and accessories. Their products are made from natural materials by artisans in Vietnam and throughout Southeast Asia.

It isn’t uncommon to come here and see a line of people waiting to take a photo with the mural, but my advice is to actually take a look around. If you’re anything like me, I guarantee you’ll want one of everything. So, in that case, maybe put your blinders on and don’t look around…

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I practiced self control and settled for two things - an adorable two piece jump suit and a wooden phone case. The were both a bit pricey by Vietnam standards, but both worthwhile purchases. I wore the jumpsuit for the rest of the trip, and the phone case saved my phone from getting destroyed when it fell out of my pocket while riding the scooter.

Pro Tip: There are actually two Sunday in Hoi An locations in the old town, but only one where you can get this shot of the mural. Be sure to head to the location on Trần Phú.

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MURAL VILLAGE

If you liked that last mural, you’re gonna love this photo hot spot - an entire mural village.

The Tam Thanh Mural Village was a joint project between the Vietnamese Peoples Committee of Quang Nam Province and the Korean Community Art Exchange Program. Over a dozen Vietnamese and Korean artists painted over 100 murals around the community.

The project aimed to create art for a better community and to bring more tourists to the area. So far, it has been a massive success and has even inspired other similar projects to spring up in the area… more on that soon.

Though it’s not technically in Hoi An, the Mural Village is just a short day trip away and well worth a visit if you’re a fan of street art. It lies alongside a beautiful beach which was totally deserted when we visited… making it a pretty surreal spot for photos as well.

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Pro Tip: Though the entrance to the mural village is just beside the market, the murals actually begin much further down the street.

If you’re coming here by car, I’d recommend getting dropped off a bit closer to save yourself a sweltering walk.


CHAM ISLAND

Cham Island, located about 9 miles off the shore of Hoi An, is another picturesque location for photos. However, not during peak tourist visiting hours… which is basically all day.

The best way to snap a decent shot (and to have a good island experience) is to stay overnight. By around 3 or 4pm, most tour groups leave for the day… and then Cham island is basically deserted.

We camped out on Cham Island and had the best time playing some footy with one of the local kids on the island, getting to know fellow travelers around a campfire, and sleeping in a tent by the sea.

The good thing about booking a tour and camping out overnight is that most tours also include your choice of diving or snorkeling! Read more about our trip to Cham Island here.

Cham Island
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Map

Need a little help finding your way in Hoi An? Click around my custom map to discover the best photo locations in and around the city.

Have you been to Hoi An?

Where did you take your favorite shot? Let me know in the comments below!


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The Most Hands-On Cooking Experience in Hoi An - Hoi An Eco Cooking Class

While visiting Hoi An, or Vietnam in general, it would be silly to miss out on taking a cooking class. With so many to choose from, you may be wondering where to begin.

During my first trip to Hoi An, I spent a day at Green Bamboo Cooking School. This time, I wanted to try something different, so Andrew and I decided to go to the Hoi An Eco Cooking Class. It shared some similarities with Green Bamboo Cooking school, but overall I think it gives guests a more hands-on cooking experience.

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WHAT TO EXPECT

Visiting The Market

Like my previous cooking class experience, the Hoi An Eco Cooking class begins with a trip to the Central Market. Here you’ll see the colorful lively market where many locals buy and sell their produce and other goods. If you’re a first timer at the market, it’s nice to go with a guide who can teach you a bit about the market and products sold there.

(Tip: Once you’ve been given the inside scoop, be sure to head to the Central Market on your own, and do it early! - before the parade of tourists comes through. You’ll see what I mean).

Bamboo Boating

After visiting the market, we drove to the cooking school which was conveniently located right beside the water in Cam Thanh Coconut Village.

Before the cooking begins, you’ll take a ride in a traditional coracle, better known as a bamboo boat, through the beautiful water coconut palm forest.

The local fisherman guiding your boat will teach you how to catch fish and purple crabs. He also attempted, with no success, to teach me how to properly paddle the boat… let’s just say I’ve been skipping arm day at the gym for way too long.

Hands-on Cooking Experience

After exploring the channels, you’ll return to the cooking school for quick refreshments. Then you’ll get down to business. You’ll be given an apron, a number, a chef’s hat, and full responsibility for everything you cook from then on. Everything we were to eat we had to make totally on our own, so if your cooking sucks, your food will suck… the head instructor’s words… not mine. No pressure.

We learned how to make rice milk, which we then used to carefully make rice paper. The whole process was so delicate and precise. We used our rice paper to make fresh spring rolls, which we dipped in a delicious sweet and sour fish sauce.

We cooked some of Vietnam’s famous Pho Bo (beef noodles), Aubergine with soy sauce, and a delicious banana flower salad. Then things got hot as we played with fire to fry up some Banh Xeo (crispy pancakes).

As each dish was finished, we placed it on a tray with our number, and, once everything was complete, sat down to a delicious and rewarding feast.

To end the day, everyone watched an incredible food art demonstration! Sadly, I didn’t manage to turn tomatoes into roses and carrots into flowers on my own. We were given special cooking tools, a mini cook book, and serious food comas to take home with us!


WHAT I LOVED

Unlike the Green Bamboo Cooking School, where each guest chose and prepared a single dish (but got to try a bit of everything), at the Hoi An Eco Cooking Class you prepare everything you eat on your own. Though it was a bit more fast-paced, I really enjoyed getting to learn more about each food and how it is made.

(Note: Since you were only responsible for preparing one dish at the Green Bamboo Cooking School, there was more time to relax and chat with the other travellers. If you’re looking for a more laid back experience, this may be a better choice for you).

I for one felt proud when I successfully prepared all of the dishes on my own… and even more proud when they actually tasted good. I also really enjoyed the Bamboo Boat ride - This was something Andrew and I wanted to do anyway, so it was great to get that experience and a cooking class all in one!

This class is also great for those with dietary restrictions. Even the vegetarians in the group were able to cook veggie-friendly versions of each dish (which is something you definitely won’t get at every cooking school)!

If a fun, hands on experience is what you’re after, then the Hoi An Eco Cooking Class is the perfect choice for you.

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BOOKING

To request a spot at in the class, head to hoianecocookingclass.com.

Note: I was a guest of the Hoi An Eco Cooking Class, however, all thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are my own.


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Beach Camping on Cham Island - When to Go & What to Expect

The big cities of Vietnam can be a bit overwhelming… and Hoi An is no exception.

I love its lantern lit streets, cozy cafes, and endless tailor shops… but if you plan on spending more than a week there, you may find that you need a little break from the incessant horn honking and selfie stick filled streets of the old town.

Thankfully, there’s an island escape a short boat ride away - Cham Island.

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what is cham island?

“Cham Island,” is actually a cluster of eight small islands just eight miles off Hoi An’s coast… but only one is inhabited. This island is said to be the perfect getaway for anyone wanting to get out of the city for a bit… and after a couple weeks in Hoi An that’s exactly what we needed.

We booked our trip to Cham Island with ALO Travel Asia, a company which offers a number of tours and excursions in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. Our booking included roundtrip hotel and boat transfer to and from Cham Island, snorkeling, all meals, and an overnight stay in a little tent on Bai Chong beach.

What to expect

At 8am the day of our trip, we and a bus full of other travellers were picked up and driven to Cua Dia pier. From there we boarded a double decker boat with Cham Island Divers and began to make our way to the islands.

The boat stopped twice along the way for snorkeling, diving, and free time to swim and jump off the boat. This was the first time I had gone snorkeling since I was a kid… and I must say, I was pretty horrible at first. Andrew got a huge laugh as I kept going too far under with my snorkel on and ending up with a mouth full of water. It also didn’t help that my first pair of flippers were WAY too big. Anyway, once I got my mask/flippers/general technique sorted, we both had a really great time.

At around 1pm we arrived at Cham Island and had lunch on Bai Chong beach. The beach was already filled with other tourists at that point, so, after lunch, we grabbed a beer and a hammock under the palm trees.

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An hour or so later, the tourists boarded their boats back to Hoi An and the only foreigners left on the beach were six French girls, Andrew, and myself. It was then that we really got to enjoy this quiet island getaway.

We went swimming, relaxed on the beach, and Andrew had a mini game of football with a young local boy. Though he hardly spoke any English, he and Andrew got by with hand signs, smiles, and laughs. I’ve always known a smile to be universal, but now I’m fairly certain that football must be too.

After awhile, the boy proudly proclaimed, “My name Thuy. Who you!?” - and then laughed hysterically when he found out our names.

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Soon, it was time for dinner. We joined the French girls in the little island restaurant for beers, freshly cooked fish, delicious tofu, rice, spaghetti and tropical fruit for dessert - an interesting combination, and quite a feast considering. We tried to order cocktails from the “bar” but they had already stopped serving liquor. Instead, they gave us a cooler filled with beers, and charged us for what we drank the next day.

Surrounded by the island pups, we spent the rest of the evening around a bonfire, (which Andrew proudly kept stoked). We drank as many of our cooler beers as we could, and played a really fun game called FishBowl - I had never heard of it before but would 100% recommend. We chatted about life, politics, and got to bed fairly early since we had to be up early for breakfast and more activities the following day.

We woke up to one, two, then three guard pups outside our tent, ate breakfast, and then headed back out onto the water.

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Typically, when you book through ALO Travel, day two of this trip just includes a free day on the island, lunch, and your boat transfer back to Hoi An. The staff at Cham Island Divers were kind enough to pick us up that morning for another day of snorkeling and cruising on their double decker boat.

After that, we came back to the island for lunch - (unsurprisingly, the same lunch as the day before), and, I have to say, I was absolutely appalled…

wait, what happened…?

Everything was going great… the staff and people on the island were welcoming and hospitable… the food was good… the water was cold… but the beach, which just a few hours before had been for the most part clean, was filled (and I mean FILLED) with garbage… and I don’t just mean trash the tide had brought in.

Surrounding the lounge chairs and hammocks… and, in general, all across the beach there were bottles and bags and pieces of plastic that were so small they weren’t much of an eyesore… You might not even notice them… until they ended up in the stomach of a fish who’d go belly up and wash up on the shore. And yes, we did also see a dead fish… with a very swollen belly.

Like most of us, I’d seen lots of pictures and videos on the internet of beaches hidden under a layer of plastic… until that day, I’d never seen anything like that with my own eyes.

Though I couldn’t believe this was the same beach where we’d spent the most perfect night, I was more shocked that that none of the other tourists on the beach seemed to be doing anything about it.

While Andrew and I lugged hand-full after hand-full of trash to and from the island’s bins, all the other tourists that I could see just sat and watched… or didn’t watch… maybe they didn’t care. (Plastic not pictured because, like I said, we were busy trying to pick it up.)*

I get it. People want to go to a beautiful beach… they want to enjoy their time… to relax… to have someone else clean up after them. Maybe there should have been more bins… maybe there should have been less tourists… Or maybe everyone needed to start caring a little bit more.

The fact is, if we don’t get our shit together, there won’t be anymore pretty little islands with crystal blue waters to lounge around on.

Fortunately, the first step to solving a problem is noticing that their is one… and thankfully that process has already begun.

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What is being done?

Plastic pollution is a huge problem everywhere, not just Cham Island… The island is just the first place where the severity of the problem really hit me like a slap in the face.

I spoke with Deano, one of the boat captains at Cham Island Divers, and he gave me some reassuring information about what the government and Cham Island Divers are doing to address the waste issue we witnessed on the island.

Across Vietnam, plastic bag usage has been the focus of many recent government campaigns. Additionally, Danang, one of Vietnam’s largest cities located just a short drive away from Hoi An, is launching a new campaign against single use plastics specifically. These single use items make up a majority of the rubbish we found on the beach.

On Cham Island, plastic bottles, mainly water bottles, remain a huge issue. The waste on the island, which, as you can imagine, is much worse during peak tourist season, is tidied twice daily by locals employed by the Marine Park Authority (MPA).

Cham Island Divers also works with the MPA and other local authorities to implement strategies and practices to help the people of Cham Island protect their beautiful home. On a daily basis during their dive and snorkeling sessions, the instructors do their part in cleaning up the ocean floor… all while keeping their customers educated and ensuring they have a great time.

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What can I do?

Well, it’s simple really…

You don’t want people coming and trashing your home… so don’t trash someone else’s.

If you’re planning to visit Cham Island be aware and be conscious… Aware of the plastic pollution problem the island faces and conscious of how you yourself are contributing to it. Make an effort to minimize the waste you are producing and to clean up the litter that’s already there.

I think people today are becoming so much more conscious… of the foods they eat, the clothes they wear, the products they consume, and the waste they create… the fact that you’re even still reading this post proves that.

Campaigns like plastic free week and Jackson Grove’s Adventure Bag initiative are a huge step in the right direction… but it’s a step we need to take together, and a step we need to take often.

While visiting Cham Island, lead your own adventure bag clean up with travel companions, or clean up what you can solo.


When should I go?

The best time to visit Cham Islands is from March to September, but, if you are planning on diving during your trip, it is recommended that you visit between June and August.

I’ve reached out to Cham Island Divers to ask if they are leading any upcoming island cleanups. I will update that info here as I get it - because that would obviously be a pretty great time to go, too!


Booking

I would highly recommend booking a trip to Cham Island through a dive school or tour company versus trying to plan a trip on your own, especially if you want to camp out overnight.

You can book your overnight trip through ALO Travel Asia like we did here, or book directly through Cham Island Divers here.

Despite it’s pollution, Cham Island is beautiful… I really enjoyed the time I spent there, and genuinely hope it remains beautiful for all of its visitors in the future.


GALLERY

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