vietnam activities

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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7 Budget Friendly Brunch Spots in Hoi An

I love a good brunch…

…so, while visiting Hoi An, I was happy to discover that the beloved meal between breakfast and lunch is becoming increasingly popular in the lantern lit city.

Whether you’re craving Western favorites, local flavors, or vegetarian friendly choices, you’ll find several places throughout the city where you can get your mid-day fix.

These were some of my favorite (and budget friendly) brunch spots. 


DINGO DELI

Dingo Deli is one of the best places in Hoi An to get a large-portioned, Western style brunch. Opened in 2010 by a western couple, the Deli’s extensive menu offers a variety of brunch dishes like French toast, eggs benedict, and breakfast burritos. All of these meals are served with your choice of bottomless drip coffee or tea.

If you’re not in the mood for a full breakfast, Dingo Deli has several delicious options on their a la carte menu as well.

(FYI: The Deli also has a quiet room, which is perfect for digital nomads wanting to get some work done while having a meal. When we visited, the use of this quiet space was first come first serve, but you may be able to reserve it in advance by contacting the folks at Dingo).

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Feel like hitting snooze? No problem. Dingo Deli serves up brunch all day, and, if you don’t feel like getting out of bed, they even offer delivery! Head to their website via the link below and get your brunch (lunch or dinner) delivered straight to your door!

  • Vegetarian Friendly ✓

  • Hours: 7:30am – 9:30pm daily

  • Location: 277 Cua Dai Road

  • Website: Dingo Deli


THE KEBAB SHACK

The Kebab Shack is another spot where you can get your brunch fix all day long. Opened by English owner Tim and his wife Ly Anh in 2014, this is the perfect place for English expats to go when they want a little taste of home… and we’re not just talking about their huge English breakfast.

At The Kebab Shack, locals and travelers alike can enjoy the hospitable atmosphere, while indulging in hometown favorites like Heinz beans, Magners Cider, and (almost impossible to find) HP Sauce!

The English aren’t the only ones who will find comforts of home here. The Kebab Shack also serves extremely affordable Middle Eastern style kebabs, and delicious Aussie beef pies!


ROSIE’S CAFE

Rosie’s is probably my favorite of all the brunch spots on the list.

Owned and operated by My and Thuy, two local girls and longtime friends, this cozy little café can be found tucked down a quiet alley, away from the hustle and bustle of the Old Quarter. Considering its proximity to the popular tourist destination, Rosie’s is actually extremely affordable. 

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The two girls say Rosie’s is the result of their mutual passion for coffee shops, and their desire to serve up a little something of their own. I was a big fan of what they’re serving up, and with loads of healthy options that everyone can enjoy, I think you will be too.

Start your day with one of their colorful smoothie bowls, avo toast, or Rosie’s signature Brekky. While you’re there, don’t forget to try one of their delicious cold pressed juices, a traditional Vietnamese coffee, or satisfy your sweet tooth with one of their milkshakes!

  • Vegetarian Friendly ✓

  • Hours: 9am-5pm Monday - Friday, 8am-3pm Saturday, closed Sunday

  • Location: 8/6 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai

  • Website: Rosie’s Cafe Facebook


MORNING GLORY

Opened in 2006 by Ms. Vy, local celebrity and author of the cookbook Taste Vietnam, this restaurant takes its name from the morning glory vegetable. Known for its resilience, the morning glory is able to thrive and survive in the harshest conditions, and (after rice) is the second most commonly eaten food in Vietnam. According to Ms. Vy, it symbolically represents Vietnamese character.

Morning Glory, the fourth restaurant opened by Ms. Vy, aims to give guests a broader view of Vietnamese cuisine by also featuring dishes from outside of Hoi An. Some of their most popular dishes among guests are their Banh Xeo (crispy pancakes) - and Cao lầu (YUM).

Check out the original Morning Glory restaurant, the Morning Glory cooking school, or one of Ms. Vy’s many other restaurant locations in Hoi An for a delicious spin on local favorites. You can also take advantage of their delivery service on their website!


HOI AN CENTRAL MARKET

For a truly unique experience, do as the locals do and trade your western brekky for a bowl of pho or Cau Lau at the Hoi An Central Market.

As the name suggests, this market is literally located in the center of town, making it the perfect place to grab a bite before a day of exploring the Old Town.

Though you will likely end up paying a bit of a foreigner tax on anything you buy here, a visit to the market still guarantees you a delicious meal and an experience you won’t forget - all for less than a couple bucks!

Don’t forget your camera! The sights and sounds of the market and its food hall are something you’ll definitely want to write home about.

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  • Hours: Open daily from 5am

  • Location: 73 Phan Boi Chau Son Phong


THE DECK HOUSE

For a delicious brekky on the beach, head to An Bang Beach’s Deck House.

From 7-11 everyday, they offer a variety of breakfast entrees ranging from veggie omelettes and breakfast bowls to avo toasts and traditional cau lau.

The prices are a bit higher here than some of the other spots on the list, but the beach views more than made up for it.

We loved beginning our day with a run to the beach, grabbing a bite here, then taking advantage of the Deck House’s lounge chairs to soak up some rays on the beach.

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  • Hours: 7am-11pm

  • Location: When you arrive at An Bang Beach, take a left at the end of the street. The Deck house will be located on your right.

  • Website: The Deck House


FISHERMAN

To all my vegan, Instagram lovin’ readers - this last one is for you.

The Fisherman is an affordable, sustainable, and vegan restaurant also located on An Bang beach. They serve up a delicious healthy breakfast all day, and boast one of the most insta-worthy interiors and restaurant patios that I have ever seen.

The Fisherman also has happy hour specials and hosts the occasional full moon party, so if you’re visiting Hoi An, be on the lookout for that, too!

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  • Vegetarian Friendly ✓

  • Hours: 7:30am - 11pm

  • Location: Head to An Bang beach via Hai Ba Trung Street. When you reach the end of the street, turn right. Continue down the path until you see The Fisherman on your left.

  • Website: The Fisherman Vegan Restaurant Facebook


MAP


Did I miss any?

Where is your favorite place to brunch in Hoi An? Let me know in the comments below!

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Sustainable Tourism in HaLong Bay aboard the Au Co Luxury Cruise



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Named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994, HaLong Bay is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and a popular tourist destination in Vietnam for domestic and international visitors alike.

For years, waking up in the crystal blue waters of the bay on a junk boat amidst the limestone cliffs was at the top of my bucket list, and, in 2017, I finally made it there. According to statistics from the Halong City People’s Committee, so did about 7 million other tourists... with a majority of them flocking straight to the port to board their cruise in the bay.

As you can imagine, this mass tourism can have detrimental effects on the environment in HaLong Bay, however, I don't think tourists should let this dissuade them from visiting. There are companies who care about preserving the beauty of HaLong Bay, its wildlife, and the local communities who call this place home... companies like Bhaya Cruise Line.

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About Bhaya Cruise Line

In 2007, Bhaya's first ships set sail, and just over ten years later, with four different fleets and several cruise packages to choose from, it is already become the largest cruise operator in HaLong Bay. It is also one of the Bay's most reputable cruise companies.

In 2017, Bhaya launched several sustainable tourism initiatives designed to protect and preserve the environment, and to help local communities.

This summer, I had the pleasure of exploring the beauty that is HaLong Bay a second time aboard Bhaya's Au Co Luxury Cruise. I was very impressed with the ship, the staff, the off the beaten tourist track excursions, the food(!), and with Bhaya's overall dedication to leading the way for sustainable tourism in HaLong Bay.

Want to learn more about the Au Co Luxury Cruise, Bhaya's social and environmental initiatives, or how you can get involved?

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A Night in HaLong Bay with Glory Legend Cruise

Waking up on a junk boat amidst the limestone cliffs of Ha Long Bay has been at the top of my bucket list since, well... since the first time I saw a photo of the limestone cliffs of Ha Long Bay. When planning my trip to Vietnam, experiencing this was my number one priority.

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My search for the perfect junk boat led me to Glory Legend Cruise Line. Though it was a bit more expensive than other boat companies, I decided that, when it came to crossing off this item on the bucket list, I was willing to splurge on quality. There are lots of budget backpacker, party boat cruises as well, but that wasn't really the vibe I was after for this leg of my Southeast Asia trip.

An acquaintance from Seoul (aka a social media friend who I'd actually never met before), was travelling through Vietnam around the same time as me, and, since she also planned to do Ha Long Bay, we decided to book the same cruise. We met up at the dock on the day of our departure, and immediately hit it off - (She offered me snacks and I knew I'd found a forever friend).

Turns out, the cruise company had TWO boats departing that afternoon... and we, of course, as luck would have it, were not on the same one. This is how I ended up riding solo on a junk boat in Ha Long Bay. Aside from the workers on the boat and a couple of honeymooners, I was the youngest person on the boat by at least 30 years. Other than that, my boat was mainly full of Austrian retirees. As unfortunate as this situation may sound, believe it or not, riding solo actually worked in both of our favor... turns out, the Austrians know how to party.

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Want to find out more about my journey through HaLong Bay with Glory Legend Cruise? 

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To book your stay your HaLong Bay Trip with Glory Legend Cruise click here

When you book using my affiliate links, I receive a small commission that goes towards the cost of this webpage... (and, lets be honest... future travel). 


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