After an incredible afternoon exploring Son Tra Mountain in search of the rare and beautiful Red-Shanked Doucs, we drove south for our final destination in Vietnam, Hoi An. Hoi An, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and exceptionally well-preserved example of an ancient port town. It is also one of the most extraordinary villages I’ve ever visited. Known for its colorful lanterns strung from house to house, gently worn-in facades, tea houses and excellent street food, the little alleys of Hoi An instantly transport you to a bygone era of wind-powered ships tracing their trade routes and new worlds to discover. Not to mention that Hoi An is home to the best breakfast sandwich in the world according to Anthony Bourdain! (And I happen to agree!)
We chose The Four Seasons The Nam Hai for our three night stay, and as we sat in the gazebo that serves as the resort’s lobby, we admired the terraced nature of their expansive property, composed of 4 levels, each cradling it’s own pool descending until the property reaches the ocean. I have never been to a place with so many pools to chose from! (And let me tell you a sunrise swim is a must!) The property has so many places to bask in the sun with a good book, it made planning each day difficult. There was just so much to do in town and also so many perfect places to do positively nothing at the Nam Hai!
We dropped our bags at our villa and sipped the watermelon juice set out to welcome us. The villas mirror the same terraced pattern of the entire property with different levels for the desk, bed, and lounge area sloping down towards the water. The dark hardwoods and crisp white drapes surrounding the bed create an incredible feeling of calm, punctuated by energetic bursts of bright green and aqua upholstery. (Although my favorite aspect of our room was the his-and-hers closets!) We spent some time writing postcards to friends and family while lying on the day bed, before heading out for a late afternoon and evening in Hoi An.
Hoi An turned out to be my favorite town in Vietnam, as a lively UNESCO heritage site, the town is brilliantly preserved. Founded as a port town around 1595, Hoi An quickly became the most important port city on the east coast of Vietnam under rule by the Nguyễn Lords, who enacted open trade policies. The port experienced a boom under their reign connecting Europe with commodities from India, China and Japan. Hoi An became especially well known for their beautiful ceramics, and shipwrecks containing Vietnamese pottery from this period have been discovered as far away as the waters off Egypt’s coast! The secret to the town’s beautifully preserved streets, is the eventual end of Nguyễn rule, which moved much of Vietnam’s commerce up the coast to Da Nang, leaving Hoi An to quietly go on as a sleepy backwater for almost 200 years. Today the ancient buildings are still painted in a sweet array of pastels and adorned with potted plans and climbing vines. The main streets are lined with restaurants, guest homes, and shops ranging from chic boutiques to souvenir stands. The main paths are fairly crowded in the evening, as people arrive to witness the nightly river lantern lighting rituals. While the lit lanterns are beautiful, we appreciated the town best in the morning when we could enjoy the colorful lanes all by ourselves.
Back at The Nam Hai, we decided to schedule one activity per day of our stay, ranging from a street-food inspired dinner fair at Le Sen, to the most delicious treatment at the property’s spa (which included massage, a scrub and a flower-filled bathing ritual). On our last day we spent the morning learning how to make several Vietnamese dishes at the Nam Hai Cooking school and their classes are an absolute must during your stay! Our class was led by Tran from The Nam Hai’s cooking team, and we joined another guest, Kelly, for a farm-to-table cooking experience and late lunch. The Four Seasons grows much of their own greens and fruits in a nearby farm, and we started our morning in the garden picking our own herbs before learning how rice paper is made at a local factory and eventually heading back to the property to cook up some of our favorite Vietnamese dishes! (You can read more about the class and Vietnam’s food culture here.) We’re so glad to have the recipes to some of our favorite dishes so we can carry a piece of Vietnam back home with us!
From the people we met to the food we experienced and the places we explored, Vietnam was truly a memorable journey and incredible country. We can’t wait to return someday soon!
All photos by David and Stacie Flinner for stacieflinner.com