Tuesday 21 April 2015

Vegans Explore Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An is part world heritage site and part beach holiday destination which, for me, is a pretty damned great combination. After getting sick in Hanoi, mainly exploring cities on the way down the coast and a couple of back to back travel days, I chose An Bang beach as our first stop in Hoi An. I was in need of some maxin' and relaxin' and I'd read that it was the quieter and prettier of the two beach options. We took the free bikes offered to us at the hotel and rode a slightly challenging 3km to the beach. Cycling, or even walking, on Vietnamese roads is always a challenge because traffic lights seem to be more of a suggestion than a rule and if the place somebody's going is on the other side of the road than the one they're technically meant to be driving on then that's the route they'll be taking. To add a little more fun to our journey there was also some road resurfacing going on which meant cycling on a single lane gravel track for about 1/2km which was definitely challenging. Needless to say we arrived at the beach suuuuper ready to relax.

After a few hours lying on the sand engrossed in a book (this one if you're interested) and hopping into the water to cool off occasionally dusk started creeping across the sky and we decided it was probably best to leave rather than to end up cycling home in the dark. It would also have been a shame to miss these gorgeous dusk views.

Hunger soon struck and we decided to check out the Hoi An branch of Karma Waters. Despite having a hankering for another of their hot dogs I decided Pho would be a better bet. Whilst it was good it wasn't anywhere near as good as either the hot dog or the bowls of Pho we'd been dining on at backstreet veg places during the preceding weeks.

We also tried the banana pancakes, a ubiquitous snack amongst other egg and dairy eating travellers, which we were yet to try. We were left almost wishing that we hadn't because they were quite solid and whilst the mango jam perked them up they definitely weren't a fave'. They definitely looked like the ones we'd seen at non-vegan street stalls in Hoi An though so they were good in that they made us stop wondering whether we were missing out.

The breakfast at the Vaia Hotel where we were staying was okay, bread, jam and juice followed by a fruit plate. I should't really complain because the bread was excellent but I was usually starving about two hours later and I definitely wished I hadn't run outa peanut butter!

The beach had been so great the day before that after scoping out the weather forecast we decided to go back and get our lounge on for a full day. We took a picnic of crackers, peanut butter, seaweed snacks, Oreo's and fruit, splashed out on some sun loungers and spent the day skipping in and out of the waves. Perfection.

Again we headed back before dusk because of the scary cycling sitch' but that meant we hit the hotel just in time for happy hour where all guests get a free mojito or glass of sangria. Fun!

After our slightly disappointing dinner at Karma Waters the previous night we decided to find somewhere a little more authentic for our evening meal. We took a walk to Tam Quang Minh and said yes when they asked us if we liked to eat soup. 

Saying yes was such a great decision because these steaming bowls of Pho were some of the most delicious I've eaten in Vietnam. Fake meat, super flavourful broth, loads of herbs and lime. Yum.

We went back the next day and they asked if we liked rice... of course we said yes again. This wasn't quite as delicious as the Pho but as it cost around £1 for both of our meals I wouldn't even consider complaining. The mock meats were wonderful, one had a delicious sweet and sticky sauce and the other was kinda caramelised and had a little crunch to it. I would totally eat whole platefuls of both! I also enjoyed both mine and Nick's aubergine whilst he ate both portions of spicy cabbage. Teamwork!

Feeling suitably relaxed by a couple of back to back beach days we decided to get up early on our third morning to set about some proper sightseeing. Hoi An's old town is delightfully charming. The gorgeous French colonial style buildings sit side by side with Japanese edo era architecture which is a contrast that I loooove.

Apparently this is the only Japanese bridge in the world that has a Buddhist temple halfway across. It's also guarded at one end by a pair of dog statues and at the other by a pair of monkey statues - cute.

In fact everything about Hoi An is cute, the buildings, the lanterns, this puppy...

We took advantage of our hotel's free bicycles again during our days exploring the old town and we headed out in the morning during the hours when it becomes a walking and cycling only area. This is a wonderful idea that I think almost any city could implement and it would add to the joy of exploring. Being able to cycle or walk without worrying that I'd be knocked over by a scooter at any moment made it much more fun although of course dawdling tour groups made cycling without a bell amusing / mildly irritating.

We refuelled with juice at riverside spot Fusion Cafe more than once during our explorations, it was definitely a good people watching spot and the apple, lime and mint juice was excellent. I think that juice combo might be one of my favourite discoveries of the trip, it's a little like a non-alcoholic mojito.

One place I was excited to dine at was Minh Hein Vegetarian which was excitingly within cycling distance of the old town. Minh Hein is probably Hoi An's most famous veggie spot. They make veganised versions of a lot of traditional dishes including Cao Lau, a regional noodle, (faux) pork and greens dish, and White Rose. 

White Rose are dumplings so-called because they look like white roses and whilst they usually contain shrimp or pork these were, of course, the vegan version. I also ordered the fried aubergine with garlic and Nick ordered a spicy tofu dish because it's literally the only way to stop me stealing his food! I kid. Kinda.

The fried aubergine with garlic also came with peanuts and no chilli which I was happy about - communication win. The aubergines in both Vietnam and Laos really are melt in your mouth delicious and I feel like despite there being so many different types and cooking methods aubergine dishes are always the ones I end up loving the most. The White Rose was tasty but I didn't ask for it without chilli because I'd read that the dipping sauce comes on the side, that's not the case at Minh Hien so after one delicious nibble I had to pass them over to Nick to polish off.

We also grabbed an order of Bánh Xèo to share because ever since Cici introduced us to them in Hanoi they've been up there with our favourite Vietnamese dishes. This version could have been better if the wrappers had been soaked properly but they were on the crunchy side which made them challenging to use.

Despite their slightly disappointing Bánh Xèo I would highly recommend visiting Minh Hien for their veganised local classics like White Rose, Cao Lau or anything with aubergine.

On our last night we finally made it to An Nhu Quan Chay which I'd heard about from Caryl and Paul at Vegan Food Quest who recommended the hot pot. Never one to deviate from a personal recommendation we dove right in.

The Hot Pot was filled to the brim with mushrooms, silken tofu, tomatoes, mushrooms and more mushrooms. I loved it. I was also pleased to see that it came with the fermented tofu that I'd fallen for in Hue. We threw in handfuls of greens and I ate far more than my half of the fermented tofu. I really wish I was eating this right now. I'm eating grapes. They aren't as good. I just added this spot to Happy Cow so that other veggies visiting Hoi An should be able to find it and eat delicious hot pot too!


  1. I am always so jealous of people who can go and relax on the beach! My skin does not do the sun at all, I am worried enough about Austin. But I wish I could go and lie in the sun for a little bit and watch the waves and just let it all melt away.

    1. Aww, that sucks. I'm not the absolute best in the sun either so I try to either go to the beach after 3pm or, if I want to be there all day, I pay for a sun lounger and a beach umbrella so that I can relax in the shade.

  2. I'm really enjoying reading all your posts about your travels; it looks as though you're having an amazing time. I love the pictures of the bridge in Hoi An in this post (and the puppy of course!). Hope you're having some excellent adventures!

    1. Thanks Imogen! I really am having an amazing time, it's challenging at times for sure but it's always an adventure.


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