Asia with kids

Vietnam with Kids: Hoi An’s Lesser-Known Attractions

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Spice up your family trip to Hoi An with these under-the-radar activities!

Families visiting Vietnam tend to flock to Hoi An, and with good reason. The white sand beaches are attraction enough in themselves, but this pretty town also counts impressive architecture, a stroller-friendly pedestrianised Old Town and a colorful arts and crafts scene among its family-pleasing attractions. Oh, and there’s some excellent shopping to be done here, and some delicious cocktails (and mocktails for the kids) to drink. All good, except of course this means jostling for elbow room with other families as well as the backpacker brigade at the major sites and attractions. For a little more spice and local flavor, families in Hoi An can easily ditch the big crowds and find under-the-radar activities. Read on for some highlights.

 Take a Free Bike Tour With Local Students

Set up by enterprising local students keen to improve their language skills by interacting with English-speaking visitors to Hoi An, these fun free tours are basically a win-win. The friendly students have an off-the-beaten-track ethos, aiming to show visitors the sights that don’t appear in any guidebooks. Families will need to rent their own bikes (most hotels offer this service for next-to-nothing) and pay for extras such as ferries and food (contributions to local community projects are welcomed!). Otherwise, the rides are freebies which allow families to cycle around traditional rural villages, past rice paddies and grazing water buffalo. You can also visit craft villages to see expert carpenters and boat-makers at work, or participate in workshops if you’re interested. Cyclists can take tea with locals and visit family homes to see how traditional dishes are prepared. All in all, these bike rides are a fun way to get off the tourist trail and interact with local communities.

Got time and cash to spare? It’s even possible for visitors to Hoi An to make their own bikes from locally-sourced bamboo. Locals use the abundant crops of sturdy bamboo to make all manner of useful objects, and visitors can take part in bike-building workshops. The whole process takes between 6-14 days, and bikes can be shipped on request. The whole experience costs around $400 USD (not including shipping) but the end result is a nifty, durable bike that makes a pretty impressive memento of your family trip to Hoi An. Plus, you can ride  it around for the duration of your stay in Vietnam!

 Make Traditional (and Edible!) Vietnamese Toys

Toys you can eat! Hoi An is famous for its tradition of tò he: figurines made from rice paper crafted into flowers, animals, super-heroes… basically every kid-pleasing shape imaginable. While it’s common to see these toys for sale by the roadside and at the markets of Hoi An, families in the town can also make their own by taking part in a workshop (ask around, or use an agency such as Backstreet Academy). For less than $20 USD families can spend a few fun hours learning about this centuries-old tradition, and moulding their glutinous rice paper into the shape of their choice.  

 Learn Traditional Cooking

Encourage the kids to get hands-on with their food habits by taking part in one of the many cookery classes in Hoi An. Some classes involve visiting farms and markets to learn about selecting the choicest ingredients for whipping up those delicately-flavored Vietnamese dishes such as white rose dumplings and quang noodles. Kids will enjoy making sweet treats such as green bean cakes, and the chance to eat what they make might encourage fussy eaters to embark on new gastronomic adventures. Some Hoi An cooking classes are fairly touristy affairs, but others such as the aptly-named My Grandma’s Home Cooking, involve traveling to rural villages to learn the culinary magic of locals who have been creating delicious family meals for generations. Families who appreciate the flavors at the welcoming Cafe 43 can also take classes on site, for just a few dollars per head.

 Ethical Eats at Streets Café

Take your budding chefs to Streets Restaurant-Cafe, where disadvantaged young people have a chance to enroll in cookery training courses, applying their skills in the restaurant. As part of the global Streets International social enterprise, it’s a feel-good way to eat, but that’s far from the only reason to visit. The food is excellent by any standards, and the pretty setting and artfully-restored old building will impress the grown-ups as the kids slurp up noodles and delicious mango smoothies.

Photo: Efrat Shimon

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