Hoi An Is the Best City in the World — and the Street Food Is Only the Beginning
The world is certainly not short of incredible cities. There are the skyscraper-laden megacities Hong Kong and New York City, historic cities full of charm and romance like Kyoto or Paris, and cities so special they just can’t be compared — here’s looking at you Udaipur.
At Travel + Leisure, we know our readers have traveled the world near and far, discovering what cities are truly worth experiencing on every continent. That’s why, each year, we task them with helping us figure out something that’s difficult to determine: What’s the best city in the world to visit right now?
For our 2019 World’s Best Awards survey, T+L asked readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. And the results are in.
This year, the title of Best City in the World belongs to Hoi Ai, Vietnam. So I went there myself to understand why.
Located in central Vietnam on the coast of the East Vietnam Sea, Hoi An is a charming city with ancient roots, distinct architecture, a contagious energy, and arguably one of the best street food scenes on the planet. Most importantly, Hoi An is home to friendly people who are eager to share the best their city has to offer.
When it comes to places to stay, there are plenty of options: resorts, hotels, hostels, and guest houses. The true stand-out in the area is the Four Seasons Nam Hai, a beautiful resort with one of the best spas in Asia. Located on the beach, the Nam Hai is just a short taxi or motorbike ride into the heart and energy of Hoi An. Opt for a pool villa where the bed is on an elevated platform next to a built in bathtub.
The highlight of Hoi An is definitely its vibrant food scene, where there are a lot of restaurants that might just do one thing, but do it perfectly. The best way to eat your way through the city is by Vespa; Join a food tour with Vespa Adventures and you won’t be disappointed. Though, Vespa or not, make sure to stop at two of Hoi An’s best restaurants: Hai Dao for Banh Xeo (a sort of Vietnamese crepe filled with simple, but delicious greens and meats that make my mouth water just writing this) and Bong Hong Trang for "white rose" dumplings folded right before your eyes.
“The food in Hoi An was the best in Vietnam,” said one reader. “Amazing vegetarian and vegan options and Hoi An–exclusive dishes such as white rose.”
Another reader recommends a more involved way to get into Hoi An’s world class food scene: “Check out a cooking class.” And that’s something I managed to do thanks to the Cooking Academy at the Four Seasons Nam Hai. Here, guests can join a morning-, day-, or week-long class to learn the ins and outs of Vietnamese cooking with the resort’s local chef. Prior to the class, guests travel with the chef into Hoi An’s markets to shop and take in a lesson on local foods and fish. But even if you don’t join a cooking class, a trip to the markets is an absolute must.
Out of all of my experiences in Hoi An, the one I’d recommend the most is a sunrise fish market tour with Jack Tran Tours. During this early morning tour, guests hop on a boat and sail out to watch the night ships return with their catch to deliver to the fisherman's wives waiting at a wholesale fish market. Using a traditional Vietnamese basket boat, guests paddle into the madness of the market to see firsthand the art of selling and buying fish, which at times can get fairly aggressive and exciting to watch. The guides will help you pick out your favorite to cook on the ship.
Famous for its textiles, Hoi An is also a great place to get custom-made suits or dresses — even just shopping for souvenirs along the main touristy areas can uncover delightful finds. Beat the heat by stopping in at the Reaching Out Tea House, right near the Thu Bon River, for a traditional Vietnamese Iced Coffee that will send shock waves of caffeine into your body. Designed to reflect “the joy of silence,” all of the servers there are hearing- or speech-impaired, meaning that guests get the opportunity to participate in a form of communication that doesn’t require sound so much as hand gestures and warm smiles.
And then, there’s the beach. Hoi An is the perfect place to combine culture with relaxation, because after a day of shopping and eating, it’s incredibly easy to relax on a stunning sandy beach. Grab a chair at one of the many resorts or bring your own towel for a relaxation session with your toes in the sand.
Finish your day with sunset cocktails at Shore Club An Bang Beach, and there’s a chance you’ll considering packing up and making this lovable city your new home.