What on earth is an “eco coconut tour?” We wondered as we ate a quick breakfast of fresh passionfruit, phò, and sweet Vietnamese coffee in our hotel restaurant. We hadn’t really read the itinerary beyond seeing that there was a market tour and a cooking class. Those are my magic words, and that’s all it takes to get me to sign up for something. We were in for a treat, because this well-organized day was much more than just a market tour and a cooking class!
Our guides picked us up directly from our hotel, where we piled into a van with about nine other people who would become new friends. Our first stop was the Hoi An Central Market. It’s a bustling commercial center that effortlessly transitions between being a practical market for the restaurants and locals of Hoi An while also catering to tourists who want to buy trinkets and taste the local street food. As is the case everywhere in Vietnam, stay alert! This is still a place of business, and people are in a hurry to get places on their motorbikes, bicycles and tuk tuks.
We shopped for the herbs, produce, meat and fish that we would later use to make our meals. Our guide, Minh, explained what a lot of the less-familiar items were and gave us the opportunity to ask any questions about Vietnamese food, how people cook and eat, and even about daily life in Hoi An. He also gave us a few minutes to shop for ourselves. (Woohoo! I picked up some amazing containers made from fragrant cinnamon bark, which are currently infusing sugar and coffee with their spicy goodness. I think I need to start importing these to the US.)
We meandered through the market and headed toward the river, taking in the colorful market (and almost getting hit by motorbikes trying to capture the perfect photo). There were tiny blue crabs, orange papayas, red chiles, white ducks, and tons of green herbs and vegetables. Once we got to the river, we hopped on a motorboat for a scenic ride out to where the river and ocean meet. We saw temples, villages, fishing boats, and wildlife. We stopped along the way to see a few demonstrations of traditional Vietnamese fishing techniques, and a few people in our group were even able to help catch a fish!
The Bay Mau nipa palm forest is a beautiful area where the river meets the ocean. As we approached the thick coconut groves, a few older women in round woven boats materialized out of the forest to pick us up. We (carefully) transferred into the small boats and paddled our way through the maze of coconut trees to a shaded porch, nestled in the palms. We cooled off while our hosts taught us a fun Vietnamese game involving a blindfold, a stick, and hanging clay pots (you’ll have to take the tour to learn more!).
We moved on to more solid ground for the main event (for me, at least): the cooking class. We learned a really great mix of recipes, and the chef taught us about the history and traditions behind the dishes as well as how to make them. It was very hands-on, and everyone was involved in the prep work, frying, cooking and plating of the dishes. I love cooking classes that are more interactive than demonstrative, and this was the perfect balance of the two. Our group included a mix of people with varying levels of experience in the kitchen, and everyone was able to fully participate. A few guests had dietary restrictions, and the chef was able to effortlessly accommodate everyone’s needs without disrupting the flow of the class. There was also a family in our group with small children, and their class took place in a separate area so they could comfortably work at their own pace. The cooking class portion of the day was incredibly professional, organized, educational, and (most importantly) fun.
We sat down to enjoy the delicious meal that we had created with our new friends. The menu consisted of fresh spring rolls, papaya salad with shrimp crackers, rice pancakes (banh xeo), and pork clay pot. A plate piled high with local fruit was the perfect finish to the meal. The company arranged transportation back to our hotel, where we were able to take a nice long nap before heading out for evening adventures.
The Hoi An Eco Coconut Tour is an absolutely wonderful experience with a diverse range of activities. This means there’s something for everyone to get excited about, whether it’s markets (!), boats, fishing, coconut forests, a cooking class, or delicious food.
The whole encounter lasted almost 6 hours and was priced at $35 USD at the time of writing. This includes round trip transportation from your hotel, lunch, and water. Extra beverages are available with lunch for an additional fee. Bring sunscreen and a camera, and be sure to eat a hearty breakfast before leaving (and you may still want to pack a granola bar). If you get motion sickness easily, I also suggest taking Dramamine before you leave as the boat portion was a bit touchy for me.
Thank you to Hoi An Tourism for arranging our Hoi An Eco Coconut Tour. As usual, all opinions are our own and we would never endorse products or services that we don’t truly believe in!