What comes to mind when you think of Hoi An? Beautiful ancient buildings? Fabulous hotels? An overwhelming number of tailor shops? An abundance of dining options? Let me add one more that should be on that list: socially responsible businesses. For some reason, Hoi An has attracted quite a wealth of restaurants and shops that cater to those of us who like to feel a bit better about shopping-till-we-drop and over-indulging in Hoi An's specialities. Let's start with the shopping.
Reaching Out is a beautifully laid out, expansive shop selling handmade gifts crafted by people with different abilities. If you visit during working hours you'll observe the artisans at work — 35 are employed at the workshop in Hoi An, with others working from home all over Vietnam — and their profiles adorn the shop walls.
Another thing that makes Reaching Out special is that in the quest to do good they haven't forgotten the importance of product quality and a pleasant shopping experience: staff are not too clingy, the store is spacious and products are differentiated from those found in souvenir shops around town. Products can also be viewed online.
103 Nguyen Thai Hoc St
T: (0510) 3910 168
The Lifestart Foundation Workshop
The Lifestart Foundation Workshop was created to help those living in challenging situations in Vietnam to become self-sufficient.
Its outlet at 77 Phan Chu Trinh has quite a different feel about it to Reaching Out; it's more handicrafts store than boutique. But there are some interesting and unique products including those made from recycled materials, such as vases from plastic water bottles, bags from jeans and adorable sock creatures. The staff are also extremely welcoming, providing tea on arrival — and there are also "Clean Western toilets for your convenience!"
As well as buying products you can also contribute to its work through donations, volunteering as a teacher, transporting goods from Australia or arranging fundraising events in your home country.
The Lifestart Foundation Workshop
77 Phan Chu Trinh St
T: (0988) 159 846
Deaf Vietnamese Handicrafts
Away from the main tourist shopping area sits Hong Diem. Deaf and dumb from birth she sells cards made by disabled people, including herself. As soon as you set foot over the threshold of her home / shop you will be pounced on — in the nicest possible way — and sat down to be given box after box of cards to peruse. I get the impression they don't have many customers.
If you're that side of town and in need of a greeting card, pop by, but I'd be willing to lay a bet that even if you don't like the cards you won't leave empty handed. Go warned (and with 30,000 VND per card)!
Deaf Vietnamese Handicrafts (Hong Diem)
9 Pham Hong Thai St (near Life Resort)
Steady Footsteps and Da Nang Artists
It's not really a shop but I wanted to mention Steady Footsteps. Steady Footsteps provides rehabilitation services for people with neurological disabilities in both public hospitals and local communities in Central Vietnam. They have also set up Da Nang Artists Company to help disabled artists market their artwork. Products are available online at www.danangartists.com.
If you're an experienced occupational or physical therapist and looking for volunteer work, get in touch.
Da Nang Artists Company
So onto food. Streets is a restaurant/café with the slogan "Good Food Helping Good Kids". It's a tried and tested formula in Vietnam: provide disadvantaged youths with hospitality skills and set up a restaurant where they can work. Streets does it well.
It's a low-key venue, cheerfully yet simply decorated, decked out with modern beechwood furniture and with a spacious and airy feel to it. Staff are uniformed, in bright T-shirts and aprons, and very welcoming. It's rare to get good and friendly customer service in Vietnam and, although they're not 100%, you can tell they've been trained.
The menu is short — which can be quite refreshing in the land of menus the length of Britain — containing half a dozen each of starters or salads, Vietnamese food, sandwiches and desserts. I opted for a toasted panini with chicken, cheese and vegetables and it was pretty good, but guests around me were raving about the Vietnamese dishes and were obviously repeat visitors. Some chips with a peanut dip are served complementarily upon arrival.
17 Le Loi St
T: (0510) 3911 949
The Blue Dragon restaurant is not run by Blue Dragon but it does claim to give a portion of its profits to the Blue Dragon Children's Foundation: an organisation that runs residential facilities, centres, and programmes to give disadvantaged children and youth a new chance in life.
It's also a good value option along Bach Dang, overlooking the river. Serving up the standard Hoi An fare it has a couple of tables looking directly out onto the street at the market end: a good spot to get out of the sun and enjoy a drink and cau lau.
Blue Dragon Restaurant
46 Bach Dang St
T: (0510) 3910 742
By Sarah Turner
Last updated on 22nd May, 2015.