James Cooper Top 10

James Cooper

The Smilinggg mission is simple. To build healthier and happier lives, one step and one smile at a time’.


After living in Thailand for a year James Cooper decided it was time for a change. Not interested in returning to his home country, England, he eventually landed in Hoi An where he fell in love with ‘the charm of the place and general vibe’. James is a personal trainer, health & wellness professional the leader of the Smilinggg movement and – according to his mates – an all around awesome person. He is often found going for a run, biking or swimming as he trains for his next endurance sports event.

What are the 5 best things to do with a visiting friend

Check out the Old Town

Going to the Old Town is definitely the first thing to do; the first time I went there I was absolutely blown away. It’s difficult to pinpoint just one thing that makes the Old Town such a special experience. I think it’s the combination of charming traditional architecture and the energy of all the people flocking to the streets. The best time to go is when night hits, the lanterns providing Hoi An with an almost magical romance.

Hoi An Old Town lovers near Japanese Bridge

Chill out at An Bang

An Bang Beach provides you with whatever you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a few cocktails and a lively time the bars lining the beach can cater for that, however if you want to get away from the crowds for a bit then going for a short walk along the sandy beach is perfect. Personally, I’m a keen swimmer so I love to get in the water as the sun is rising before it gets too hot. It’s also great seeing the local Vietnamese at the beach, it’s easy to join in having a kick around, playing volleyball or just chilling and observing as the waves gently crash the shore.


Going off the beaten track on some trails

This one is probably because I love running, but I find it quite amazing. There are lots of palm trees, buffaloes, cows, people working in the fields in the rice paddies and it’s just such a tranquil, quiet atmosphere.

Exploring Cam Kim Island. Water Buffalo

Riding on the circular basket boats at Coconut Palm Village

It’s a really amazing place – the Coconut (Nipa) Palm area by the main river near the Cua Dai Bridge – and it’s great fun to go on the traditional, circular basket boats on the palm tree shaded channels. There’s also a bunch of waterside restaurants in the area and they offer some cooking classes. It’s also a magical area for kayaking.

Hooi An Coconut Palms. Nipa Palms. Hoi An Kayak Tours. Channel through the Nipa Palms.

Checking out different cafes

I just love the cafés here; I love all of the different vibes that you can get from place to place. My favorite café would probably be Café 11 because it has an absolutely beautiful view of the Old Town from over the bridge. But I think it’s only right to mention two individuals who live and breathe coffee. Both Ci and King of Mia Coffee and Espresso Station respectively are coffee lovers and both of their coffee shops reflect it. There’s nothing quite like walking into a coffee shop to be greeted by warm friendly faces and the rich aroma of freshly roasting coffee.

Ca Phe Viet. Coffee, hoi an

And here are my top five favorites around town!

Five Senses Spa and Beauty Hoi An Spa Beds
Digital Nomads, Dingo Deli, workspace
Annen_Vegetarian Restaurant, Hoi An, external seating_opt
Rosie's Cafe, Hoi An, interior setting

Best Spa? 5 Senses

Five Senses is hands down the best spa. What I love so much about it are the always smiling faces that greet you as you enter. It’s the small details that make the difference. Being handed a cold bottle of water on arrival, and then guided to a comfortable sofa style chair to wait with a pillow placed to rest your head on. You’re almost relaxed before the massage even begins. The English there is great and the masseuses are always attentive to my needs. The music there is soft and calming, the massage tables are comfortable and privacy is never a problem with the rooms.


Best for coffee? Dingo Deli

Dingo Deli is definitely my favorite place for a good espresso, but they also have a games room and trampoline so it’s great for kids!


Best value for money? Annen

Annen not only has really good vegetarian food for great prices but they also do yoga sessions there which are also really cheap.


Best restaurant? Rosie’s Café

I have to mention Rosie’s Café for its relaxed atmosphere, smoothie bowls, breakfast & lunch choices and their amazing chocolate vegan cake which ticks all the taste boxes. My personal favorite is smashed avocado on toast with tomato and bell pepper with a smoothie bowl. And the two lovely women who run it are just icing on the cake!


Any special finds? Sound of Silence

Sound of Silence is on the beachfront (where good coffee has been rare in the past) but Sound of Silence has great coffee and they have a garden looking over the ocean which is absolutely beautiful. ‘It’s almost has to be seen to be believed.’


You know you’ve lived in Vietnam a long time when…

you don’t even show a hint of hesitation when you have to stop your bike to let cows, buffalo or any other kind of animal just walk across the road.

Any Advice?

Try to embrace the local culture and be accepting of the difference, rather than staying stuck in your usual mindset. And always remember to smile!*

*On May 17, 2015, James founded Smilinggg a ‘movement’ with the simple mission quoted above. Smilinggg daily practice focuses on a healthy dose of exercise (walk, jog or run) and mindfully expressing gratitude and growth during that time whilst generously smiling at passers by (hence the triple g’s).


by Gabriel Perrott

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