Hoi An 29 July - 2 August 2008
Hoi An is an absolutely beautiful City set on the river but not far from the coast. It managed to remain almost totally unspoilt during the war and so provides a living museum of the old Chinese and French style architecture and walking around the streets, the river front and the bustling market area evokes a real sense of history.
The movie “The Quiet American” starring Michael Caine was largely filmed here due to this though it was supposed to be set in Saigon. We wanted to stay in the Vinh Hung hotel in the centre of town, a beautiful building set in an old Chinese trading house, it was used as a changing room by Michael Caine whilst making the movie - but (whilst pretty reasonable) it was a bit out of our price range.
Hoi An is a huge centre for tailors and you can hear sewing machines and see a gorgeous array of fabrics and styles wherever you go. A lot of people come here from Europe to buy their entire wardrobe as even factoring in the flights and accommodation you save money. We had already done the tailor thing in Bangkok but we still had a couple of things done – I had my favourite pair of shorts copied and they were back in 24 hours exactly identical at a cost of $9 USD! They also make shoes here, and on a bit of an impulse I had a pair of knee length boots made as I’ve rarely been able to find a pair that fit …..can hardly wait to get to colder climes to wear them …again ready in 24 hours at only $60USD!!!
We spent some very pleasant hours just wandering the streets in Hoi An, there is lots to look at, boats loading and unloading live animals going to market beautifully made handicrafts, particularly woodwork and coloured paper lanterns.
We found one great shop on the riverfront “Reaching Out”. This is a handicraft shop where all the work is done by disabled artisans many of them hurt in the war directly or indirectly (landmines/agent orange gas) and this shop allows them a good way to support themselves. We have seen a few such workshops on our travels – they often have them at tourist bus stop over points. A very sobering thought is that 1 in 5 adult Vietnamese are disabled most of them as a result of injuries sustained in the war or its aftermath.
On our walks we saw the Japanese bridge which was a great piece of architecture. Initially constructed in the late 16th century this bridge was built by the Japanese of Hoi An as a link to the Chinese quarter. It is covered over as protection from the rain and sun and is beautifully and very strongly built. Passing through the Chinese quarter we later saw a funeral procession very elaborate with a band following them and a large following – maybe it was someone important.
Hoi An cuisine is again very good – local specialties we tried including “white roses” or steamed shrimp in rice paper and “Cao Lau” - flat noodles mixed with croutons bean sprouts and greens and topped with pork slices. On the river front were quite a few French style cafes and we had a delicious meal at “Café des Amis” – similar to some I’ve been to in France, there is no menu you just have what the chef feels like cooking ..and very good it was too!
After a few days taking it easy we signed up for a trip to My Son. This is a world heritage site and an important centre of the ancient kingdom of Champa which was based here. Whilst this Kingdom flourished – from the 2nd to the 15th centuries BC - My Son was the centre for religious and intellectual culture as well as most probably being the site where Cham monarchs were buried.
The tour was a bit like a school trip as with our guide we moved around the sites which are labelled in 10 groups, dodging other groups. As My Son was used as a VC base during the war, it was extensively bombed by the Americans and bombs and creators can be seen everywhere. You can still see how elaborate some of the structures were, and teams of archeologists are working to restore it to something like its former glory.
On the way back we took a boat trip stopping at Cam Kim Island across the river from Hoi An harbour. The artisans who produced the ornate woodwork which decorates the old houses in Hoi An were based here, and the tradition continues with their descendants. Woodcarving of all sorts including wooden boats takes place here, which obviously Andrew was very interested in!!
As we had been on the move a great deal the plan had been to have a couple of days R & R on the beach near Hoi An – Cua Dai Beach- but events went against us. I had got a slight ingrown toe nail on my foot probably from the Sapa hike and so it didn’t get worse I went to the hospital just to get it cleaned as we didn’t have our medical kit. After injecting me they cut off half my toenail..Andrew said it was the rice farmer treatment! ..so for a few days I had to be very careful of it getting infected and so I could only hobble around and swimming was out! It is fine now but I did feel they used a sledge hammer to crack a nut as the treatment was far more severe than the original problem! Anyway we went down to the beach one evening to have a look around. Very popular it was too, with a lot of Vietnamese tourists but we were a focus for the beach touts!! My picture shows Andrew trying to get a good bargain!
So, for Saturday night 2 August 2008 we booked another sleeper (no choice as no trains here!) for the 10 hours on to the beach town of Nha Trang. As the photo (taken by Vanessa thank you!) shows we had even less room on this trip. Thankfully this was the last overnight bus journey we were to do!