Day 1 & 2: Beautiful Illusion
We arrived in Hoi An quite late in the evening after our flight to Danang was delayed on the runway. We are really not having the best luck with flights this trip.
Even as the town was just about shutting down for th night, it had a magical quality to it. Hoi An has unesco world heritage status and more than 800 buildings have stood for centuries. It was an important trading port and has been particularly influenced by the Chinese and Japanese traders. Descending on the town at night, you feel like you could be back in old times, with colourful lanterns illuminating ancient facades. Many streets are also often restricted to pedestrians and bicycles which helps keep up the illusion.
Safe to say the illusion isn’t kept up for long as you quickly see the influence of modern tourists on this once sleepy village. When we ventured into the town in the morning, it was quite early and shops were just opening up. It was almost peaceful, but that didn’t last long as shop after shop of cheap clothing and souvenirs opened up. Oh and tailors, so many tailors. If you want something made, Hoi An is definitely the place to do it. You can get suits, coats, dresses, even shoes or jewelry.
I won’t go into too much detail of what we did for our first two days, But it pretty much consisted of wandering round, finding a good tailor, having some clothes made, eating, getting a massage/facial, wandering round some more, eating some more, having a coffee etc. One of the things I think we enjoyed most was sitting on the front porch of a cafe with a book and reading or writing and just watching the world go by.
We did do a bike ride on day two, down to the beach, which is the other side of Hoi An. In one cafe we went to, we met this Aussie guy who was like ‘if the sun comes out, no matter what you’re doing, no matter what tour you’ve got booked, drop it and go to the beach.’ He was an idiot. The beach at this time of year is crap. We really just went for a look, but it was choppy swell, dirty, wet sand and touters trying to sell you crap. It had a bit of a seedy feel to it. Apparently it’s perfect around about May to July and also cheap because it is low season for them.
We managed to find a tailor we liked and ordered some suits, shirts and dresses between us. We also ordered a pair of shoes each from a lady whose original asking price was $1 million. One thing we really noticed in Hoi An is many of them people have a good sense of humour.
Day 3: My Son & Cooking Tour
No, I haven’t got some illegitimate child in Vietnam, My Son is an area about an hour from Hoi An which is home to a group of ancient temples. On our third day in Hoi An, we took a tour out there in the morning. We booked a tour with a company who insisted we leave at 7:30 to beat the crowds, which was fantastic. When we arrived we almost had the whole place to ourselves. Definite something to remember for the next big tourist attraction.
My Son are a group of temples built by the Cham people. Vietnam was not always as we know it today. It was split and occupied by a number of different groups including the current Vietnamese, the Cham and the Khmer. The Cham originally occupied the central part of Vietnam, the Vietnamese the north and the Khmer the south. The Vietnamese invaded the Cham region and after many years of war, the Cham were defeated and either fled into surrounding Cambodia and Laos or moved further south. There are still Cham people living in Vietnam today, but they now reside in the Mekong Delta Region.
The temples date back to the 10th century and all 70 remained in tact through the French war and occupation. The French studied the temples and preserved a lot of the artifacts and sculptures from them. Then (surprise surprise) during the Vietnam war, all but 20 were destroyed by the Americans who believed the whole surrounding jungle area was housing the Viet Cong and bombed the crap out of it. Even of the temples still standing, none are more than an 70% in tact.
It is so very, very sad, because these temmples – even in ruins – are amazing. Most amazing is that the brickwork has been done so that the is no mortar between the bricks. Scientists, historians, archeologists etc have all tried to work out how they managed to do this, but the mystery is still not solved. Some believe that the temples were built when the bricks were still wet and then the whole temple was set alight to bake the bricks into place. Another theory is that a special resin from a certain tree was used, but no one is completely satisfied with either of these explanations.
Also amazing is that conservationist have repaired some of the temples with new bricks, made from the same local mud, yet the news bricks grow moss and deteriorate. However the ancient bricks remain clean and in tact. Whatever ancient techniques were used in the making of th temples have been lost, as has the ability to read th ancient writings on the some of the temples and artifacts.
I was able to get all this great info as we had one of the best English speaking guides we’ve had since arriving in Vietnam. Truc was once a teacher and studied history at university, so was very knowledgeable. We had a chat to him on the car trip about all sorts of things. One thing he spoke about which I didn’t know, is that who your family supported during the war (mainly based around whether you were based in the north or south) can have a huge impact on your prospects. Government jobs which are well paid and have good benefits and a pension, are pretty much exclusively given to those whose family supporters the north. Even if you are well educated you will not get one of the “good jobs” if your family supports the south. Truc seemed to go on about this a bit, so I gather it’s a bit of a sore spot.
After the tour we headed to a boat for a cooking class. We had a Vietnamese chef show us how to make banana leaf salad, Vietnamese pancake rice paper rolls and a seafood soup type thing. All were delicious and pretty easy to make. Definitely will be hitting Victoria street when we get home so we can grab some Vietnamese ingredients.
That night we headed out for our last night in Hoi An. We had dinner at our favourite restaurant, Miss Ly (yes, we had a favourite after just three days). Also picked up our tailoring and shoes. I can’t get over how good my shoes are. I got two pairs custom made for about $40. What a bargain and they fit like a glove.
All in all Hoi An was an interesting place. Would I go back? Yes, I probably would, but it would be with an empty suit case and a well planned wardrobe to have custom made. I don’t know that I would go back for the history again, it is so overshadowed by everything else that tourism has brought along with it. Having said that it does have a certain je ne sais quoi.