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The Mystical Adventures of Tess and Jack

Historical Hoi An and Hue

VIETNAM | Friday, 18 December 2009 | Views [891] | Comments [4]

Xin Chao (as the Vietnamese say) to all our loved ones!

The past week has been spent meandering up Vietnam's central coast through historically rich Hoi An and Hue. The weather has been very hot and steamy, making for an abundance of good hair days (refer to pics).

We arrived in the city of Danang after a very enjoyable 7 hour bus ride (with the safe company this time!) through the Truong Son Mountains north of Kon Tum. One stretch of this highway is part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the supply link used by the Viet Cong during the war. It is an extremely green and beautiful area, with lots of rugged wilderness and waterfalls (and unfortunately, landmines - I got a good rousing in Vietnamese for trying to disappear behind some bushes for our pee break on the side of the road - had to swallow my pride and do it in front of everyone, including all the cars going past). Unfortunately Danang was somewhat less enjoyable - it was a scorching hot, cloudless afternoon, and all we saw of the city was its dusty bus stop. The backtrack to Hoi An was only an hour and supposedly cost 8,000 dong (about 50 c), but an extremely rude bus employee overcharged us five times that amount which put us in a very bad mood! I should note at this point that I am fully aware that getting ripped off is part of the Southeast Asian experience and that usually we look at such situations with the mindset that 'they need it more than we do'. However the scamming is generally done with some friendliness and humour - the reason this person got under our skin was that he quoted us a (slightly) lower price but then refused to give us change, set up a detailed masquerade - which involved telling other Vietnamese passengers to give him 50,000 dong in our view which he returned to them as they got off the bus, and bossed/scowled at us throughout the entire journey. Jack took this opportunity to be incredibly cheeky and took great joy in riling him up by constantly requesting change. He did not take this well at all and barked at us that we were to turn around and face the front of the bus!

As soon as we arrived in Hoi An, however, our mood dramatically changed. It is an enchanting place and so far, our favourite spot in Vietnam! Having escaped serious damage in the war, Hoi An is packed with beautiful old buildings (its Old Town is now a listed world heritage site). The streets are narrow and cobbled, and unlike many places in Vietnam, exceptionally clean. The smell of delicious cooking and incense wafts through the air - a welcome break from the smells of burnt rubber and fish sauce which will forever stir memories of this country for me!

Hoi An is the tailoring capital of Vietnam, with over 500 (!!) 'cloth shops' which can whip up just about anything your heart desires in about 24 hours, and at a fraction of the price you'd pay at home. While they have examples of their work on mannequins in the street, the funnest thing to do is flip through the stack of fashion magazines each shop has, and choose something for them to copy. Obviously, this kind of activity rated very highly on my Vietnam agenda (Jack less so, but he still enjoyed the ride). After a morning of extreme hassling ("You come in my shop! Very cheap!") we settled on a place called Hugo, chose our material and got measured up. We returned the next morning for our first fitting, requested various nips and tucks, and returned a few hours later to pick up our completed goodies! Jack and I both got cashmere wool suits with matching green silk lining (I know, we are cute). I also got a work dress, top and a reproduction of some scungy shorts I love but which are falling off me. Jack got 2 shirts and some work pants. This hoard set us back only just over $300 USD - a steal! The same sort of deal exists for Hoi An cobblers, so we both got custom fit, high qual leather shoes at $25 a pop!

The joys of Hoi An shopping are matched (almost) by the town's unique culinary delights. On our second day we discovered the best/cheapest restaurant in town, and didn't stray far from then on! Some of the local specialties we enjoyed sampling include 'white rose' (shrimp individually steamed in rice paper, served with an orangey sauce), banh xeo (savoury rice pancakes) and cao lau (fat rice noodles served with pork slices, fried croutons, bean sprouts and Viet greens - something like a pho/pad thai hybrid). Our favourite however has been the humble wonton with a delicious Hoi An twist - the standard meat-filled parcel is flattened, deep fried and topped with shrimp, tomato, onion, pineapple and coriander in a sweet sour sauce. Keryummo!

We also did some standard touristy things like visiting the nearby ruins of the My Son temple - Cham architecture from the 4th - 13th centuries. We chose the early tour to avoid the crowds, and despite not being a morning person I can say that the 5 am start was entirely worth it! While not nearly as extensive or elaborate as Angkor, I have to say - and this may be sacrilege - that we enjoyed My Son somewhat more! This might have had to do with our relative solidarity or the temples' setting: in a luscious rainforest, rising out of the mist.

After lingering for some time in Hoi An, it was on the road again further north, this time to the old imperial capital of Hue. We only had a short time here (1.5 days) but this seemed like enough. We were not huge fans - although this may have had to do with the depressing rainy weather which persisted the entire time of our stay! I had been excited about exploring the old architecture in the city's citadel, but this was somewhat of a dissappointment, having largely been destroyed by American bombs and in a state of (kind of shoddy) restoration. Jack, who had not been keen on this sight from the beginning, summed up the experience by saying "A trip to the supermarket would have been more fun than this". For once, he was right. We did however have two really awesome cheap Japanese meals in a restaurant whose proceeds help Vietnamese street kids go to school, and our guesthouse owner was the nicest lady ever, so the stop wasn't a complete failure.

After a 12 hour night bus trip we have arrived safely in Ninh Binh but J is a little under the weather again so we are having a lazy one! After here we will go to Cat ba island, and Christmas will be spent on Halong Bay - we have booked a private junk for 2 and will be spending the day swimming, snorkelling, drinking cheap beer and having barbequed seafood. Life is tough!

More Hoi An/Hue photos to come - for some reason this computer likes my cam and not Jack's. So keep an eye out!

Tam biet for now!

Tess & Jack xoxoxox

 

Comments

1

Cashmere & Silk...mmmmmmm!!! Hope you are enjoying writing these up as much as we're enjoying the read!!
Love to the travellers xxxx

  Kath Dec 18, 2009 10:46 PM

2

Ok please ignore my message in the photo section...now that I've read your story above.. I now understand... It's great for me to learn about this area through your words and photo's...looking forward to the next installment..

  Leslie Dec 21, 2009 8:24 AM

3

In a luscious rainforest, rising out of the mist? That sounds MARVELOUS. Could you hear the jungle? Hehe

  Peter Dec 22, 2009 1:24 PM

4

hey you two. Sounds like you're having an amazing time. Love the pics of all the food.

Thanks for thinking of Sophie before you left on your holiday. Got her present when Ma & Pa came over for lunch on Sat. She loves it! Look forward to catching up and seeing even more photos of lucious food and forrest.

  Marian Thomas Dec 22, 2009 4:59 PM

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