The Robi & Jeff Indochina Adventure 2013 travel blog

Hoi An

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Day 18 of G

From the 16th to the 18th century Hoi An was the most important trading port in Vietnam, particularly for ceramics from China.The water eventually silted in so much that now it is no longer a port city but is located about 4 km from the ocean. Hoi An is on the banks of the Perfume River and  is a quaint, picturesque village with 844 protected historic buildings. It is a Unesco site.

The architecture here was heavily influenced by the Vietnamese, Chinese and French. It's current raison d'ĂȘtre is tourism and all tours in Vietnam eventually stop here.

Andy told us about My Son, the Holy City. He said that it is a nice place to be for sunrise and is about 15 minutes from our hotel by cab. The Aussie girls, Jeff and I decided to go for it and Andy arranged for a taxi to pick us up.

We had to meet the taxi driver in front of our hotel at 5:30 a.m. Groan. Of course it is pitch black out. The hotel guards are soundly asleep on the benches in the lobby.

It turns out that My Son is actually an hour drive away, about 25 miles. This means that sunrise happened long before we arrived there. Also, Andy neglected to warn us to stay on the beaten paths while there. Apparently the U.S. State Department currently warns that My Son is one of the most dangerous places in Vietnam, along with the DMZ, because of the unexploded ordinance that is still left over from the war. My Son was one of the most heavily bombed areas in Vietnam during the war because the Viet Cong used it as a munitions depot. Von, our guide in Hue, who lived by the DMZ, told us a story about how one of his families water buffalo escaped through a broken fence and got blown up by an UXO. Maybe we should have been warned before we went there.

My Son is an important Hindu temple complex built by the Cham people in the 7th to the 12th centuries. The Cham people belonged to a once powerful Hindu empire. Even though we were all a bit aggravated at missing the sunrise and having to travel so far we got over it quickly once we arrived and saw what was there. It was well worth getting up so early and spending so much time in the taxi. Do not join one of the tour groups because they take much longer to get there because they have to pick people up at various hotels. Then you arrive at My Son with gobs of people. A private taxi is best and only cost $35 for the five of us including driving both ways and waiting for us while we explored. I would highly recommend a visit there and would recommend that you go early like we did so that there will be very few other tourists present during the visit. It is a very spiritual and peaceful place with some wonderful ruins available to explore. Carefully.

A fair amount of reconstruction is currently going on. I hope they do a good job of restoring the area.

On the way to the ruins we passed a wedding party that was gathering. On the way back from the ruins we passed a bus pulled off to the side of the road that had been carrying some of the wedding party. A fair number of the men were lined up on the side of the road with their backs to us peeing.

A few minutes later we passed a rather large funeral procession. It was not even 9:30 in the morning and we passed a wedding and a funeral. Then we passed the first church that I have seen in this country.

We were back at the hotel by 10. We were in time for the hotels included breakfast buffet so we walked up the stairs to the 5th floor. The buffet was delightful with lots of variety and lots of types of fresh fruit. I love the fruit here, and in the rest of the Asian countries that we have traveled through. I also had one of their delicious freshly made doughnuts as a treat. The fresh fruit was excellent once again. The "white rosé" Hoi An specialty was not so good. Jeff enjoyed the western food. The view was also very nice from the 5th floor.

We took our time and walked back to the tailors to pick up my oufits. I had been told to come back at 11:30. It was hot, humid, and sticky out. The tailor is a good 3-4 km away. We have to pass literally dozens and dozens of other tailors to get there. Then my clothes were not done! This was just a "fitting". I tried on one top and a pair of slacks in the "dressing room" which consists of a a metal hoop in the corner with a curtain you draw around yourself. It is impossible not to transfer the sticky wetness off of yourself to your brand new clothes. We had arrived past the time that they had told me to come back to pick them up so I was not a happy camper when I was told that I would have to come back again later for the other top and for the embroidery to get done. Luckily 2 of the Aussie girls came to try on their clothes (which also weren't entirely finished) but they were so delighted and perky about what they tried on that it was contagious. At least the delighted part. I'm not sure that I am capable of being perky anymore.

Jeff and I walked back to the hotel. Chris was there and we decided to go back to town for a small lunch. We stopped at a tiny place on the riverfront and just had some appetizers since we were not very hungry. Jeff just had beer. Chris had peanut noodles for 40,000 dong that were quite basic but delicious. Lots of garlic, not so much peanut taste. I had fresh springrolls that were the best I've had so far for another 40,000 dong.

We slowly walked back through town. Jeff refuses to walk past the market again which is the most convenient way to get back to the hotel. I admit that it is a pretty stinky place. I didnt really have any expectations before I arrived here but Vietnam definately seems surprisingly dirty to me. The smells here are often, well, not so pleasant either. We stopped at a place on the riverfront away from the market. Jeff had another beer. i think that is how he is getting his calories in Asia. Chris and I had more mango shakes. The shakes are basically the fruit juice with a touch of sweetener if needed.

After a short nap, reading and guitar playing we met the group at 7 in the lobby. Chris, Jeff and I decided not to go to dinner with everyone else in the hopes of finding better food and service. We had looked at a place earlier that is located right on the riverfront and has a beautiful setting so when we got back to the hotel we looked it up on Trip Advisor. It got mostly very good reviews but was also pricey. We decided to splurge and went back there.

The restaurant, Brothers, was beautiful at night. It is in a great setting right on the river and has gorgeous landscaping and lighting. We got a table outside by the river. The staff is fairly formal, very plentiful and very gracious. The presentation is exceptional. There is no rushing and hustling like most of the other places we have eaten. Everything is very leisurely. The prices were expensive. Less than Chicago but way more than anything we have seen here. The wonton appetizer was incredible but the food went downhill from there. All three of our entries were good but lukewarm and not as flavorful as we would have liked. All in all it was a decent experiment. Dinner ended up costing about $100 with the tip for the three of us including drinks. I thought that it was wrong for dinner to be so costly and have everything nickeled and dimed on the bill but the included service charge was only 5%. Of course we supplemented it but really if the restaurant is going to gouge us on everything else at least set the tip at 10%!

Hoi An is very beautiful at night. The dirtiness becomes invisible. It is lit up very nicely with many lanterns.

It turns out that we missed the full moon lantern festival that I was so looking forward to. I picked the right nights to be here for the full moon but didn't realize that they would hold the festival on the Friday night closest to the full moon. Oh well.

We went to bed early because I heard from the photographer and they will be picking us up at 5 for the sunrise fishing village photo class. I am a glutton for punishment.

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