Hue to Hoi An, Friday, September 28th, 2007
Posted by Lisa Hill on October 20, 2007
We spent the day travelling by bus to Hoi An – only a short distance, but we stopped at a number of interesting places en route…
First we travelled up and over the Hai Van Pass through spectacular scenery overlooking the South China Sea. At the very top of the mountain there’s a sort of plaza where we were assailed by street vendors determined to be our friends (and sell us souvenirs).
One young lady named Vuong attached herself to us so enthusiastically that after we had inspected the gun turrets, we gave in and allowed ourselves to be escorted to her stall – where I purchased some bracelets I shall never wear and some possibly genuine Vietnamese pearls and a shell necklace probably made of plastic. (Why else would our notoriously tough Australian customs have let me bring them back home, eh?)
From the pass we went to the Cham museum at Da Nang. Records of the Cham Kingdom begin in the 2nd century, and by the 9th century they ruled the central area of Vietnam and westward into Cambodia. They are now a minority group in Vietnam, but have quite a large population in Cambodia, where they are mostly Muslims. In their heyday, however, the Cham were Hindu, and their sculptures are fantastic. They’re mostly carved in sandstone, and are in remarkably good condition considering the humidity, which is breathtaking. At the museum shop I did my bit to support the restoration appeal by buying a jade bracelet and a book about Vietnam’s World Heritage sites.
Then it was on to China Beach, famous as an R & R base for American servicemen from nearby Da Nang during the war. It was a pretty beach and some of our group went swimming while the rest of us loafed at a local cafe. From there we went into the Marble Mountains where we climbed 500 steps to the top to enjoy a spectacular view. There was also a superb Buddhist temple complex with a truly beautiful one in Wedgewood blue – an amazing accomplishment to build these glorious buildings in such an inaccessible place, up so high. Here Tim got to pat a Happy Buddha, one which clearly shows why Western men are often given the nickname! There were caves there too, including one that the South Vietnamese had used as a hospital during the war, but once again I couldn’t risk going down the steps with my dodgy ankle so Tim went down on his own. Alas, the camera wouldn’t work in the dim light, so we don’t have any photos…From there we went on to visit a marble factory where they make most beautiful things but, mindful of the weight of our luggage, Tim just bought a small tortoise. Then it was back on the bus to the small town of Hoi An…
Much of the old part of Hoi An maintains features of Southeast Asian trading ports of the 15th-19th centuries, and so it was declared to be World Heritage by UNESCO in 1999. There are no cars allowed within its boundaries, so after checking in at the Hoi An Hotel we walked down to the Morning Glory Restaurant – for a lesson in Vietnamese cooking. We began by slicing white eggplants and moved on to learning the art of folding spring roll wrappers, much to general hilarity. We sampled a variety of Vietnamese herbs, all of which apparently will cure every digestive ailment known to man. While some of these herbs were familiar, others such as the anise basil and the wild watercress were new to us and will necessitate a trip to the Springvale markets at home if Tim is to replicate the authentic flavour of the cold spring rolls. After most of us had managed to construct a somewhat flimsy but tasty roll, they took pity on us and took over the cooking. We tucked into a splendid meal, cooked by experts. There was a lovely curry vegetable soup, and the fish and mango sauce was scrumptious. Tim was very impressed by Madame Vy – who is not yet 40 and owns four such restaurants and a hotel. A fine example of the entrepreneurial spirit of Vietnam under ‘Đổi mới’ indeed.
After dinner, Long took us to a tailoring shop where most of the group settled down to some serious retail therapy, but we sloped off to the hotel where we had cocktails by the pool and I christened my new bathers. The room was like a sauna when we finally went to bed, but with the aircon on full blast it eventually cooled down and we got a sound night’s sleep after all.