Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Archive for the ‘Hoi An 2007’ Category

Hoi An Old Town, Saturday, September 29th, 2007

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 20, 2007

Our guide, Long, met us at nine and we took a walk through the Old Town, where mercifully there are no cars or motorbikes allowed and it was uncharacteristically peaceful and quiet. Here we saw the prettiest temple of our tour (at the Assembly Hall), a ‘Japanese’ bridge, and the oldest house in Hoi An. It was over 200 years old, and had survived regular flooding in the monsoon by having marble bases to its supporting columns which prevented them from rotting. There was also a trapdoor from the upper storey so that precious items could be hauled up during the floods, which sometimes reach 1.5 metres during the wet season. I was especially taken with the three household gods, with a baby for happiness, a hat and a ‘happy belly’ for prosperity, and a walking stick for longevity. Although the house is open to visitors it is still in use, and upstairs a seamstress does the most beautiful silk embroidery by hand, presumably for long hours each day. I bought some lovely tablecloths and matching table napkins which I shall treasure, for I know how poorly my attempts at needlework compare with the work of this charming young woman.
We had a refreshing cup of Chinese tea, and then everyone else went off to buy shoes while Tim and I took a stroll along the riverfront instead. It was very pleasant exploring this less frequented area, and we were left in peace to enjoy it. Although we’d made a booking for dinner at the Morning Glory restaurant, we couldn’t resist a snack beforehand, so we went back and sampled little dumplings and corn pancakes. Our route back to the hotel took us back past Hoi An’s most famous landmark, the covered Japanese bridge, built in the 16th century, though possibly not by the Japanese. There are statues of two dogs at one end, and two monkeys at the other, probably representing points of the compass and not, as commonly believed, the Year of the Dog and the Year of the Monkey because that would mean that it took two years to build the bridge, which seems unlikely. After loafing about with a book and a snooze at the hotel, we took lunch at Miss Ly’s Cafeteria 22 (where we had another lesson in folding spring rolls), and then discovered the market. The rain was very heavy but we splashed along quite happily and plunged into the undercover part where we marvelled at the range of goods for sale, crammed into every available scrap of space. (I finally managed to buy a moon cake here, but I forgot about it afterwards, and had to throw it out – what a waste!)
Our dinner at the Morning Glory Restaurant was every bit as good as the previous night. We had Three Brothers crispy noodle pancakes (chicken wrapped around a stick of lemon grass, like an icy pole on a stick), some fried spring rolls, stuffed squid for Tim and Long’s recommendation, Cam Lan, which is noodles with pork and nuts. We love the crisp/silky contrasts of texture and taste in Vietnamese cuisine!

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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.

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