Published: February 6th 2009February 4th 2009
The Japanese bridge
built to join the Japanese and Chinese communities in the 1590s.
The Tet - Lunar New Year - holiday brought with it a gift of a week's holiday from work. Never ones to pass up the opportunity to explore, we decided to spend a few days down in Hoi An, on the Central coast. We flew down from Hanoi to Danang with Jetstar Asia at a very good price, and took a taxi to remaining 30km from Danang to Hoi An.
Hoi An is a pretty riverside town and a World Heritage site, which grew from it's position as a major trading port from the 2nd century. The influence of all the traders is evident all around the town. Many of the houses are of the same colonial style that we saw in Luang Prabang in Laos, two story houses with balconies, both painted yellow and in the wooden shophouse style. In between these are Japanese style shops and houses similar to ones in Kyoto, with slopping tiled roofs, along with highly decorative Chinese style houses. Since Hoi An was the first place the Chinese settled in Southern Vietnam, the you can see the culture all over, particularly in all of the brightly painted Chinese pagodas, temples and assembly halls all
over the Old Town. I'm sure many other Vietnamese towns may have looked like this in the past, but after all the different wars that Vietnam has been in, and the amount of bombs dropped on it, Hoi An is one of the only places in Vietnam where there is such a large concentration of old buildings surviving.
Hoi An's main trade now is tourism, and the old town close to the river is closed to cars, making it a lovely place to wander around. Many of the old shops now cater to the tourists, and have become art galleries, cafes, restaurants and craft and souvenir shops. It's also a famous place to get clothes made, and there are tailors shops and cobblers on every street who can whip you up a custom made outfit in a few hours.
Now we have a full time job and have money coming in, we decided to spoil ourselves a little on accommodation. We booked into a 3* hotel in a big clean room with buffet breakfast and a swimming pool. It set us back all of $25 a night! The Southern Hotel and Villas http://www.hoianphuongnamhotel.com/
is outside of the old town, probably about a 15-20 minute walk from the Old Town. However, it meant that it was quiet, and it was an easy walk. The hotel also had a shuttle bus running every hour when we were feeling lazy.
Contrary to popular belief, Northern Vietnam isn't hot all year round. We know many of you are picturing us lazy on tropical beaches every weekend sipping pina coladas from pineapples and basking in the golden rays of the sun each day. I'm sure you are wondering why we still look pasty and white in photos. I might have to shatter your illusions about Vietnamese weather. Cast your mind back to your geography lessons. You there? Colouring round maps, learning capital cities, counting cars.....
Well Northern Vietnam is near China. Not a country that immediately springs to mind as being tropical, is it? At the moment, the winter, it's a bit like Britain for most of the summer. It's about 10-14 degrees and grey and overcast most days. When it's not drizzling. We are going into Spring soon, when it will apparently get warmer, with more drizzle, until the summer when it will actually
One of the colonial style buildings
made into an art gallery, as many are.
be hot, hot, hot. So expect the pina colada on the beach pictures in about April.
However, Hoi An is in Central Vietnam; when it was two countries it was in the South. So it's more tropical there. The sun came out and it was properly hot, so it was lovely to be able to chill out by the swimming pool, drinking a beer. It wasn't hot enough for the pool to warm up though, so the couple of swims we did have were those ones where you get in the pool and spend the first 5 minutes gasping for breath and frantically trying to move your limbs around to avoid them falling off through frost bite. You then do 5 lengths, think you might be warming up enough for it to be mildly pleasant, and then realize that your body is fooling you, it is freezing and you might as well get out.
During our five days in Hoi An we had a lovely time wandering around the town, exploring, eating in riverside restaurants and enjoying early evening cocktails and gin and tonics outside small bars in the narrow streets, watching the world go by.
As it was Tet, many shops and tailors were closed, so there was noone hassling us to buy things or get a suit made. It also meant that there was noone to man the ticket booths for the museums and temples, so it was all free. We explored incredibly brightly painted Chinese Assembly Halls, used by different sections of the Chinese community as meetings places, pagodas and temples, looked around museums of ceramic trading, architecture and history, walked by the river and browsed the shops. In the evenings we met up with Nathan, who also taught in Haiphong (but has since left) and explored some of the bars. Hoi An is unusual in Vietnam in that the bars stay open after midnight. Often until 2am. Most bars in Vietnam are closed by midnight, at the latest.
The My Son temples
We took a day trip out to the World Heritage site My Son temples, set in the jungle outside Hoi An. They are remains of the 4th - 13th century Champa kingdom. It's similar to one of the smaller temples at Angkor with ornately carved temples, overgrown by jungle. They survived for hundreds of years, until
the Vietnam war, when the area was heavily bombed by the Americans and many of the temples were destroyed. There are some pretty huge bomb craters all around the site. There is a lot of reconstruction going on, and some of the temple buildings have been turned into museums, with some of the more ornate carvings on display.
The remaining temples are pretty amazing to have stood for that long. Our guide told us that when they made the bricks, they included an adhesive product to them. They transported the bricks out to the jungle to put the temples together. Once they have constructed the building, they light a fire inside and shut the door. The heat from the fire in the building causes the bricks to fuse together, like a backwards kiln. You can clearly see where the original building is and where people have tried to repair it without having these techniques.
We did a group tour on a big bus, for a mere £4. We got taken out to the site by bus and had a guide to tell us about the history and architecture of the temples. At the site you buy your ticket
and then get driven from the entrance to the temples in minibuses or old army jeeps. We had over an hour to walk around the site before we got driven back to Hoi An at lunchtime. It was plenty of time to look around, especially since we have saw many temples at Angkor. It was worth the trip out, as the bus ride took us through the Hoi An countryside, past bright green paddy fields with bright white cranes fishing and women in typical Vietnamese conical hats working.
There are more photos below