Hoi An and Hue

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Asia » Vietnam » North Central Coast » Thua Thien - Huế » Hué
July 21st 2012
Published: July 21st 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

Vietnam 2 Hoi An

The train trip although fairly uneventful was intriguing in that as we finished the journey the attendant came through our cabins asking us to clean them up. We duly did as she asked and had all the rubbish in the bin in no time and about 10 minutes before the train arrived at the Da Nang Train station. On leaving the train, we had a 45 minutes bus ride to the town of Hoi An crossing a small bridge to an island where the Van Loi Hotel is located.

Hoi An is a highly regarded destination for travellers around the world because of its charm and history. It is an ancient town and a UNESCO World Heritage site, featuring beautiful architecture dating back 200 years. Visitors can experience riverside dining and enjoy the street stalls of artwork, silk and the town’s famous custom-tailored outfits. Hoi An is also well-known for its quality beaches, diverse water and adventure-based activities, world-class golf courses and proximity to two other UNESCO World Heritage sites - the ancient imperial city of Hue and the ruins of the Champa Empire at My Son.

The hotel looks like a 5 star from the entrance and indeed the rooms are large with tiled floors and the bathroom actually has a bath, basin and shower with a toilet that is in the bathroom but not part of the shower. In the last hotel the toilet was actually in the shower cubicle.

We finally arrived here at about 2.30pm and this left little time to explore as we were all still quite tired and grubby from the train journey and were keen to take showers. Oh! I was going to tell you that the bedding was all folded up for reusing once we got off the train, so goodness knows how many bodies have tucked the covers up around their necks. Realising this made us all want to wash pretty quickly. Also we had not eaten much for breakfast and so food was of paramount importance. We also wanted to have a quick look around the market as well as getting laundry to ensure it was back in time for the continuation of our journey.

I decided that I had had little exercise over the last few days and went for a walk. Even though it was most probably only about half an hour it was good to get the cobwebs out of my body and head. Once back from this I rounded up Darra and we headed out to the markets and food. Darra felt like pizza and I had a curry. Not a curry as you would expect to find in Thailand, but a very watery mild curry with potato, onion and carrots in it.

The market itself was a bustle of activity until just after 7pm when it began to close down and only the clothing and shoe shops remained open. The shop assistants are very persistent and unless you are onto it they know exactly how to get top dollar from you. Still top dollar is not so bad as everything is still reasonably priced.

I have a top that I really like bought in Brunei last year and actually had it with me, so I took it to one of the local tailors and I asked if they could copy it. Well they duly did and had it ready to pick up two hours after I ordered it along with another top I asked them to make in a lovely black and white material and both are amazingly beautiful. The cost was $65.00 all up. Oh and that included a slight modification of a pair of pants I had bought in Ho Chi Min. My biggest issue is how to get all this stuff home without having to pay large costs on the plane!

The following day Darra and I decided to do our own thing and hired a bike for the day for $1.00US. We loaded our bags into the carrier and off we went to the beach about 5kilometres away. The beach was glorious. Beautiful white sandy beaches and lovely cold water in the Red China Sea. The water got deep quickly, not much in the way of waves, just gently rising water. We managed to avoid the $2.50 fee to park our bikes and used it to pay for a lounger on the beach. The beach was a resort one and technically private so we were able to take advantage of this and had drinks available to us as well while we swam and lounged around catching the rays.

Along the beach was a place selling jet boat and parasailing rides, so I went off and sussed out the prices. For us to do a tandem parasail for 10 minutes the cost was $20.00 each. After a discussion about whether we or should I say I was brave enough we signed up and waited our turn. In the meantime a lady called Heather who had two lovely girls with her that we had befriended said she would take our photos for us so lucky that there are photos of this available as many people might not think I would have done it. LOL

As it turned out it was initially exhilarating as we ran after the speedboat while it pulled us up and then we were hanging in the air and getting higher and higher. To view the world from a few metres up in place like Hoi An was really special. The beach was glorious from up there too and incidentally part of the beach was named by the Americans as China Beach where many took their R and R during the Vietnam War. Yes. There was an American army base here during the Vietnam War.

The day was hot and we got burned and finally realising this we headed home with me wrapping my sarong around my shoulders to keep the sun off of them. Riding the bikes was fun, but it is so hard to know what side of the road to drive on and most people seem to drive anywhere on either side of the road that takes their fancy. Cars are rare here with just a few buses as everyone either rides a motor bike or taxi. The most amazing experience was going through an intersection and just edging my way into it with bikes coming from all directions and each of us negotiating our way past each other….none of this give way or compulsory stop signage here.

Darra and I decided to have tea together too so we headed to a local bar where I managed to get the owner to play pool with me while we ate, drank a beer and listened to his extensive range of music. We had our own little party. My pool playing just might be improving as we played five games and I won three of them. Yes!!

Today we head off to Hue. The bus ride was long and tedious but the scenery was amazing. We had a big mountain to negotiate; the one I would have biked over if I had done the Vietnam bike trip; and this was identified to separate the South of Vietnam from the North. On the top of the hill, were the ruins of an old French lookout and fortress now in dis-repair. On the way we passed a spectacular beach only now used by the remaining leper’s in Vietnam. Over the other side of the hill we stopped at a resort for lunch and it would have to have been the worst meal I have experienced in Vietnam. It was chicken with lemongrass and chilli and some chips. I refused to eat it returning it to the kitchen and thinking that was the end of that when a few minutes later another meal came out almost as bad as the first. Not good!

In Vietnam the flat land is very flat so once again we were on the flat and making our way to Hue (pronounced “Way”) a tourist town with about three hundred thousand people. It was the first capital city of Vietnam, but no longer holds that reputation. The last king of Vietnam also lived there until the 1950’s when he stood down from the monarchy and made himself and his family commoners. Eventually, he, his wife and family left for France to live and never returned.

The French were victors of a battle in this area and so occupied this city for many years. Much of the architecture and French language has remained. Surprisingly there was not much intermarriage here and few French Vietnamese people. Now there is no member of the last royal family living in Vietnam.

We visited the Citadel where all the pomp and ceremony took place while the king was the king. We saw the parade ground where the mandarins stood to protect the king and also the clothing used by the king, queen, prince and princess’s during formal and less formal ceremonies. The main difference was that the very colourful and ornately embroidered kings’ clothing was covered in dragons as they were the most powerful of symbols.

From here we visited the pagoda where the 3rd king was buried back in 1800’s and this area has not been restored and also in dis-repair. This king was very popular and kind and helpful to the people. He died very young at around 40 years of age, so usually the burial place temple takes four or five years to build while you are alive, but in this instance it took just eighteen months. As part of the decoration there were unicorns at either side of the courtyard as well as stone elephants, horses and many stone mandarins each with personalised characteristics. The information about the kindness of the king was recorded on a copper plague in the building that commemorated his existence and wasvwritten in what looked like Chinese.

The history of Vietnam goes back many centuries with the people appearing to be constantly defending themselves from other countries, in particular, the Chinese and the French. Much of the historical buildings such as temples and pagodas have been destroyed during these wars and even the American war was responsible for some destruction in this region.

For lunch we went to a local monastery where we were treated to an all vegetarian meal that was wholly delicious. We did not see our hosts other than from a distance but the building houses about 50 people including children. Many of the people that come to these places are in need of help or very poor and the nuns help them to find their way. As we were too early for our next adventure we were given mats to lie down on for a siesta if we wanted one.

We also visited the Perfumed river aptly named for the nice smell it can produce and commonly thought that this was due to nice smelling plant material that can be found along its banks. We also visited an outlet where incense sticks are made and we watched the young girl producing these with some people having a go at making them themselves. We were also given a demonstration of how they made their conical hats before heading off. The other feature of the day was the boat ride down the Perfumed River to another pagoda, build for one of the kings mothers’where people still go to today to pray and there are facilities there for the monks to live alongside it. Over the back from the pagoda was an enormous cemetery that appeared to go for miles and the headstones on many of them ornate and costing thousands of dollars to build.

Back in town and the hotel, Darra and I completed several small jobs we needed to do, one of which was to post stuff back to New Zealand. Next time I travel I will go with a half empty case so that when I do buy stuff it will fit. I managed to parcel up 6.3kg of clothing and the like and it cost $120.00 this time. Still the cost at the airport is exorbitant if you are over by much so better to be safe than sorry. Today when I weighed my bag in at the airport it was exactly 20kg.

Sadly, my roomie and new friend Darra comes from Denver Colorado where the latest shooting of innocent people at a cinema in Aurora a suburb of Denver, took out 12 lives and injured 70 others, and was committed by a young student who had been doing a doctorate in neuroscience and saw himself as the Joker in the Batman movies. We all feel for her as the students she teaches could easily have been in the theatre. At this stage her friends’ son knows a girl that was shot.

If you are still reading, please forgive me for the number of photos and of course some of them are out of order, but it has been a nightmare to upload this blog as the internet is rather hit and miss and I have spent hours on it getting it ready.

We are off to Halong Bay first thing in the morning, so nothing now until I get back from one of the wonders of the world I hear. Enjoy the blog.

Additional photos below
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21st July 2012

Tell Darra how sorry I am that such a terrible thing happened in her home town. Ask her if she has ever been to Chautauqua in Boulder where we stayed last year where my neice lives. I want to live in a Chautauqua, if only we could build one in NZ such a wonderful concept. Continue to relive things you are doing with our trip to Vietnam - lovely warm feelings about the country. Enjoy Halong Bay.
23rd July 2012

Chautauqua is lovely with great hiking trails says Darra. She really appreciated your kind thoughts Jen. It has been a stressful time waiting to find out if she knew any of them. Yes! Halong Bay was great especially the caves but there was a lot of boat traffic there. Still kayaking and swimming good. More in the blog eh!! Glad you can relive/revisit it. Memories are so important.
22nd July 2012

Great blog Lynnie! As usual you are having a great time . Life is back to normal here and Charlotte has finally got better. It has been over 2 weeks. We have Murrays son, wife and 2 yr old staying now. Its been busy with different ones coming to stay. We call it the Taupo Motel but it is free of charge. Looking forward to seeing you again in Aug. LoveRobyn Mclean XXXXXXXXXX
23rd July 2012

You sound very busy with your respective families...how lucky you are. I am so glad for Tony and Angela especially and for all of you that Charlotte is okay again....how scary. Yes I will be back in no time now and will get down to visit you eh!! I hope there is room in the hotel!!!! LOL

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