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Published: November 20th 2018
Our Romany Coach
Don’t know who the geezer is on the left!
Ho Chi Minh City has been an amazing experience, a totally manic, frenzied and crazy place and a place that has definitely left its mark on us, almost literally with some of the near misses whilst crossing the road! But today we say our fond farewells and head off to pastures new. Today, we fly to the east coastal city of Danang about 1 hour and 500 miles away, and then a 20 mile drive down the coast to the very pretty town of Hoi An. Hoi An was a very important port over 400 years ago, when it was established by the Japanese as a trade route between Japan/China and the countries of Indochina. But, more recently, the town's importance as a port has been superseded by the much larger port of Danang and Hoi An is now, very much, a tourist destination. The name 'Hoi An' translates as 'Peaceful Meeting Place', hence the title of this blog entry. However, whilst very pretty, I wouldn't really describe the town as 'peaceful'; but, more of that later. Firstly, we have to get there and we were up bright and early (again!), for a 7.00 am departure on the coach to get
Hoi An's local brew.
to the airport in good time for our 9.30 flight to Danang and..........we hadn't been on the coach long before...........we had our first drama of the day!
Now most of you will know me as a pretty trusting (some may say gullible) soul, always looking to see the best in people and inclined to believe every word they say. So it is with the utmost disappointment that my 'once' good friends decided to exploit this good nature on the way to the airport this morning. Steve and Lily (also known as 'The Chuckle Brothers') cooked up a plan, whereby once we were on the way to the airport, Steve announced with considerable horror, that he had left my coat (the coat I had lent him - see Episode 1!) in the wardrobe at the hotel. Although I played it down and told him not to worry, panic ensued with Lily admonishing Steve for being so thoughtless, Steve talking to Jackie to see what he might be able to do, and then roping him in on the prank, followed by discussions about how much the coat cost so that they could compensate me for the loss, which I again played
Hoi An Stroll - 1
A temple just down the road from our hotel.
down and told them not to be silly. This charade continued until we had checked in, were through security and were sitting at the gate, only for dear, dear old Steve to be sitting there, wearing the coat when I got back from the loo, with a self satisfied smile on his face and hoots of laughter from the Chuckle Brothers. Such fun at Gate 5 and all at my expense! But, here's the thing.........firstly, I was obviously so ready to believe that Steve could do this and that's clearly why I fell for the prank, hook, line and sinker! And secondly, isn't he going to feel REALLY bad when he does, inevitably, lose the coat at some point on the trip, as he surely will!! Revenge will be sweet!
We arrived at the airport after about 20 minutes and Jackie escorted us all to the correct check in desk and saw us safely through the check in procedure. But wait! Just as we thought everything was going smoothly......our second drama of the day........one of our party had gone missing. The lovely Hazel (who is travelling on her own), was nowhere to be seen and bearing in mind that
Hoi An Stroll - 2
Wiring, Vietnamese style!
we had walked quite a long way from the airport entrance to the check in desk - she could be anywhere!! While the rest of us carried on through security, Jackie decided to go and look for Hazel and asked me for my phone number so he could report back with progress. When we got to Security, there was quite a queue and as we resigned ourselves to a lengthy wait, lo and behold, there was Hazel, further ahead in the queue, obviously safely through check in; apparently she had lost us in the crowds and simply decided to proceed through a different check in desk! I texted Jackie to let him know all was fine, but he obviously didn't receive it, because a few minutes later he called me in a right old panic saying he couldn't find her! Poor chap was in a bit of a state and he was relieved to know all was well and probably, very relieved to have finally got shot of us!
The flight was fine and in no time at all, we had met up with our next guide Vinh ('call me Vinnie') and driver Tinh - easily remembered by their
Hoi An Stroll - 3
Another temple right outside our hotel. Shame about the power lines!
collective moniker of 'Herget's Adventures of Vinh Tinh' - not intended to be the least bit disrespectful by the way, just a very helpful memory prod for us old folk! We boarded our next coach for the drive to Hoi An and a very swish affair it was on the inside as well, with red and gold curtains, pelmets and head rests. To be honest, it looked a bit like a Romany caravan, but the good thing was, it was also very hard to miss!
Arriving on the outskirts of Hoi An, our first stop was for lunch at a very pretty restaurant called Nam Long with lovely gardens and where we had our first taste of the local beer called Larue, (forever known as 'Dannys' to us! - people of a certain age will understand why.) Then it was on to our hotel in the centre of town, The Hoi An Central Boutique Hotel and Spa, and very good it was too, with beautiful rooms and facilities - our home for the next two nights.
Hoi An is really a town of two distinct parts; the main town and road network, (that was just as perilous as
Hoi An Old Town at night - 1
The illuminated bridge over the Tu Bon river.
Ho Chi Minh City!) and the Old Town, where there is a lot less traffic, but a lot more people. Our first afternoon was free and we had a bit of a wander around the main town - in fact, we thought we might try and get to the beach, but it turned out to be a lot further to walk, than suggested on the hotel map. However, we had a good nose around and Steve, Sarah and I had a pit stop for a 'Danny' apiece, and at less than a Dollar a pop! Back to the hotel to shower and change and off with Vinnie for a visit to a Silk factory (here we go again!) and a wander around the old town at night, before going to our restaurant for dinner.
The silk factory was actually quite interesting, with them 'rearing' their own silkworms, from birth through to the cocoon phase, at which point the empty cocoon is placed in warm water and the silk thread can then be spun, as much as one kilometre of silk thread from each cocoon! We had the opportunity, of course, to purchase various items of silk clothing and although
Hoi An Old Town at night - 2
The Japanese Covered Bridge at night.
Mandy and I passed this time, Lily did make an investment! We were also shown some truly stunning pictures, painstakingly made from silk thread and whilst we would have loved to have purchased one, at several hundred Dollars each, these were a bit beyond our budget for this trip. Finally, a quick nip through the section of cheaper clothing (tee shirts and the like) and the lantern workshop (Hoi An is famous for its multitude of lanterns around the old town, in particular) and then it was in to the old town.
Old Town is a magical maze of streets, adjacent to the Thu Bon river. The whole area is dazzling at night, with thousands of lanterns adorning the streets and more still on the small passenger rowing boats out on the river. There is one particularly ornate bridge across the river, which is lit beautifully at night. A quite magical place.
Following dinner, Vinnie led us on the 20 minute walk back to the hotel, just in time for a quick 'happy hour' drink and then off to bed. Next morning was an 8.00 am meet up with Vinnie for a day time walking tour of the
Old Town Tour - 1
The Japanese Covered Bridge in the day.
old town, this time including more detailed visits to a number of special places, including:
* The House of Tan Ky
- an authentic 18th century Hoi An house, with a mix of shopfront , central courtyard to let in light and upper living accommodation. The house is an eclectic mix of Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese styles, together with one especially interesting modern feature, namely a sign on one wall showing the height of flood waters in recent years. The Old Town area is very susceptible to flooding around this time most years (clearly, we have been very lucky), with the highest flood point reached in recent years, being 1964 at ceiling level on the ground floor. While there, we were all told the names of our zodiac signs under the Vietnamese Lunar calendar. I am a Snake (!), Tina and Sarah are Goats, Mandy a Rooster, Lily a dog and Steve a pig (or maybe boar!!). The descriptions of each are shown in the attached picture and I will let you draw your own conclusions!
* The Japanese Covered Bridge
(yes Eddie Jones, they have covered bridges here as well!!) - one of the town's most prominent
Old Town Tour - 2
Flood levels in the House of Tan Ky.
landmarks, built in 1593 by the Japanese community to link to the Chinese community on the other side of the river and which in 1719, had a small Vietnamese temple added to the northern part of the structure.
* The Phuc Kien (I'm saying nothing!) Assembly Hall
- a pretty flamboyant building built by Chinese merchants in the 17th Century after they had fled China in 1664 following the downfall of the Ming Dynasty, as a temple and meeting place to remind them of home. A very colourful building, with some beautiful flowers in the courtyards and an unusual type of incense stick burning; as opposed to the normal short sticks, large spiral shaped incense sticks are hung from the ceiling, with the names of the loved ones you wish to remember attached to them, with these spirals burning for at least a month.
* A large outdoor market
- which is a riot of colour and activity, but where the key thing is to hang on to your wallet and valuables!, and
* A Vietnamese theatre
- where we saw a half hour show of traditional Vietnamese music, dance and song, which somewhat surprisingly, included a
Old Town Tour - 3
The entrance to the Phuc Kien Assembly Hall.
Strauss waltz and a rendition of Auld Lang Syne at the end! Not really my cup of tea, but very well done.
It was then off to lunch, where we sat down, were given cold towels to wipe ourselves down, only to be told by Vinnie that we were in the wrong place! We should be next door, although the restaurant we were in, was our venue for tonight, so not a complete embarrassment. One highlight of lunch was the fresh milk straight from the coconut, that was in offer and was enjoyed by Mandy and Lil.
After lunch, we had a free afternoon and while Tina went back to the Tan Ky house to exchange a zodiac sign item she had purchased, the rest of us took a more leisurely chance to look around the shops of Old Town. There are numerous tailoring shops around, which will custom make, pretty much any item of clothing in no time at all. Mandy and Lily each had a dress made, which they ordered at about 2 pm and were delivered to our hotel at 9.30 that evening and perfect they were too.......at 32 Dollars each!
After a few
Old Town Tour - 4
The incense spirals at the Assembly Hall.
more shops, I was losing the will to live somewhat and I decided to go back to our hotel, where I sat and relaxed by the pool and caught up on a bit of blogging. Tina joined me a little later (and even had a swim), with the other four getting back with their wares at about five and Steve particularly delighted with one bit of haggling, getting the price of a top for Lily down from 480,000 Dong (£16) to 160,000 (£5).
A bit of time to relax by the pool and in our room, before packing for departure tomorrow (by coach this time, as opposed to plane) and our next stop of Hue. Dinner was back at the restaurant which we went to in error at lunchtime, but the food and overall experience was disappointing (perhaps they were annoyed by our faux pas earlier today!), so it was back to the hotel and happy hour drinks by the pool.
Hoi An has been lovely and a complete contrast to the city in almost every way, with one main exception. The traffic in Hoi An is just as crazy as in the city, with scooters everywhere yet
Old Town Tour - 5
The Zodiac signs.
again. And who said that scooters are for one or maybe two people? Scooters here carry a whole family, from babies upwards and if you need to transport lots of luggage or goods.......no worries.....just keep piling it on! We saw all sorts, including scooters carrying a mattress, one with 10 suitcases, one chap carrying a pole about 10 metres long, like a giant lance and another with so many balloons it's hard to see how he stayed on the ground! All the time, flying around in, what seems like, a multitude of different directions, constantly beeping their horns, AND at the same time, with apparent complete disregard for pedestrians! So much for the Peaceful Meeting Place!
Now, for today's quiz questions:
* Traditional Vietnamese houses tend to be very narrow and deep. Why might that be? (Think windows in the UK).
* Why is the beach area near Danang particularly important to the US involvement in the Vietnam War?
By the way, don't forget the extra photos at the end of the blog.
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