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Published: February 7th 2007
Real beauty shines through.
We met this wonderful woman who was well into her 80's while we were on our day trip with Phong.
Trace: After a thrilling motorbike ride through the Central Highlands, Nicki, Mat and I were all ready to relax and enjoy some good local food (and local beer) in the relative tourist mecca of Hoi An.
Hoi An is 'Nam HQ for tailors and shoe stores, all 200+ stores in this small town advertise that they can make any item of clothing (or footwear) from a picture, from fabric of any colour, in any size, wool, silk, leather all no problem ... overnight. I got a suit jacket, pants, a shirt and a skirt all for $65US. Bargain at twice the price, and I figured that a sharp new suit may come in handy in the UK!
Hoi an is home to several local speciality dishes. White rose was a lovely delicate dish, consisting of shrimp and vegetables wrapped in a soft, thick layer of scalloped rice paper. We had to try them, and they were gorgeous, but have since discovered that shrimp production in Vietnam (and it is very similar in other places around the world) involves up to 20kg of dead by-catch being thrown back into the sea for each 1kg of shrimp.
This reduction in
Rice whiskey brewing
A home-brew set-up to be proud of! This is the first stage where the rice ferments.
fish numbers is reported to have a huge effect on local fishermen who depend on adequate fish stocks in order to make a living. For more information see http://www.wildaid.org/index.asp?CID=72&PID=262&SUBID=264
Nicks left us for NZ - a day later than her flight dictacted ... whoopsies ... those e-tickets are so tricky to read accurately ... even for a Masters student! Nicki's departure was sad but probably timely, given the bad influence she had on my eating habits. Terrible! I swear I resisted the pancakes initially, but she insisted ...
Mat and I did a lovely day trip to a nearby village with Mr Phong, a local who takes small groups of people to visit his home. On our wanders around his village we stumbled across a cock-fight, got invited to chew some beetlenut with the local ladies (one of whom was an ex-Viet Cong sniper), saw dried tobacco being hand-stripped from the stalk, and saw a mega-home-rice-wine-brewing operation (see pics left and below).
The rice wine is sold for $1 per litre, and from my smarting eyes and constricted throat, I figure that it's pretty strong stuff. Oh - and that was BEFORE I sampled it. Just being
Our cooking class at a local restaurant
It is a little disturbing just how much sugar and oil is used. The results taste amazing though!
in the brewing room nearly kills you.
We stopped for a pot of tea and a short lesson on Vietnamese spirituality and traditions, which seem to largely come from the Chinese. The dark building we were in had light beaming in via bullet holes in the doors, a reminder of the American War.
The cooking course we did in Hoi An really explained to us exactly why the Vietnamese dishes we had been gorging ourselves on taste so good, even the green vegie dishes. On a lovely healthy green papaya salad, the sauce contained at least 6tsp of sugar ...
The ex-capital city of Hue (home to Nguyen lords from 1802 - 1945) was our next stop. The main attraction was the massive citadel (aka - fortress) located in the middle of Hue. The citadel is almost ten kilometres in circumference, with six metre high walls. It is an impressive creation, and was well worth the visit. The moat encircling it is twenty-three metres wide, and four metres deep! I guess in the 1800's it would have been mostly hand-dug? Phew!
Unfortunately for Hue, it happened to be located almost exactly on the border between north
How can they forbid you to sit on these?
An underwhelming concrete sculpture at one of the tombs we visited.
and south Vietnam. Most of the amazing structures there suffered considerable damage during the Tet offensive in 1968. Over 10,000 people lost their lives, and by the end of the twenty-six days of fighting 116,000 of Hue's 140,000 citizens were homeless, largely due to the US heavily bombing the area in response to the Viet Cong's attempted takeover.
Close to Hue there are many tombs, which are huge complexes built as resting places for past emporors. The topiary within their gardens was outstanding, and the landscaping of these huge areas was just amazing (see pics on next page). The buildings themselves however contained many sculptures created from a cheap looking concrete or plaster, similar to that which covers the outside of almost every hotel.
One sleeper train from Hue to Hanoi later ... and new adventures awaited ...
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