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Published: November 24th 2015
Moving south, we caught a shared minivan to Hoi An after breakfast. I managed to score the front passenger seat so got some great views of oncoming traffic but the sun was beating in that side so it was stinking hot. The first two rest stops were of no major significance - a fishing lagoon and a beach. The third stop was at Hai Van Pass. Part of the mountainous road that crosses the Troung Son mountain range, it was a grindingly slow crawl up the switchbacks that form the highway . There is a tunnel through this range that would cut an hour off the journey but looks like we were going the tourist route. Along with very persistent sellers at the rest stop, there was a bullet scarred French fort that was used a bunker by US and South Vietnamese troops. From here it was downhill to the modern looking city of Danang where we dropped off a couple of passengers. This asian couple had been taking photos non stop of nothing out of the front window of the bus - I am sure glad I won't have to sit through their holiday photos.
The fourth and best
stop was at Marble Mountain where we were given an hour to explore. There are five marble outcrops which are each named for a natural element (water,wood,fire,metal, earth). We visited Thuy Son (water) and after climbing a series of steep staircases, discovered a world of caves, grottos, pagodas and Buddhas.
Arriving in Hoi An, passengers were dropped off at their hotels so we got a bit of an overview of the town - lots of tailors shops. Again, we did not have a hotel reservation but the Huy Hoang River Hotel had been recommended so we requested to be dropped off there. Turns out, this hotel was right on the edge of Old Town and buses were not allowed, so we had to walk the last block. I loved the place as soon as I saw it. A long hallway from the street to the river with 6 rooms on either side. The side rooms had a high small window whereas the front rooms had a river view (and balcony). $25.00 including breakfast - sold! Of course over the ensuing days, we came to realize that having a river front room in a fishing town is possibly not the
smartest idea - especially when the boats start up at 4 am right outside your window. Then there was the little kitten next door which cried ALL night. Other than that, the hotel was in a perfect location, right next to Central Market which was a hive of activity all day with local vendors of fresh produce and meat/fish. The fish market was particularly lively on Saturday morning. We were just a block or two away from Old Town itself which was pedestrian and bicycles only.
Hoi An is situated on the Thu Bon River and was once a major trading port until the river silted up late 19th century. The old town is filled with Japanese merchant houses, Chinese temples and old tea warehouse - and tourists, along with the required tourist shops. But it is all very atmospheric with its old yellow buildings and lanterns everywhere. At night time, the place lights up on both sides of the river. As mentioned before, this is supposed to be monsoon season and so we did not have any real schedule for travelling through central Vietnam as it was going to be so weather dependent. However, we were experiencing blue
skies and hot temperatures (and great nearby beaches) so decided to hang out here for a couple of extra days before heading to Saigon and the Mekong Delta.
Hoi An is lantern central and as well as each building being decorated with lanterns there were heaps for sale - all colours, shapes and sizes. The other major tourist spending is having clothes tailored for you - shops everywhere.
Our first night was spent promenading, taking in the ambience. Crossing over the pedestrian bridge to Hoi An peninsula we were continually accosted by women selling floating candles - only $1.00. The place was crazy with tourists, bars, lantern shops and a night market so we escaped back to the old town and ate lettuce wrapped kebabs at a riverside eatery (have tables therefore have a restaurant). Other nights we ate at an indoor " food fair" which has been described as sanitized street food and assorted places both on the street and in restaurants. Three of the food specialties here are Cao Lau (noodles, pork and local greens), fried wontons and White Rose (shrimp dumpling with the dough crimped to look like a rose) and we ate them all.
Kelly is happy that for the first time ever, my drinking bill is higher than his. Lemon juice is around $1.50 a glass whereas beer is anything from 30c for Bia Hoi to up to $1.00 for a bottle of Larue.
Early morning was the best time to take photos at the Central Market - not too many motorbikes and minimal tourists. There were a number of ladies all posed (including bright red lipstick) to have their photos taken (for $1.00) but there were enough other free photo opportunities. At times it is tempting to become a vegetarian when you see the meat laid out, but everything seemed really clean and there was a lot of ice in evidence. So far we ARE breaking all the rules by having ice in drinks and coffee and fresh washed veges.
We rented a motorbike for three days and blatted around the countryside. I had read about a "photography route" that took us to Cam Thanh, then catch a ferry to Duy Hai Island and then another ferry to Cua Dai beach. Somehow we missed the Cam Thanh part and no one knew about a ferry to Cua Dai - although
a new "friend" offered to row us across the river for a ridiculous amount- so we just back tracked and ended up at the beach anyway. We found a nice little spot on the beach at Mama Ly's and enjoyed a great lunch of crispy squid and fresh spring rolls. The ocean was a delight to swim in although a little rough.
Our next excursion was to Can Kim island by way of the ferry that left from the boat dock by the market. Motorbikes on the front, bicycles on the back and humans everywhere else. We never did find the wood carving village we were looking for but rode through some great scenery of rice fields. Just as we caught the ferry back the black skies caught up with us and it RAINED and then stopped just as quickly. After this we thought it would be a good idea to buy cheap rain capes and keep them with us at all times.
Day 3 excursion was to An Ban beach by way of the Tra Que Vegetable village - and we actually found it! We avoided the touristy part and rode on some very narrow dirt tracks
among the most beautiful rows of green vegetables. An Ban beach had been recommended by a local white guy and it was a lot more high end than Cua Dai - we even had to pay to park the bike. Shortly after we got there, the rain came again and then the black clouds stayed - but it was nice and warm regardless. This whole 30k. stretch of beach was part of "China Beach" , a recreational area for American troops during the Vietnam war.
For a change of pace we rented bicycles the next day and headed back to Mama Ly's. We had mapped out a back route and of course got lost but the roads are dead flat and as it was only 5 km to the beach anyway it was no big deal. There were a number of coracles (bowl shaped boat) on the shore and we hoped we would see one go out through the surf. We got our wish and were amazed to see them go straight out - the fishermen in them were standing and using a single paddle - impressive.
The stall were we had eaten some delicious fried fish as
well as crispy noodles with pork, offered cooking classes and we learnt how to make Cao Lau, garlic pumpkin and Pho Bo. We were also given the recipe (in very broken English) for chilli sauce.
Many of the ceramic dishes for sale had fish or dragon flys on them although we had not seen any of the latter. However, after buying a dragonfly bowl, we walked out of the shop into a whole mess of dragonflies hovering above. Weird!
Breakfasts at the Huy Hoang were yummy, to say the least. Kelly got on a kick of having garlic bread (about 3 tbsp garlic on each half of a small baguette) and an omelette - but he was really smelly after a couple of days, so no more garlic bread. His other silly food move was to have a coffee at a "real" coffee shop - it was expensive and tasted awful. Sticking to Vietnamese coffee from now on.
By now I was getting a little tired of "madam you look my shop" and heavy rain on Monday signalled that it was good that we were flying on to Saigon in the afternoon.
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