20 June 2011

Arrive Hoi An,
Guesthouse
Historic town walk
Market lucky first customer, clothing, lantern
Bridge, merchant houses, temples
Walk to the beach Rice Farmer
Beach

20th June 11

I’m putting the trip to Hoi An in here.
I know, we didn’t leave Nha Trang until 6pm yesterday, but it was an overnight bus.  So no real point in putting it anywhere.  However it was a pretty good sleeper bus, as the seats reclined almost completely.  However the road left a lot to be desired.  One of the best overnight busses I have ever been on, along with a road that made it so you couldn’t sleep.  Very frustrating to say the least.  You would doze off, and hit a pothole, edge of the road, or just normally traveling, causing your head to come within millimeters of hitting the ceiling.  We were also packed in like sardines.  There are three columns in the bus of sleeper pallets.  Two high.  The back row, where we were was a row of four.  Luckily for us, stuck at the back bottom, there were no other passengers, so had it all to ourselves.  Would have been even better than it was, except the chairs are molded, and it is uncomfortable if you go over the side of your seat onto the next one.  You can’t have everything though.

Boats in Hoi An River

We arrived in Hoi An around 6am.  Not too bad, and there was already a flock of people wanting you to stay here, do this tour, buy these sunglasses, and generally harassing you for something.  One guy wouldn’t even let me get off the bus.  Sensibly, he backed off and disappeared as far as I was concerned.  I just wanted a coffee, and to find out where we were going to stay.  We decided on a guest house, that was supposed to be close to town.  A quick moto ride and we were there.

 

The house itself was fantastic.  The room large, spacious, and quite airy.  There was even a small balcony looking out over the street, and as we were at a T intersection, we could look all the way up that road as well.  Our hosts were a nice couple, I am unsure of the names, still, but he was tall, skinny and quiet, with a smiling demeanor, and she was shorter, rounder and cherry.  They both spoke very little English, but were understandably very proud of their home.  They brought out the usual documents stating that this person or that loved the place.  However they brought out a proper reference from a lady that had spent five years there while she worked in Hoi Ann.  It was very impressive.

We thought we could stay in a bit of luxury for a while.  DVD player, wi-fi, nice hosts.  What more could you want.  All we needed was a place to lay our bags and heads down.

As it was ridiculously early, we decided to walk around the historic old town.  It was a little further away than we had been led to believe, but not tooo far.  On the way we kept stopping trying to pick up a map of the local area.  Eventually we found a stall that said wait one minute.  I am starting to dread those words, as i know I am about to be majorly ripped off.  She jumped on her bike and was off.  A few minutes later she was back with the map.  On asking how much, she originally wanted $200,000!  It was a free UNESCO tourist map.  There was no way,  I said she was ripping us off, and she started getting annoyed.  I made a fair offer of $14,000 as that was what the Dalat map cost without haggling.  Eventually she ripped about $60,000 out off my hand in disgust and “let” us have it.
An auspicious start to the city.

Hoi An Market

Walking all the way down our road takes you to the river.  Here there are small colourful boats with huge eyes painted on the prow.  Mainly greens and blues.  The boatmen all sitting there chatting.  They started offering us rides up the river for about $40,000 an hour.  I am sorry now we didn’t take one.  But at the time we were still starting our exploration of the city.
Following the river, we happened upon the fresh food markets.  These were all in the process of being set up still.  Some had been going for a while, but others were still wrapped up tight.  There was a woman who picked us up and patiently maneuvered us through the market to see her shop.  We had no idea what it was, and tried half heartedly to lose her a few times.  Anna had a look at some souvenir stalls, where she would get a special price for being the lucky first customer.  Eventually settling on a few small bowls after checking prices at a few places.  Then on through the crowded din.  The tarpaulins stretched and woven above us were probably at our head height, so we were constantly stooped double, twisting from side to side to avoid people chopping meat or veggies, skinning tubers, shelling shrimp, or just carrying bamboo poles with large loads on either end through the tight narrow walkways.

Cutting away, and still following our strange woman, we went into a market building.  here at least we had a bit more room.  There were the bundles of 10 for sale.  10 of anything.  Racks of spices, mushrooms by the bushel, and unidentifiable jars of strange oily orange liquids with weird things in them.  Ranging from scorpions and spiders to single shoots of spring onions.  As fascinating at this was, it wasnt our womans shop.  We moved on.  Out the far side, and with a tight s bend into another market building.  This one full of fabrics.  The shelves stretched to the ceilings with rows and rows of silk, cotton, freon, and all types and colours of materials.  There were little old men on ancient sowing machines swirling the cloth through their hands as they wove their magic, and as we were raced down one aisle, we were finally there.  This shop that we had been directed too, what seemed like an eternity ago, turned out to be a tailors!
Anna got herself all measured up for a skirt that she didn’t really want, and we wasted a bit of time there.  If you ever need anything made to measure, Hoi An is the place to be.  Apparently there are over 170 tailors in this little town.

Hoi An is famous for the handmade lanterns

Having most of the morning gone we went lantern shopping.  We knew before coming here that the best lanterns are made right here in the city.  The first shop that we looked at had some magnificent specimens, and were making them there in the shop.  After dithering around, we worked out what we wanted, and went to compare prices.  Along the road we decided to go back and get it, as the big one was only 60K  the one we saw in HCMC was 400K.
The next shop was the same, and the same price, however the rest of the shops we saw that day didn’t really have the quality that we were after.  Mind you this is a good thing.  Writing this update a lot later, we have been traveling with the blasted lantern.  It doesn’t fit in our bags, and we are carrying it with a plastic bag along with everything else.

Th town has an old historical section.  However this has been hijacked by UNESCO.  Not that that is a bad thing, but it usually means overcharged for something you can see for free next door.  However it is supposed to protect things.  Just most places we have been in the world, after we leave a UNESCO site we usually have a bad taste in the mouth.  This time we decided to skip it and walk around instead.  The Japanese bridge was really nothing special anyway.  It was one-sided.  Full of tourists, and rather uninspiring.  The town does have a very nice collection of Chinese meeting halls that are very ornate, and the wood is a nice dark colour, however the spaces are very light and airy.  There are the merchants houses, that are usually stalls on the bottom floor now, but you can see all the way through some of these to the next street.  Again they are quite airy, and wonderfully decorated.  Temples.  Well, temples are temples.  Otherwise they wouldn’t be temples i suppose.  However you have to pay to see most of these, so we didn’t.  However the two or three we did go in were good.  They have the central entrance area past the opening garden.  From here there is a second courtyard, and another shrine behind it.

Having seen the centre of town it was time for an evening stroll to the beach.  Having been told it was only two kilometers from the house we thought we would walk.
The road itself was easy to find, and we started along, past the new constructions going up, however that isn’t an indication of anything, as you can’t walk 10 metres in this country without passing a building site. And on into the country side.  Very soon the houses disappeared and the rice paddies started up.  Then they were on both sides of the road.  We stopped and looked at a sign on the building.  Luckily it had the street address, and we knew we were on the right road.  It was already way more than two k’s.  There was a place coming up that sold beer, so we thought we would have a drink and go back.
It was nice sitting there, beer in hand looking out over the rice paddies.  The open air enclosure was all bamboo, with a thatched roof.  There was a construction site next door.  Nothing for miles, but there was a pub and construction site!

Vietnamese beer

After the beer we crossed the road to get some photos where we met a nice man who was about to start planting rice.  He was happy to let us take a few photos, and show us the massive snails that eat the rice, and their piles of pink eggs.  He even let us plant a few seedlings.  We had to wear the hat and everything.  It was a bit of fun, until at the end he stuck his hand out.  As we had enjoyed it we gave him a few thousand dong, but he was really unhappy about this, as he wanted more.  It was a bit of a shame.  I also managed to lose my sunglasses in the paddy.  That was even more annoying.
For some reason we decided to head on to the beach.  I suppose we had come this far, how much further could it be?  Past the paddies, over the canal, through the reeds, over the river, and a quick sidetrack in a cemetery.  Then it popped up.

The beach had the stereotypical thatched parasols, with decks beneath them, or just chairs.  There were people cooking, and kids playing.  The men were in shorts, and the women completely dressed.  The kids, well, their kids.

Locals take these boats fishing out at sea

I was surprised how many people were at the beach, most of them were locals that were visiting just because it was evening.  Not that I could blame them.  There was a quaint lifeguards hut, thatched round bowels that turned out to be fishing boats, and rows of bars, cafes, and restaurants on top of the dunes.
After about 5 min sitting down, our hosts from the guest house turned up.  Just for the evening.  I think they were a bit surprised that we walked all the way.  We were a bit surprised to see them.

Watching the sunset over the hills stretching into the ocean was worth it though.  Then a few drinks, some pool, and a feed.  However we decided to fork out the 20k for a taxi to get back to the guest house.

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