Same same, but different!

Trip Start Oct 19, 2010
Trip End Jul 23, 2011

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Monday, January 24, 2011

marble mountains

We checked out and left Danang for Hoi An. It is only 30km away to Hoi An so we took a taxi.  On the way we stopped off at the Marble Mountains, which legend says was formed when a dragon laid an egg there and when it hatched the broken shells grew into the mountains!  Today though, it has been heavily excavated and much of the marble used is bought in from China but the marble work is still impressive all the same.  There are a few pagodas including another multi-tiered tower and caves that can be explored but we did not go to them.

We arrived in Hoi An, a historic trading port in the 16th & 17th Century by the afternoon.  After we settled in we walked into the ancient area by the river and it was easy to see why it is loved by many.  The streets are very quaint, the buildings are mainly painted yellow with French colonial style mahogany balconies and Chinese style roofing.  The humidity and daily floods taint the walls with dark damp patches which adds to the old look. 

A Japanese covered bridge crosses a small waterway in the old quarter and there are loads of characteristic buildings, so many that our eyes were everywhere!  The river is lined with boats of different sizes but they all have eyes painted on the front to protect them from the evil water serpents. 

There are over 400 tailor shops which is quite a few considering it is a small town, and every one you pass try to get you in.  The favourite saying in Vietnam is 'Same, same, but different' which we have heard many times especially here in Hoi An.  Many of the buildings have silk lanterns hanging around (you can see them being made in some of the shops) and unfortunately for us, on the 14th day of every lunar month the town shuts off the electricity and the whole town is lit up with even more lanterns, we missed this by one day!  Still, they have plenty of lanterns around and were getting ready for the Tet New Year Festival so it was still very pretty at night, we didn't feel like we missed much...

The night time became a romantic place to stroll along the river (avoiding the parts where the river rises above its banks and floods the streets each night) and the people are extremely welcoming. 

We ate at the local food quarter at a place owned by a Mr Linh and his family where his sister, Yip and her aunt Bai (not sure if spelling is correct) were overjoyed to say the least that we chose to eat at their stand.  Bai gave me a few dabs of methol oil to try that she had (it was dark green in a very small bottle that smelled like it had eucalyptus in as well which I thought may be a good mozy repellent too).  The food as usual was great, we tried the local dishes called 'White Rose’ (pork and shrimp balls surrounded by a large soft noodle in the shape of a rose!) and ‘Cao Lao’ (fat noodles with pork and crispy squares that tasted like pork scratching, yummy).  Local beer is just 16 pence a pint too and rounded off the night nicely.

With water comes mosquitos, and we were bitten in the night even though we sprayed ourselves to stop them.  We woke up to big, itchy lumps on our legs that drove us mad for hours at a time.

We walked out of Hoi An’s main area and passed people working in paddy fields and homes with chicken coops and cattle tied to stakes in the ground.  Everyone waves and says hello as you pass their homes so you really feel comfortable wandering out of the main areas.  We came to an open road a guessed we had gone as far on foot as we wanted to and walked back down a dirt track along the river.

Back in the town we stopped off for a bite to eat, the lady who owned the restaurant we tried recommended the fish in banana leaf and we were glad she did because it was excellent.   We heard drums close by as we ate which turned out to be a Buddhist shrine that had monks in orange gear and other people decked out in white clothes and white headbands (looked like they all had bandages due to head injuries!).  We eventually caved in and were drawn in to a tailors that was recommended to us...We both ended up ordering some clothes which we had to go back the next day for a fitting (too good to miss - we got tailored outfits including for our forthcoming wedding, even though the date isn’t set yet!).  Our clothes were adjusted and was ready for collection after just 48 hours of picking the design and fabric!

Before we collected our outfits we went for a cooking lesson.  This was a lot of fun, we had the restaurant to ourselves and we chose what we wanted to cook.  A lady demonstrated what to do and then we copied.  We chopped, mixed, stuffed and cooked (jotting down notes along the way) – Vietnamese fried spring rolls with pork and shrimps, whole fish stuffed with chilli and lemongrass wrapped in a banana leaf cooked on charcoal, stir fried vegetables in garlic and beef noodle soup.  After we cooked it, we ate was delicious even though I do say myself (Waffles spring rolls were better than mine though)! 

We collected our clothes and dropped them off at the hotel and had a rest for a while.  We ate at the local food quarter one more time at a stall next to the first one we went to.  Bai fromMr Linh's came up to me and gave me a hug and some more perfumed oil to put behind my ears! She kept shaking my hand, smiling and patting me on the back for ages...the folk here seem very affectionate.

The next day we went on a trip to My Son which is a collection of about 70 Cham Towers built over 1,000 years ago.  The Cham structures were built by Hindus from India and include statues of gods  – Shiva, Vishnu & Apsara etc.  

relics with hole where bomb dropped in 1969

Our guide (who was a really funny character - very loud, abrubtly spoken and told amusing tales) told us that in 1969, the Yanks bombed this area believing that the Viet Cong were hiding there so only a few structures remained intact.  His father was a VC and said that he was one too! After he ridiculed the Americans at war for always getting it wrong he asked if there were Americans on the tour (Not many put their hands up)!  

After we spent a couple of hours walking around (avoiding the mined areas) we took a boat back to Hoi An, stopping off at a village that specialised in carpentry – there they were making boats, huge mahogany statues and mother of pearl inlayed furniture.  The woodwork was very intricate and some used their feet to hold the wood as they worked.

Our last full day in Hoi An and yet another power cut for 12 hours this time (lost count how many now).  Luckily, the generators allow the internet to work in the reception so we went down and booked 2 hotels in Ho Chi Minh City (one cheap for a week and one for the Tet  New Year a bit more up market with a swimming pool - 4 1/2 star so we are hoping it is good).  

us with our new found friends Yip & Bai

(me wearing the shawl Bai gave me earlier)

Waffle fancied a beef hotpot (cooked at the table) at our favourite local food stall so we went there again and as we walked past the other stalls (about 25 of them) one lady asked us to eat at her stall.  We said we were eating at Mr Linh's at the other end and before we knew it the message was passed down the stalls to let everyone know we were going there!  (Even though they are all individual stalls, they all help each other and do not fight for competition, they even help each other with the food!).  As we got to Mr Linh's, Bai greeted us with open arms and gave us more presents to take away...I had already been given a pashmina shawl earlier in the day by her and Waffle now was given 2 silk ties.  It did not stop there either, as we ate our food she then pushed 2 small boxes into my hand which turned out to be bottles of the perfumed oil she had been dabbing on me everytime she saw me.  Then she bought some sugared peanuts from a street hawker and put some in a dish for us and at the end of our meal she gave us some fruit.  They made us feel very at home there and to see this hospitality was extremely humbling and very sweet. As we had chatted to them about their family we found out that Yip's husband works long hours as a chef in a local hotel for only about 46 per month! 

From today it’s going to be hot, hot, hot...yippee!!  We fly teatime with Jetstar Airways for just 15 each...just hope it isn’t like Ryanair but it is only for 1 1/4 hours.  We will be sad to leave this town, it is so beautiful and the people have been very friendly...we will have some great memories of our stay here...

(all our photos have moved to our 'Windows Live' account as we maxed out the flickr pictures on our free account!)

so here is the link to the latest ones on Windows live - Hoi An pictures
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