Historic Hoi An

Trip Start Nov 29, 2008
Trip End Jan 18, 2009

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

On Tuesday night, we left our hotel in Nha Trang for the train station to catch the overnight train to Da Nang. It lumbered into the station slightly past eight, and we had five minutes to get ourselves and our stuff into our sleeper cars. Between the bumps, stops, and intermitent AC I didn't sleep too well. Arriving at Da Nang at 5:00 am probably didn't help either.

And of course, we weren't even at our destination yet. At Da Nang we had to catch a bus for a half hour ride to Hoi An. Fortunately, our hotel in Hoi An was by far the nicest of the trip so far. And we had our private rooms all ready and made up even though we were checking in early. Our guide told us we would meet back at 9:30 to do the historic city tour, giving us all a couple of hours to shower, freshen up, and maybe nap for a few more hours before starting the day.

At 9:30 we began our short walk into the historic old city of Hoi An, home to numerous buildings from the 17th and 16th centuries, including the symbol of Hoi An, the Japanese covered bridge. We lunched at the spectacular Bale Well restaurant--words don't do it justice. The owner, Mai, dotes on the customers like crazy, insisting we can finish "one more," and practically force feeding us the supersized spring rolls that are the restaurant's specialty.

I did a little shopping and sightseeing in the afternoon before relaxing back at the hotel and waiting for our 6:30 cooking class that night. Another fun experience as we made spring rolls, wantons, mackerel in banana leaf wrapping, and other goodies while enjoying drinks and later our food. Furthermore, the AFF finals match between Vietnam and Thailand was on TV, causing the staff to erupt in joy when Vietnam scored its two goals to take the game. The experience was only slightly marred by our spotting of a giant rat climbing a nearby wall after we had finished. It was an open-air restaurant, so this wasn't quite as disturbing as a rat scurrying across the floor, but it was unsettling nonetheless.

On Christmas day, our guide had originally planned for us to head down to the beach for a few hours before exploring the My Son ruins that afternoon. But overcast and drizzly is not beach weather, so instead we all went to My Son in the morning, and half of us went to the Marble Mountains that afternoon. Both places were quite spectacular. My Son is over 1200 years old, and quite reminiscent of the temples in Angkor Wat. Sadly, after surviving for centuries, 48 of the 70 buildings were destroyed by bombing during the war, leaving only 22 standing. The dreary weather actually seemed to add to the mystique of the buildings.

The afternoon trip to the Marble Mountains was briefer (and less muddy). A set of five points springing seemingly out of nowhere straight up from the plains, the mountains are said to represent the five traditional Chinese elements. The largest is home to several pagodas and shrines from the 17th century, including a barely visible Buddha statue sequestered in a dark cave. One can also view nearby China Beach from the summit.

That evening, we had Christmas dinner at the White Marble restaurant before leaving early the next morning for the historic capital of Hue.
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