Hoi An and Rescue on Marble Mountain

Trip Start Nov 30, 2009
Trip End Jun 01, 2011

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Flag of Vietnam  , Quảng Nam,
Wednesday, May 5, 2010

We'd been told to expect good things from Hoi An and thankfully after another 10 hour overnight bus trip on a bus designed for midgets it didn’t disappoint. Arriving at 6am neither of us was quite in the mood for the pushy motorbike taxi drivers or hotel touts.  Of all the countries we have visited so far Vietnam definitely has some of the most surly and aggressive touts and drivers.  A simple 'No thanks’ is no longer sufficient and we’ve both had to resort to being very grumpy and assertive to shake them off.

Hoi An is gorgeous, a real mix of Chinese, Japanese and European styles of Architecture.  It’s world heritage listed and the narrow lanes are filled with great restaurants, cafes and hundreds and hundreds of tailors and shoe shops.  Hoi An is THE place to come and get custom made clothes and boots.  If we ever win the lottery I’m flying straight back to get a complete wardrobe made up.  For the time being on our backpackers budget I had to make do with getting a linen dress made.  Cost less than $20 for a total made to measure job, which took about 24 hours to complete, including 2 fitting appointments.  Kev as always got nothing!  Also just had to enquire out of curiosity how much boots would have been. Can you believe you can get custom made leather boots for $30.   It took every fibre of my being not to get the old tape measure round the calf muscles and get ordering. Especially when I think about the trouble I have in the UK getting boots to fit my humongous calf muscles. 

The town is even more atmospheric at night, with red Chinese lanterns hanging everywhere. We opted to eat at a tiny street stall by the river on our first night.  Entrusting our stomachs (and potentially the health of our bowels) to a little old lady with a small wooden table, tiny gnome sized stalls and coal burner with a steamy vat of soup.  Without being able to understand each other we somehow managed to order two bowls of something – which turned out to be Cau Lau, a local specialty.  Its a soup with big flat noodles, bean sprouts, greens (looked a bit like nettles) topped with pork slices.  Really delicious and only about 75 pence each.  Even more importantly we both survived the night without any sudden rushes to the bathroom and lived to tell the tale. 

Hoi An also delivered something we’d been waiting to find since arriving in Vietnam.  Bia Hoia, local ‘fresh beer’ rumored to be the cheapest beer in the world, and at about 14 pence for a large draft glass I’d be inclined to agree.  Probably not the tastiest pint you’re ever going to drink, but definitely passable, as the 4 or 5 glasses with dinner proved. We met up with Graham and Maggie from our boat trip in Nha Trang, plus another English couple they know, so a nice sociable end to our time in Hoi An

Before heading up the cost to Hanoi we decided to hire a motor bike for the day and explore Marble Mountain and take a ride along the coastal road.  Marble Mountain not as Mountain like as the name might suggest, we almost missed it as no sign posts, and it just looks like a collection of very large rocks really.  Thankfully a lady suddenly pulled alongside our motorbike asked us where we were going and then offered to lead us there.  Not a major surprise to then discover she owned a shop selling marble carvings.  She 'kindly' offered to let us park our motorbike outside the shop while we visited the mountain, which of course meant we had to endure 10 minutes of looking at her wares when we got back.   While we had to admire the artistry and effort involved it was hard to see what we would do with a 3 foot high marble elephant when we get back to Stalybridge.

Marble Mountain itself is full of caves that have been turned into temples, really atmospheric, with sunlight beaming through holes in the roof and highlighting the incense smoke rising up.  One of the caves was used as a hospital during the war with the Americans.  Not sure how conducive to healing being in a damp cave would have been, but with the presence of a huge Buddha looming over the soldiers I'm sure they felt very safe.  In addition to the sightseeing we became heroes for the afternoon when we helped a Japanese girl suffering from heat stroke who was stranded with her boyfriend at the very top of the mountain.  The sun was like a furnace up there, with no shade at all.  With the help of a French couple we eventually managed to carry / drag her down the steps to some shade, give her some water and sugar and raise the alarm for some help.  Another little step in improving Kev's opinion of the French perhaps? We can only hope.

Stopped to take photos of some coracle boats on the beach and watch 3 guys trying to head out through the waves to do a spot of fishing.  Those little woven circular boats don't look the most stable, rather like an event in Trash's castle trying to get through the waves without falling out.

The coastal road was pretty spectacular from the back of a bike.  China Beach runs for 35 kilometers, and as we headed back to Hoi An at 5pm the sea was full of locals cooling off after a days work at the many building sites along the coast.  Seems the area is on the brink of a huge boom, with endless luxury resorts being built long the whole length of the beach.  Pretty hairy driving past as they finished work for the day and pulled out in front of us from every direction on their motorbikes, wearing hard hats as crash helmets.  Glad Kev was driving and not me.  Far too scary.

Also made a sop along the cost to see a huge statue up on a hill that we could see for miles as we drove along the coast.  We presume it was yet another incarnation of Buddha, only this one looks very girlie and much more Mary in a long flowing robe. None of the big feet, big long ears that we've been used to seeing elsewhere.  None around that spoke English to clear it up for us unfortunately.   
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