Looking sharp, Vietnamese stylee
Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
235Trip End Nov 30, 2009
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Despite its proximity to military bases (the famous China Beach of the TV series bearing the same name is found just outside of Danang) and areas of concentrated fighting during the American War, Hoi An was one of the very lucky towns not to be destroyed in the fighting. Therefore most of the place dates back to the 1770s, when it was last raised to the ground in a rebellion of the time. The result is one of the only significant examples of traditional Vietnamese and Chinese architectures of any historical merit. It's a great little place which would have been even better if it wasn't raining most of the time I was there.
Everywhere you go in this riverside village, you see example of Chinese architecture with a Vietnamese flourish. Locals in tradtional dress and conical hats roam the street adding to the authenticity of the surrounds. The river itself is filled with brightly coloured fishing boats (as well as a dark and imposing wooden behemoth that seems to do tourist runs downriver) and the river itself rises with any significant rainfall to engulf the banks and adjacent streets.
The first major attraction Jasper, Marjorie and I found was the Japanese Covered Bridge, the first of which was built on the site to link the community with the Chinese community on the other side of an adjoining river. The current structure looks that old but is still quite serviceable, even supporting a small temple to waylay traffic in the northern side of bridge. Ceremonial monkey and dog statuette shrines on each corner complete the picture.
Another main feature of the town is the variety of Chinese Ceremonial Halls built by various clans throughout Hoi An's history. The Chinese have had a major influence in the development of the town, although most have assimilated to a point where they speak Vietnamese even amongst themselves. They did however build large congregation halls in the very distinctive traditional manner, and apparently these are still used today as places of pilgrimage for these extended families.
All this being said, we spent most of our time here wandering amongst the lesser architectural masterpieces, the single and two level shopfronts and houses that make up the bulk of the old town. These are tastefully ornamented and house the restaurants, cafes and the multitude of tailors that Hoi An is now know the world over for. Jasper and Marjorie went a little crazy, contracting a handful of tailors to whip up this season's latest fashions - everything from the neck down it seemed and all for reasonably modest outlay. Even I, backpack now bulging, invested a little in the future, thinking of the cold season in Europe next year and so purchasing a few jackets that will save me a pretty penny when I settle down there.
Our last night together was spent in the local Cargo Bar, a classy and reasonably expensive place but well worth the outlay in drinks and the types of desserts I haven't tasted in many months. Vietnam can be a pretty classy place and Hoi An is the epitome of this now found style. A couple of days here is almost a mandatory stop, and anyone wanting to stock up on some new fashion at the right price should allow a few more.
I wasn't so lucky so departed the next day. On my way back to Danang I stopped at the Marble Mountains, another local sight that has unfortunately been engulfed in the commerce that it has generated over the years. These are five large marble monoliths that dot the land over an area of a few square kilometres, some of which are now quite small due to mining. Apparently the locals have realised that if they don't stop mining them there will be none left soon, but there seems to be a lot of craftsmen still sculpting marble around the place which makes me doubt that.
I couldn't get a clear shot of them unfortunately, but there are a number of traditional multi-level pagodas on top of and around the base of the large rocks. I didn't even have a chance to climb to a temple at the top of one due to serious time constraints, so maybe if someone goes there they should climb up, take a few pictures and send them through. Am sure there is an appealing angle around somewhere...
Next entry -> Onwards and upwards to Hanoi
I've been surprised with the lack of contraptions witnessed lately. All I've seen is a sea of scooters, a few cars and your typical tourist bus. Therefore, on the road to Danang I was happy to see a few of these guys - typically spartan in the design and comfort departments, all about moving and dumping of large amounts of whatever around the place. I think I'll call him Dumpy...