Hoi An is another gorgeous little Vietnamese town that felt like it had more tourists than locals at times…for this reason, along with the architecture, a lot of the time we felt as though we were in Europe. We planned to stay for three nights but stayed for four for reasons outlines below!
My birthday had left me cashed up – thanks to some generous family members – which was perfect timing to be visiting a town of tailors and cobblers! It was exhausting walking the streets full of shop fronts wanting your business. Visitors appear to come to Hoi An and leave with an extra suitcase or two. Along side the tailor shops the bag shop owners seem to be doing a decent trade. We had come with a rough idea of what we wanted to purchase (as we knew that we needed some clothes for work and colder climates), but really it was a bit overwhelming…the process involved sitting down and looking at pattern books, then choosing the material that it should be made out of, then haggling over price, then returning the next day to be “fitted”, and then returning later to pick up the finished garment. I didn’t want to ‘put all my eggs in one basket’ or the manufacturing of my clothes in the hands of one tailor – so I ended up dealing with three tailors, two cobblers and a leather worker. Our four days were jam packed with walking from tailor to cobbler to the ATM – as the maximum withdrawal amount was 2,000,000VND(dong) (AU$160) and our clothes/shoes came to a bit more than that (our haggling skills are not that great) and trying to fit some time in to eat at the great restaurants that Hoi An had to offer. I have to put a big rap in for the Mango Room – which impressed us no end, the meals all come at once and in order of the courses, along with the fact that the food was tantalising. Adding mango to anything can only really improve the dish 🙂
To appreciate how exhausted we ended up, can only be illustrated by the amount that we purchased –
1. shirts (6)
2. suit – with a skirt
3. duffel coat
4. work slacks (2)
5. leather jacket
6. knee high boots (2)
7. sandals/high heals (3)
1. suits (2) – both with additional slacks
2. shirts (6)
3. shoes (3)
4. over coat
We also managed to fit in a half day trip to My Son and to Marble Mountain. My Son is where the centre of the Cham Kingdom was about 1500 years ago. Unfortunately there is not much left to see after the US bombed the place senseless. There are a few remaining temples, but unfortunately – they really did not compare to the Angkor temples in Cambodia. The jungle surrounding the temples was dense and we saw a number of colourful butterflies which kept us entertained…and the ride down to the temples in an old army jeep with 9 tourists hanging out the side kept us on our toes.
Marble mountain on the other hand was well worth the trip – there are actually 4 mountains which look like blemishes on anotherwise smooth terrain. Scurrying around the caves looking for the hidden temples made me feel like a kid again! Surrounding the mountain there is a booming industry in making marble artifacts (all the marble is now imported from China, as the government worked out pretty quickly that they would have no mountain if they continued to remove marble). You can purchase a life size sculpted tiger and have it shipped to the US for US$1500…Matt wants to get a couple for our place in Caroline Springs. Around the corner was China beach which was the R&R place for the US soldiers during the war (and is the setting for the TV series of the same name).
We sadly said goodbye to Hoi An as our time was quickly running out in Viet Nam and we still had half the country to cover. We caught the bus to Hue (the old capital during the Nguyen dynasty) stayed for 4 hours then caught the night bus to Hanoi.
Hanoi…another big city, but with somewhat more charm than Ho Chi Minh city. Motor bikes continually zoom up and down the narrow streets, and women walk around with heavy baskets selling there wares. There are many shop fronts that open out onto the street and the city is doted with lakes, that people fish in and meet around in the evening. As we stumbled off the bus at 7am, after a night of broken sleep a man grabbed us to “show us his hotel”. We had little energy to resist, so before we knew it we had agreed to the US$10 a night room, probably being ripped off 😛 We ventured into a local cafe trying to find some breakfast, like most local cafes the food preparation seemed to be outsourced to a number of local traders, no sooner had we ordered our meal than a little boy and a teenage girl headed off in different directions with bowls in hand. Dad’s soup arrived from one direction and a loaf of bread from another…this cafe even had more varieties of tea than lipton (which seems to hold the majority of the market here). We spent the day visiting tourist agents looking for the best deal in tours to Harlong Bay and to Sapa (in the North West mountains). We walked through the different streets which are named after the main trade that occurs in the street such as “Tin Smith Street” and “Spice Trading Street”, interestingly there is a counterfeit street, where counterfeit money is sold for burning in the ceremonies dedicated to the ancestors. You can purchase a US$5000 bill.
We found a middle range tour that we booked to Harlong Bay and dad also organised a trek to Sapa that Matt and I miss out on as we have run out of time – Matt was sorely disappointed! We found a place that makes a decent Aussie burger and we had an early night catching up on sleep.
The next day we decided to go and see Uncle Ho (Ho Chi Minh) at the mausoleum, but unfortunately he has the day off. We instead spent our time organising tickets to see the Water Puppet Theatre. While queueing to get our tickets we witnessed a very uncomfortable seen were a military officer was trying to detain a pick pocket until the police arrived. The poor kid was on his knees crying to be let go, and in the end the officer (who I think was in as equally difficult position) did let him go, as the seen became a little too public for his liking I think. We really enjoyed the water puppet theatre, complete with fire crackers and traditional music. The show was in Vietnamese, but it was fairly self explanatory and full a cute little jokes. We planned to go out singing at a Karaoke bar later that night – however after repacking (and purchasing another suitcase), we instead had another early night.
The next day we headed off on our tour to Harlong Bay. The weather looked shocking…misty rain. We stopped at the usual tourist stops, with over priced souvenirs…however this was the most overpriced so far. Matt was looking at a necklace for me that he thought was 245,000VND ($20), but it was in fact US$245…I don’t think we have seen anything that expensive the entire time that we have been here.
Harlong Bay as all the post card show is amazing – the lime stone islands, I think there are 1900 in total are spectacular, and the weather cleared up for the afternoon, for us to cruise the bay. Our poor guide (who was a previously a journalist and is a trained computer programmer) had nothing go right for him. As we settled down in a quite part of the bay to spend the evening, he received a phone call that another four guests were arriving via water taxi. The problem was there where not enough beds to accommodate all of these people. So dad got turfed out to the staff quarters (as he had a double bed to himself). The Vietnamese culture seems to have no concept of compensation – so the fact that dad had paid for a private room with an ensuite bathroom didn’t seem to phase the guy. After some negotiation, dad did receive a complimentary beer. We spent the evening playing a Swedish/Danish version of a card game called “asshole”, which seems really similar to a game that I used to play at youth group. It was great fun and almost everyone on the boat got into the game.
The next day we woke up to no water in our bathroom, a man came and fiddled around for a while and I did get a warm shower in the end. Showering become redundant after heading off on our bushwalk through the jungle and up a very muddy hill. Information communication is also not a strong point on Vietnamese tours, even with English speaking guides. Luckily I did not arrive in my tan shorts and thongs as some other people had. My white shoes however were soon mud red. The walk was actually very enjoyable and the view spectacular. In the afternoon we had an opportunity to see Harlong Bay up close as we canoed around it. We canoed into caves that opened up into little land lock lakes. It was great fun, however, I think that an hour was long enough for me…I have no upper body strength at all. Dad went to spend the second night on the boat and Matt and I spent the evening at a Hotel on Cat Ba island, with the rest of our tour group.
That evening we visited the local disco…the had the music cranked really loud and the two times that we walked in a local guy was singing out some Karaoke song that I could not recognise, though the music sounded familiar. We tried to stay twice, but the environment was unbearably uncomfortable. Instead we opted for a second dinner with our new friend Rikard. We ended up at a pizza place that also served porcupine and turtle. Rickard ended up with a pizza that had more cheeses than it did crust and Matt with a burger that was white at times. The town was decked out in lights and a new water, sound and light show was being trialled, for the upcoming visit of someone important. I think it was something to do with the 30 year celebrations of reunification???
Again another early night…the next morning we discovered the party was in room 405…the German guys room. Later we met up with dad on the boat and he had also had a big night…with some Germans he had met on the boat. The only thing that I can deduce is that Germans really know how to party! The cruise back to the harbour was slow, and the mist had set into the harbour again, most people slept on the boat on the way back. We had a lovely French family on the tour who had a five year old son who looked like a miniture Harry Potter – he was the smartest kid I have ever seen and he did not cry once on the trip. Matt was feeling a little clucky (maybe I was too) 🙂
The mother of little Harry Potter I discovered was also an OT…which was very odd, considering I usually have to spend half an hour explaining my profession because nobody has ever heard off it. Sadly she betrayed the profession and went back 8 years afterwards and trained as a physiotherapist 😛
We arrived back in Hanoi and spent our time trying to organise freight home for some of dads belongings. We turned our nose up at the US$240 quote that we received from TNT and instead sent it home via sea at the post office. We met up with some of our tour group mates for dinner, before the majority of them caught the 10pm train to Sapa (along with dad). Rikard again got the raw end of the deal with his “tuna salad” arriving…actually it was more like not arriving. In the end it was rushed goodbyes and exchanged email addresses. Dad got all his gear together and jumped on the back of a motorbike to the train station which I can only imagine was for an early night after his previous one.
Today we did get to visit Uncle Ho. We lined up and went through three security checks, got man handled by the guards and had our cameras removed. Gee he is looking good for a guy that died over 30 years again. I have been reading a bit of his work and he sounds like a pretty decent guy, his wishes was to be cremated and not to have a big fuss made of him…the party didn’t really respect that though.
So here Matt and I are, almost one chapter of our adventure is over, we are jumping on a plane to Hong Kong tomorrow and still we are not in debt. I think that Europe is going to be a shock to our budget. We are really looking forward to catching up with Pete and Kate in Sweden, and with my uni friends in England. Sorry about the long blog…Matt and I have resolved that we have to blog more often! We are feeling a little further away from home now that dad has left and there is about to be greater disparity in time zones – but looking forward to Hong Kong!