Saturday, May 17, 2014

Historic Hoi An

At noon on May 15th, we caught a bus for a short 5-hour ride south from Hue, through Danang to Hoi An (North Vietnam). It was a nice but unusual bus. There were 2 aisles with 3 rows of seats stacked 1 above the other. The seats were more recliners than seats and 1 could not adjust them to the fully upright position for lack of headroom. It was just "lay back and enjoy the ride."

Hoi An is a delightful town with a rich history of ancient merchants from Asia to Europe, trading exotic wares from their shops for markets around the globe. This town, unlike Hue, escaped any destruction from US bombings and today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The buildings in the old sector were originally the small trading houses that the denizens built shoulder to shoulder with a noticeable European architectural flair. Now most are neat and classy shops and restaurants catering to the tourists.

European influence

The narrow streets of the old town are off limits to any vehicles, only pedestrians allowed. The best time is when the heat of the day gives way to the cool evening and it brings out residents and visitors alike that maunder along the canal promenades and bridges, cameras a clickin' and all to the delight of the local proprietors.

Handcrafted lanterns hanging everywhere

Back in the 1590s, the Japanese constructed an arched bridge across Hoi An's small canal to connect them to the Chinese traders. The covered bridge is a big tourist draw and was constructed with 2 monkeys at 1 entrance and 2 dogs at the other. Why? One tale says many emperors were born in the Years of the Monkey or Dog. Another tale says the bridge was started in the Year of Monkey and completed in the Year of the Dog.

On May 16th, we joined a full bus for a 45-minute ride into the hills to visit the archaeological site of My Son (pronounced Me Sone - rhymes with Bone). There we hiked through the cleared jungle to see ancient temple ruins discovered by the French about 100 years ago. Before that, they lay hidden and undiscovered for 300 years.

1 of many temples

What is most striking is that these structures were built of bricks without mortar. Each brick fit flat and snug with nary a crack between.

Craftsmanship of years ago

Before the French left, they absconded with choice busts, and sadly the site was bombed by the US trying to rout out the Viet Cong during the war. But enough was there to appreciate what it would have been like in its heyday.

Jordan with headless Buddha

Later that day back at the old town, we visited a shop that taught and produced the most elaborate and intricate pictures done by embroidery. So meticulously detailed were they that one had to get up close to see that they weren't framed photos. This was the best work we had seen.

And upstairs, they sold silk garments and they actually had the various stages of the live silk worms' growth and development. We saw how the workers stripped the cocoons' fine silk strands, about 15 at a time, to make 1 thread.

Making silk thread from cocoons

Silk worms eating mulberry leaves

Most of Hoi An's activities happen on the canal front. That is where the bustling and colourful market is and is run mostly by the local women.

Market activity

Occasionally we would see elderly with dark stained mouths from chewing betel nut, an Asian habit that provides a mild stimulant with a fresh peppery taste, but also causes oral cancer. With her colourful smile, she was selling supposedly "ancient" coins along the sidewalk.

Betel nut beauty

Boats abound. Fishing, transportation, and tours...

Along the riverfront

Motorcycle ferry

In the early evening, it was time to head back north. We caught a 1-hour shuttle bus to deliver us to the Danang train station for our overnight train ride back up to Hanoi. Only problem was, the booking agent received the wrong time for us to board from the train station and we missed our train by 12 hours! We lost our fare and not only that, all the trains were booked for a couple of days.

As it was getting late, we booked into a Danang hotel, went online, and booked a flight for the next morning to Hanoi. We have learned long ago to roll with the punches and duck the unexpected curve balls that intrepid travelling throws at you. C'est la vie.

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