Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Hoi An

Vietnam is an incredibly long country. Since our buddy Sue only had a couple of weeks there, we indulged in the luxury of a few plane rides that cut trips that would normally take a two of days down to two hours. One of these flights was from Hanoi to the ancient city of Hoi An on the central coast.

Hoi An is one of those places that is so incredibly quaint you feel as if you’ve found yourself in a replica at Disney Land rather than the real thing. Having been named a Unesco World Heritage site a few years back, the local population has gone out of their way to preserve the unique architecture and beauty of this city that sits unassumingly besides the Thu Bon River.
Mingling with the Chinese and European influences seen in other parts of Vietnam, Hoi An has a strong Japanese influence, and the dark teak homes are interspersed with ornate temples, 19th century public halls and even a Japanese-style covered bridge. Many of the buildings have been converted into lovely cafes and restaurants and we spent many days enjoying French pastries, Vietnamese coffees and local delicacies, such as the “white rose” shrimp dumplings and cao lau flat noodles floating in a special broth made specially from water procured from the famous Bale Well.

One of Sue’s co-workers, Bao (who is Vietnamese) happened to be traveling in the country at the same time and he generously explained to us the finer points of Vietnamese culture, such as having a case of beer delivered to your table upon being seated! He also took us out to an amazing seafood dinner, which was one of the culinary highlights of our time in South East Asia.

Hoi An is almost as famous for its main trade as it is for its architecture. With hundreds of tailoring shops and locally crafted silk, no visit would be complete unless you walk away with at least one piece of clothing perfectly customized to your dimensions. But, cheap tailored clothes are kind of like potato chips – bet you can’t order just one! Of course, we stocked up. (Thanks, Sue, for lugging it all home!)

There are also some interesting sights nearby Hoi An, including the famous and beautiful China Beach and the jungle ruins of Mai Son. Both featured prominently in the Vietnam War, the latter when the US suspected it to be a hiding place for the Vietcong and bombed it almost into complete destruction. Unfortunately, on the way to catch the bus to Mai Son, I got hit by a truck and was slammed to the ground - hard! The egg sandwich in my hand splattered all over the windshield and I was suddenly surrounded by worried Vietnamese women petting my hair and rubbing strange smelling oils on me.

Remember that terrible fortune from a few weeks back? Apparently, running across the street without looking was not the right move… but, actually, I was pretty lucky – a sprained knee and some other scrapes and bruises were the only injuries and it could have been much worse. And now we have an excuse to spend more time lying around the beach!

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