Up early for that trip, which proved to be quite interesting. The bus was comfy and the tour guide (“Spider”) was a very energetic and knowledgeable chap with decent English, but the weirdest accent ever. Amazingly, the bus was stopped by the police (twice in a week!) and the driver fined for something or other.
It was only an hour or so’s drive to the My Son site where our guide purchased our tickets for us (60,000d each) and we then jumped into minibuses and jeeps for the 2km shuttle to the structures themselves. My Son is an old Cham religious site from the 4th century. It’s smaller than the likes of Angkor Wat, but over 1000 years older. The structures themselves are also completely different, made of brick instead of stone apart from one exception. Experts – and even modern Cham – have no idea how the bricks were cemented together. But it worked.
The majority of damage to the sites has been as a result of wars of one kind or another. At one time there were around 70 major structures there. Now there are 20. The biggest loss of structures was during the “American War” as the Vietnamese call it. Due to its sheltered nature in the jungle, the Viet Cong picked it as an ideal location to hide out. As the Americans couldn’t see exactly where they were, they blanketed the whole area with bombs destroying a horrendous amount of these historical structures. I’m not pointing fingers of blame – war is war, no matter what the politics behind it – but it’s a hell of a shame.
Weatherwise it was “stinking hot” and Leah was suffering as I pranced around the ruins, snapping photos as and when I could around the tourist throngs. There are “sunrise” tours, and Lonely Planet recommends getting there for 6:30am if you can to dodge the crowds. However, that means leaving Hoi An at 5:30. Stuff that. It’s not the busy season so it wasn’t so bad anyway.
After around two hours at the site, we headed back to Hoi An with around half our bus getting off partway home to get a boat the rest of the way. We were back in town, right near our hotel, by 1pm. A quick shower to freshen up and we popped out for lunch, doing part of the LP “guided walk”.
We didn’t bother with the city ticket as we could see plenty of the structures from outside (to get into most of the buildings, you have to buy a ticket which allows access to some combination or other of the better structures – you can’t pay individually for any of them), though we did find two places that didn’t need this ticket.
The Hainan Temple on Ã Tran Phu is small, but lovely and they only ask for a small (voluntary) donation for its upkeep as payment for a look around. I dropped a couple of thousand into the box. A street away on Ã Phan Boi Chau is the Tran Duong House which has been in the family for 4 generations according to the sign on the wall outside. Chatting to the wonderful Mr Duong inside, he says it is now six. He points to a picture on the wall of his son (“five…”) and to his 3 year-old, chatty grandson (“… and six!”).
The look around their house was brief, but enlightening. Mr Duong sleeps on the bed downstairs with his grandson while the rest of the family spread around the house. The “bed” is a beautiful mahogany table – they use no mattress. Other furniture is over a hundred years old. Upstairs is fairly bare with just a shrine to Mr Duong’s father, also a teacher as was his father and his father before him, a lovely table and some heavy chairs.
We sat there as the current head of the household showed us pictures of his father’s funeral – an impressive procession with over 20 pallbearers as well as followers and hangers-on. A popular man by all accounts. Although entry is free, a small donation is requested per visitor and a sign asks for 20,000d per visitor. Simply because his company was so enthralling, and his grandson so cute, we left 50,000d from the two of us as well as filling in a page in the guestbook. If you visit – please do – spend a while digging through the library of these tomes that Mr Duong has!
Opposite his house is Nga, a tourist agency and the only one mentioned in Lonely Planet which offers all kinds of travel though there are umpteen scattered around town. We needed to book bus and plane tickets, and we did it all here. Everything was dealt with quickly, efficiently and with a smile. We also found out that if you’re booking Vietnam Airline tickets to do it 3 or more days before you fly. Within 3 days, the prices rise although I notice all the airports have a “standby” counter where you could possibly get a bargain if you’re prepared to wait in hope.
Next up was “pick a random restaurant for lunch” time. After a stroll through the hectic central market we reached the riverside area and settled on Sao Mai (Morning Star). Leah chose a tuna salad sandwich which turned out to be a triple-decker; I had a hamburger which was more a torpedo roll with strips of beef and all the veg you’d expect. Different, and tasty.
We snapped a few more photos of the town and the bridge before feeling the need for another shower and walked back to the hotel. Online time and chilling out followed, and in the late evening the need for food arose. We’d already picked where we wanted to eat. Stopping only briefly to sort out our motorbikes for the next day and for Leah to have her feet measured for some new sandals, we walked directly to a little open air place on Ã Bach Dang.
It’s not in Lonely Planet, I don’t know the name but it’s the only place which isn’t inside a building on the riverside road, right on a corner. There we sampled cao lau – large noodles mixed with pork, bean sprouts, greens and crunchy batter stuff. Very nice.
As we sat there, a little girl – the daughter of the owner, I think – looked at my t-shirt. “Blue Dragon – like restaurant?” Well, yes, but how did… hang on. Is the Blue Dragon Restaurant in Hoi An? For some reason I thought it was in Nha Trang. “You want to know where it is? I will show you!” she shouted, jumping on her bike and cycling along the road.
And there it was, just before the market on the main street by the riverside. We must have walked past it 4 times over the last two days without seeing it. It was still open and we immediately decided that we needed a dessert. A quick look at the menu and we settled on pancakes with chocolate. I had a lengthy chat with the owner (sorry – I’m rubbish with names…) and managed to get a photo with him and the sign.
If you are in Hoi An, do please go for a meal. It’s probably no better than any other of the excellent eateries in the area, but they do send a proportion of their takings to Blue Dragon up in Hanoi. And you know how much time I’ve spent raising money for them! They also do cookery courses running for 2 hours, twice a day. Three courses for only $8, not a bad price. So with pancake and beer swishing round my insides, we walked along to the bridge to get some night-time shots and then back to our rather nice hotel room. Hoi An is really growing on me!