As the local mini bus hurtled up highway 1, swerving between vehicles, running every red light, all while the driver was making phone calls on two mobile phones, not for the first time on this trip, I felt this could all end badly. But to be fair to the driver we did arrive in Hoi An an hour early…
Hoi An is a UNESCO world heritage city, becoming an important trading post from the 15th century onwards and so adopting the influences of the different immigrants. Most notably the Chinese, with many of the old family houses, meeting halls and temples being immaculately preserved. So it is a city still in one piece and unlike any other in Vietnam. In real terms this means Hoi An’s shop fronts are a shade of fading yellow, now packed with souvenirs, and the city is full of slow-moving visitors, some on seemingly endless lines of convoy cyclo tours. Tourist Central….I mean how many city have a law saying shops must hang chinese lanterns outside? But you can see why they come, the town is beautiful and there are numerous cafes to sit with a beverage and watch the world or slow-moving cyclos roll past.
We diligently bought our tourist ticket, allowing access to five of the many attractions found within the old city, and headed off to explore some museums, meeting houses and temples. Though some of these were interesting, most of the staff were more interested in selling lucky coins and silk scarves than telling you about the building, leaving us none the wiser for having been there. While in the buildings, however, we got the chance to admire many of the lanterns that are famous in Hoi-an, all hung outside the buildings for luck. Ella even had a go at making one through a class at the brilliant life start foundation.. when in Rome I guess.
Hoi-an, as with every region in Vietnam, has some well-known local delicacies, so in between museums we hunted down some local food. The abundance of street food we had heard about in Hoi-an wasn’t as evident as we expected, maybe the persistent light drizzle kept the vendors away, but eventually we found some delicious chicken rice, BBQ’d spring rolls and soup packed with noodles and other yummy delights.
After a couple of days in Hoi An we were ready to move on to a more Vietnamese city were people actually live. The fast growing Da Nang is a short local bus ride away and we found a great hostel called Funtastic Hostel…don’t be put off by the name…it was actually really nice (and fun). Walking along the river side that evening we were treated to all the multicoloured light shows of the city’s bridges, (including one in the shape of a dragon which shoots fire out of its mouth at the weekend), and a middle-aged ladies dance troupe wearing matching skin-tight white dresses practicing their routine… we liked Da Nang.
Taking a break from the city we went to explore the gorgeous beach only 4km from the city centre. The white sand stretches for as far as the eye can see, and the whole beach is overlooked by a massive buddahvista erected to protect the city. The only thing that slightly spoils the atmosphere was the abundance of dog meat shops on the promenade… dog burger after a dip anyone?!? Luckily for us the city had many other foodie treats and that our new friend (Albus – the non wizard, a student who worked in the hostel) gave us a free food tour through the streets of the city. Jumping on our own moped Albus and his girlfriend led us through the streets sampling bbq’d pate in rice paper pizzas, followed by spring rolls and then fruity dessert, from restaurants that we would never have found on our own…. thanks Albus!
Last stop while in Da Nang was up to the Marble Mountain, just a few miles outside town. These are a group of lime stone hills jutting out of the countryside, seen as a holy site by Buddhists the caves are full of shrines and temples. Once again SE Asia surprised us and the locals proved how much they dislike walking but installing an elevator up the side of the mountain for the first stage of the climb. I know, what a continent?! Once you reach the top you are treated to a beautiful view out across the sea and fields below, but the best is saved for the temples. Ling Ong Pagoda, set in a cave within the hill, has a few holes in the roof from bombs dropped during the America war. The result is a beautiful and eerie atmosphere, with the incense of the shrines floating up to meet the sunlight falling in beams from above. Now we’ve been in Asia for more than eight months and seen our fair share of temples but I think this has to be up there are one of the best…
And just like that it was time to move north, to an ancient capital over a mountain pass.