Friday, September 7, 2012

Central Vietnam Tourist Notes (Hoi An)

Outside De Nang Train Station - Engine is real!

Da Nang was our travel hub in Central Vietnam - we arrived and left from Da Nang's Airport and we took a train from Da Nang to Hue.

What we learned was what we observed from a car window. Da Nang, and Hoi An as well, was incredibly clean - we saw no litter anywhere. In contrast to our recent travels the road surface was good and the traffic moved smoothly - no auto rickshaws weaving in and out or trucks barrelling down on us.

From the road Da Nang appeared to be in the midst of building boon. Along the side of the road were signs designating luxury resorts. We headed for Hoi An around 3:30 p.m. on a Monday, headed back mid-morning on a Thursday and a Monday. At no time did we see signs of active construction. In some places there were roads and street lights, but that was about it.

Hoi An

After we arrived in Hoi An we explored the old town.We passed shops with constant invitations to "take a look," "buy something from me." We eyed roadside food stalls - they look much more inviting than the last time we were in Vietnam (2002). Pictured below is a  typical street market with women selling vegetables and flowers. It was late in the day and the number of sellers had thinned out. The older woman at the front of the picture had an air of elegance that caught our eye. She is at a small table with small stools - a common style of dining al fresco. Locals most are most often seen eating at these roadside tables and tourists in the restaurants.

Mobile "restaurants" are scattered along the street. Each serves a few dishes. The baguettes (barely visible on the upper right) suggest that her "menu" includes banh mi. The boy on the left was checking his phone - a universal habit.

Actually there weren't many dogs hanging out - nothing close to Bhutan where sleeping dogs were everywhere. We snapped this picture b/c we loved how they posed themselves.
Several areas of the Hoi An are closed to vehicles that makes walking more pleasurable. The rows of shop houses are typical in Southeast Asia. Cities and countries have their own way to decorating them. We saw the lanterns here and in Hue. Note how clean the street is.

The old city is on one of the banks of the Thu Bon River.

Among the spectators - note the bride having pictures
taken to show at her wedding

If you can name our guide - let us know
Hoi An's Tourist Office helped keep us busy. We bought a ticket to enter  5 sites (a clan house, mechants' houses, and the  covered bridge) and see a cultural performance.. At the Tourist Office we hired a guide, Truong Duy Tri ( Truong was a veteran of Vietnam's border battles with Cambodia. He spoke excellent English and provided us insights into the local culture. In answer to a question if people consult an astrologer to set a wedding date and time (as they do in Bhutan and India), he told us that the rely on the lunar calender. He showed us an app on his phone which he could identify a lucky date.

He has a daughter studying at the National University of Singapore. We are constantly humbled and impressed by people we met - guides, taxi drivers, and so on - who have children studying at high quality universities away from home - usually without a scholarship. 

At the Fukkien Chinese Assembly Hall the first thing we noticed were the incense coils where people had hung messages and appeals -  reminding us of the pray wheels and prayer flags of Bhutan. Our guide assured us that God was multi-lingual as all the messages we neither in Vietnamese nor Chinese. The Assembly Hall had an altar; while we were there one woman stopped to pray. We could photograph this altar, but it felt disrespectful to get too close. Behind this altar was another one where pregnant women would pray to the image of a deity.

These incense coils last one month.

We visited two merchants' houses. They were sprawling affairs similar to ones we saw in Malacca. The Hoi An houses were occupied by members of the original families. In one house the women made white roses, a dumpling sold in Hoi An restaurants, and in the other they did needlework including embroidering table cloths. Yes, we couldn't resist the sales pitch.

A busy family in a merchant's house - everything pictured is
for sale (I bet you could even buy the fan!)

Burned shop house - out of view, lots of spectators.

Not on the official tour was gazing at a  burned out shop house. I asked our guide about fires, a common occurrence in Bhutan. That day Hoi An's old town had its first fire in over 40 years. A more common disaster are floods. Doug noted that  many restaurants have their kitchens on the 2nd floor - he hypothesized that they avoid damage if the 1st floor is flooded out. We saw a trap door on the 2nd floor of one of the merchant's houses so furnitiure from the first floor could be hoisted up.

The Tourist Office sponsors a cultural show at the Handicraft Workshop - a pleasant pause in the middle of a hot afternoon. (As we travel around SE Asia comparisons are inevitable - in this case the Saung Angklung Udjo performance in Bandung was the best cultural performance we have seen thus far.)
Playing traditional instruments
Dancers telling a folk tall, with lots of miming

The Tourist Office sponsor night time activities and events in the old town. We enjoyed watching this traditional game. Members of the audience pay (of course), put on a mask, take a mallet, aim for the pots, and take a swing to break the pot. Ir was harder than it looked - we saw a lot of people striking empty air.

Upper right & left pots that we the targets. Note
broken pots on ground, the sign that some people win

Mask on and ready to walk and strike

A last image of Hoi An. This woman in Hoi An's market sold us Nuoc Mam. She could speak English, so another stall owner came over to help out. We were struck by how women dominated Hoi An's economy - they ran the markets and shops.

We spent two full days in Hoi An, which was not enough time to take interesting tours or visit the beach. The hotel had brochures for tours that we will consider in the future. (The hotel Hai Au was a good source of travel advice, we assume the brochures reflected their commitment to tourists having a good experience.) Happy Days Bicycle Tours offered a range of tours that seemed to offer a closer look at village life. Hoi An Photo Tour is probably one we should follow up on to learn how to use the various features of our camera and to add to the types of pictures we take.

No comments:

Post a Comment