The bus ride to Hoi An was about 5 hours and for me enjoyable. After being in the north, here was suddenly the vision
of Vietnam most of us have in our head. Jagged green mountains and terraces of sprouting rice. We went through Denang but like most
tourists I was more focused on getting on to Hoi An, 40 more Km down the coast. I later meet a couple who had liked Denang so much that they
spent almost a week there. Seems that although it is not so quaint like Hoi An but it has grown into a major city with a lot of cultural things happening.
I eventually found a reasonable room but it was rather expensive compared to the ones I had had until then. Problem was that Hoi An has become
one of the most popular destinations for Tet which drives up the prices. I eventually rented a bike for a couple of days but my hotel
was close enough that I could easily walk to the center. Much of the preserved old quarter runs along the river and this bridge is pretty much the central
icon of it all.
The riverfront on the other side was also one restaurant after another and had the best views to watch life go by.
It was a beautiful setting with the old houses and boats and they seemed to remove the garbage so there were no bad
smells nor any mosquitos this time of year.
There were a few boats that were floating restaurants but most were simple fishing vessels.
There was a small creek running into the river a few hundred meters from the main bridge with
another bridge over it called the Japanese bridge. It was a covered bridge and very ornate with some religious shrines inside.
The entrance to the Japanese bridge.
The street parallel to the waterfront had a lot of shops and everywhere one saw paper lanterns which were popular souvenirs
for the many Vietnamese tourists and I even saw places offering courses in lantern making.
The next 2 photos show typical examples of the 2 predominate style of architecture. Hoi An was once a center of trade with
many Japanese and Chinese merchants who used many of these buildings are warehouses as well as living quarters. The Japanese eventually stopped
coming as their country closed to the outside world but the Chinese continued to play a major role in the local economy. There are many temples and big houses
that were the meeting places of different Chinese society groups.
One of the most interesting buildings was this old pharmacy.
Inside were many old containers for traditional medicines and scrolls that I assume has something to do with medicine.
I suspect that the local lanterns were like the red flags I saw in the north, a common decoration that is even more seen
during holiday time.
Normally one has to pay for a ticket to see the temples and the old houses open to the public but there was free entrance for
everyone for the main days of Tet.
The next few photos are just a few of various temples which came in all sizes.
Going upwards along the river, there were displays and booths, stages and tents set up for the Tet festivities, which really
got going in the evening.
Party time meant lots of extra food vendors on the streets.
Many of the festival displays had a nationalistic theme suggesting protection of the father land. In the front of this
one is also a horse figure that was the main symbol represented since it was the start of the lunar year of the horse. I heard no mention
of the Chinese influence in connection with the Tet holidays but they share the same 12 animals as symbols of the zodiac with the exception that the
rabbit in China is substituted by the cat in Vietnam. It has been theorized hat cats were simply not so wide spread in China as in Vietnam when these
systems were developed.
There were plenty of games of chance; at least some I saw were not intended for small kids I presume since the prize was a can of
beer rather than a stuffed animal. But like in much of Asia, the superstition of luck is an important one even to the point where an odd number of
people in a photo is unlucky. I had a number of young people in Hoi An that wanted to take a picture with me and now I have to wonder if it
actually had more to do with evening out the number rather than being amused at the foreigner.
I took a long bike ride up river going through a village that was supposed to be famous for its ceramics but I never saw any.
I did see the next 2 signs along the way that follow the tradition of and style of propaganda posters during the war.
This one seemed to be a public service announcement to discourage the use of plastic bags. The over usage of plastic
seems to have gone hand in hand with the idea of modern technology and sanitary precautions. Now people around the world have to learn that
not everything modern is an improvement.
Rice fields and An Bang Beach
I spent parts of 2 days of my 4 days in Hoi An at An Bang Beach, which was a flat 4 kilometer bike ride. Along the way I
had my first opportunity to take the clichéd tourist photo of Vietnam; people working in the rice paddies. I had seen some such scenes by Sapa
in the north - only there wasn't any rice growing yet.
And yes, Vietnam does grow an abundance of rice and good rice at that.
Okay, not a great shot and not so sharp as i had to crop it a lot but there you go, buffalo in the rice paddies!
The beach was nice; it ran on for tens of kilometers and at least in front of the restaurants was mostly garbage free.
Hardly anyone went in the water while I was there but I am not sure why. It might have been a little cool but not too cold to swim but I simply
felt like chilling out on land never got around to going in myself. I was thinking that I would have plenty of opportunities to swim further south
in Nha Trang and Mui Ne but at the time I didn't appreciate how pleasant and relaxing this beach really was.
There were a few souvenir sellers and
women offering massage but not to the point of being annoying. I think one got charged a dollar or two to use the lounge chairs under the grass
umbrellas but one could use them for free if you bought a meal.
I was surprised that the food I had here was very good and not more expensive than most places in town. When one
arrives by bike, they virtually force you to dismount and park and then charge you. No one collected when I left my bike but then they demanded
money when I left and couldn't produce a stub. They asked for something like 3 dollars but I gave them 1 with a smile and they accepted it.
The next day I parked a hundred meters or so before I got to the end of the road to avoid the hassle.
There were many of these round boats that one sees all over Vietnam. Many seemed to be fiberglass but all of the ones here
were woven natural materials like a big flat basket. Often used just to cross a river, they actually used these to fish in the open sea. They are
propelled with just one oar that is pushed side to side behind like the tail of a fish rather than lifted out of the water like a canoe or row boat.
Cam Kim Island
There was a delta by Hoi An and a constant flow of small ferries docked by the market near the center. They took passengers and
many motorbikes to Cam Kim Island which was about a 15 minute ride. I made the smart decision to take a bicycle with me and spent about 3 or 4
hours riding all over. There were small communities and single houses a midst the fields and farms on the totally cultivate island. It is
irregularly shaped and the sometimes unpaved roads were rarely straight and often dead ended. I was semi-lost half of the time but knew it
was big enough to get too far off the beaten track. What was surprising was the reaction of the people when I rode by. Hoi An is just a short boat
ride away and one of the most visited places in the country and here the people acted like they had hardly ever seen a foreigner.
There seemed to be another temple every 500 meters, some of them fairly big but many were tiny but elaborately cared for.
Mostly it was farms; plenty of veggies and even corn but a good amount of rice paddies as well.
I'm not sure what this place was, a community center or what. It was not a temple but they had lots of traditional decoration
and a stage set up for the Tet festivities and some musicians playing traditional instruments.
This was something I saw in even larger urban settings, a gas pump for the motorbikes which is wheeled out in front of
a shop. I read somewhere that they are not recommended because of the risk of water or other impurities but in many places there is no
big gas station and probably not the economic incentive to build one.
I booked a bus through my hotel in Hoi An to Nha Trang leaving in the early evening arriving about 5 am in the morning. It was
a sleeper seat where one could stretch out horizontally but the places were on two levels and then in addition they put some people on the floor. There
was a bathroom on board but one had no chance to step over the people in the small passages to get there. Luckily they made a late night stop
to eat that I used to hit the facilities. I avoided drinking anything on this and most of my other bus trips, possibly getting a bit dehydrated but
avoiding having to deal with onboard toilets.