Sun + Sand + Sea = Happy Nick...
04.10.2013 - 07.10.2013
The bus from Hue was only about 4 hours and very straightforward. As usual when we arrived at the bus station there was the usual crowd of touts selling their services, although this now also included having a suit made (Hoi An is famed for it's abundance of tailors - some more skilled than others apparently). Avoiding them as usual we walked the 20 minutes (in baking heat) to the Vaia Boutique Hotel http://vaiahotel.com and for the second time thought we had arrived at the wrong place - it was stunning and right up Nick and my street!
After a quick shower we walked the 5 minutes into the centre of Hoi An which is a Unesco World Heritage Site with it's wooden buildings, ornate temples and it's famous Japanese Covered Bridge. The town is so picturesque although, thanks to the typhoon the previous day, partially flooded..
There is nothing higher than 2 stories in the centre with some of the streets being pedestrianised and being set along the banks of the Thu Bon River. The pace of life here is so much slower than up in Ha Noi so we spent the afternoon mooching around, looking in shops, the huge central market selling all sorts of exotic fruits and vegetables (and everything else you can imagine) and even bumped into our old friend Teresa!
We knew that Teresa and Corina would be in town when we left them in Ha Noi so had already arranged to meet up that evening at a restaurant the British guys on our Ha Long Bay tour had recommended; The White Marble http://www.visithoian.com/whitemarble/ which had fantastic reviews. It was a little pricier than we would normally pay, but we all decided to treat ourselves, sharing a couple of set menus. The reviews were right, the food was amazing and we spent the evening catching up and chatting until we were the last ones in the restaurant! We said our goodbyes agreeing to meet up when we all reached Ho Chi Minh if the timings worked out.
After a great night sleep in our queen sized bed, we were up early to be collected for our half day tour to Mỹ Sơn (another Unesco World Heritage site!). These Hindu temples pre date Angkor Wat (the largest temple everyone knows) but were still part of the Champa Dynasty which at it's height covered area's of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. These temples were constructed in the 4th century and abandoned in the early 14th century for reasons unknown, it may have been decease, living in the jungle, climate change or even war. Over the centuries the jungle reclaimed the land covering most of the temples, so they were all but forgotten until French scholars discovered them in the 1930's and soon started to restore them. However when the American's carpet bombed North Vietnam during the American War in the 60's they were greatly damaged. Today you can still see bomb craters and there are a large amount of unexploded bombs in the area killing locals daily.
I think for me the most amazing thing is there construction. The older ones dating back to the 4th century were made completely out of brick but they used no mortar and are still standing 12 centuries later with no moss or major decay. This technology must have been lost as when new temples were built or additions made these bricks are noticeably different with thick coverings of moss or discolouration - very interesting!. Scientist still don't know how the bricks were made and are currently studying them. The very late temples were constructed from stone from a quarry up in the mountains a good distance away. It's fascinating to think while in the UK we were building medieval castles with hardly any detail, here they were building beautiful ornately carved temples using technologies we would take a centuries to discover.
We explored the ruins in the heat and humidity of the jungle for another couple of hours (even bumping into Teresa and Corina!) before taking the mini bus back to Hoi An. Sadly we then had to spend an hour or so sorting out our onward travel arrangements and how we would get to Ho Chi Minh. We opted for another nights stay in Hoi An to make the most of gorgeous weather (unusual as this part of the country was supposed to be well into it's wet season!) and opted for a flight down south, rather than the gruelling 18 hour bus ride.
Boring stuff done, we picked up some free bikes from our hotel and set off for the 2km ride to An Bang Beach for a bit of rest and relaxation in the sunshine. This was so much fun cycling along on the rural roads with very little traffic until we reached our destination about 25 minutes later.
After a couple of hours we decided we should make the trip back before it got dark (having no lights or helmets - or street lights!). As we cycled back the sun was setting into the rice fields where water buffalo were grazing so we could not resist staying to watch - simply stunning!
Instead of cycling straight back to the hotel we went to the riverfront as there are lots of street food options and had a delicious meal sat next the river watching candle lit paper lanterns float by.
Our final day in Hoi An was a lazy one! We got bikes again and cycled back to the beach where we spent most of the day soaking up more sunshine. That night we ate at another really nice restaurant called The Blue Dragon which was really well priced and donates part of it's takings to support under-privalidged children throughout Vietnam - ethical and yummy!
Sadly though it was an early night to pack and get ready for our flight to Ho Chi Minh the next day...