- Travel Topics
With comments by Dave in Bold/Italic
We had heard from many friends that Hue had been a real charmer in Vietnam (they are no longer our friends), yet when we got there we somehow missed it. Sure it was an interesting little city, but we stayed for two days and felt we got the gist of it.
Hoi An on the other hand is the city that truly impressed me. This is where all the charm is. European architecture is rampant. As we walked around the old town and admired the neat yellow houses with their balconies and awnings I honestly couldn’t believe we were still in Vietnam. But with the addition of the palm trees, the beach, and the tropical weather this obviously wasn’t Europe either. Hoi An it’s a really must see place in Vietnam. If you are thinking about booking a hotel in Hoi An, do it! You won’t regret visiting this wonderful city and it’s a definite must see while in Vietnam.
It was a fusion of the two to say the least. And I loved it (so did I). I could have wandered around for days, slowly taking in every side street and every alley until I had the whole city locked in my memory.
Not for Dave though. If all the streets look similar he only needs to see just one (see one seen them all I always say). So we compromised on about twenty.
As you enter the old town you can buy a $6 admission ticket, which lets you into six historical sites (ranging from museums, to temples, to workshops). Sadly, most of the sites leave much to be desired and if not for the 3pm musical performance we happened to find, I can’t say I’d recommend the ticket.
The town can be experienced just as well by roaming the streets and sampling the local food delights – white rose dumplings, cau lao, and fried wontons.
Since the underlying theme of our trip to Vietnam has been tours, we signed up for yet another tour in Hoi An. A free tour that is (my favorite kind). Led by university students aiming to improve their English (you can see where this is going…). We were a group of 7, us, a Serbian couple on their honeymoon and our 3 Vietnamese guides (walked into a bar…). Riding bicycles, we made our way to the pier for a short ferry ride over to the local island. No tourists over there.
Instead of the usual tour around the historic sites, this was more of a tour of locals’ daily activities and work, and sometimes this really is the best thing to see. Let’s face it, we’re curious creatures (or at least I am) and it’s always fascinating to me to see how things are made. As a child I had multiple editions of the big book of how and why, but trust me learning by seeing is even more rewarding.
Our first stop on the tour was to see how boats are made on the island. Can you believe they drop entire tree logs into the water for an entire year in order to improve the quality and durability of the wood? Each boat has an eye painted on the front to keep away sea monsters, as there was the belief that these sea creatures would sink boats in the past (a belief that I still hold).
From there we biked over to the wood carving workshop where we got to see the master and his apprentices at work. It’s incredible what one man can do with just a chisel and hammer.
As a light sprinkling of rain came on, it was the perfect time to escape into an ancient local temple. Instead of modern day Vietnamese, the carving on the temple walls were made in the ancient Vietnamese language, resembling Chinese characters.
My favorite part of the tour was coming up next – the rice noodle making shop. If you know me at all you know I love food, and watching food being made or grown is almost as rewarding as eating it yourself (except not). Having the chance to see the rice batter spread onto the skillet, flipped over, dried on a bamboo mat and then run through the pasta machine or manually cut by hand to make the noodles was particularly exciting (yawn).
This got even better when I was allowed to even try making them myself! Without proper practice though I screwed up the flipping of the rice wrapper and instead of laying it flat on the bamboo mat mine curled up all over itself. Not as easy as it looks I tell you (actually I think it was)!
Since the finished noodle only sells for $1 per kilogram, you can imagine how much they need to make in one day.
Next, Dave got a chance to show off his skills at the mat making shop. As we entered we saw two women working quickly and precisely to make one mat. The process is that you hook a piece of straw onto a long wooden rod and then pull the rod through the string to the other end, at which point the other woman compresses it together with the other straw. Looks simple enough, yet Dave had quite a lot of trouble doing it at the same speed as the women (actually it doesn’t look that simple and is pretty hard). It takes them 1-2 hours to make one mat – though I’m sure it would have taken Dave all day at the rate he was going (scratch one career off).
Can you tell I get fascinated pretty easily?
We finished off the tour biking past rice paddies, farm animals and palm trees. Overall we had a great time and would highly recommend this tour for those more interested in getting a real feel for local village life.
We only spent 2 days in Hoi An but with the charm of the old time, the local island, and the beach a short bike ride away I would have been happy to stay longer.