Nha Trang & Hoi An
03.08.2012 - 03.16.2012 90 °F
In our last blog, we left you Mui Ne which was a taste of a slow life in paradise. We spent our time reading, writing, and getting a base tan ~ happy to relax with few options to do otherwise. We left that slow, quaint life for Nha Trang. Lonely Planet described Nha Trang as, "The beachfront has been given a huge makeover in recent years, with parks and sculpture gardens spread along the shorefront, although by night it still reverts to a bit of a circus with motorbike drivers doubling as pimps and dealers, and kamikaze hookers hoping to relieve drunken tourists of their remaining dong." One must ask themselves, "Nice beach, pimps, and kamikaze hookers... What more can you ask for?!?!" We were sold so we took a 6 hour bus ride up the coast to Nha Trang. We've heard such horror stories about scams and robberies on buses so we were a bit apprehensive. Lucky for us, we got on a POS bus with tons of garbage on it, it brought to the middle of an extremely poor area with nothing in it, and we were told our bus was broken and a new one would come shortly. We stood for about 30 minutes in 100* weather, hoping we did not get duped. Thankfully, a better working bus soon came and trucked us to our destination. Following suit with all our arrivals so far, when the bus pulled up to it's destination we were swarmed by taxi, motorbike, and cyclo drivers pushing us, begging us, and being obnoxious. At this point we were 10 day veterans, we couldn't be fooled so we picked up our packs and headed to "budget alley" in search of a hotel. All the hotels were $10 and we visited quite a few options. Joe was dying in 100% humidity, my hair looked like Simba's mane, and we negotiated ourselves an $8 room so finally we dropped our bags in a crappy "prison cell" and went to bed. The next morning, we woke up early and went out to find a better place to stay. We found the perfect place called Forget Me Not, providing clean, big rooms, full of natural light, and the sweetest couple owning it ~ all for the grand price of $9.50. We settled in and headed to the beach.
We spent the next few days enjoying the beach. Each day, we rented a beach chair under a tiki hut for $1.50, ate fresh fruit cut up for us right on the beach, and looked out upon a beautiful blue ocean spotted with gorgeous, mountainous islands. At night, we spent hours walking around taking in the city full of cute restaurants, cafes, and and bars. We had some of the best food we've had since coming to Asia! Joe was in heaven! We really loved Nha Trang. It offered a city lifestyle that came with it's own attitude and personality which contrasted nicely with the blissful beach. It was perfect for us!
One afternoon, feeling a bit "well done" in the sun, we took a trip over to Long Son Pagoda. We had seen quite a few temples dotting all of the cities we've visited thus far but pagoda's are very different in Vietnam than what we were used to in Korea. This pagoda was built in the late 19th century but has been rebuilt several times since then. The entrance way and much of the decorative details to the buildings are constructed with glass and bits of ceramic tile creating beautiful mosaics. The Long Son Pagoda is also home to a huge, white Buddha that is visible from all over the city. Unfortunately, the pagoda wasn't well maintained, was overrun with beggars, and the Buddha was being renovated so we couldn't see it's base. That being said, it was a nice break from beach bumming and we got some good pictures!
For my birthday, I decided I wanted to veer away from the beach and head to historic Hoi An. This required us to take an 11 hour bus. We boarded the bus at 7:30 PM and it was a "sleeper bus". It was actually more comfortable than most of the hotels we've stayed in and it was definitely a novel experience. I have no doubt the novelty will wear off quick, as we have plenty of hours left to log on these buses.
Hoi An is a time warp back to Old Vietnam. Set on the Thu Bon River, Hoi An was once a major international port in Southeast Asia. Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Indian, Filipino, Indonesian, Thai, French, British, and American ships came to call here for the treasures of the Orient. Many of these treasures, such as silk, fabrics, porcelain, and paper, are still popular and prolific today. With these trading partnerships, each country left distinct architectural marks which have still been preserved today. In the late 19th century, the Thu Bon River silted up, preventing ships from reaching Hoi An's docks. Thanks to this, the city has been left almost completely unchanged. There are even strict rules today safeguarding the city's heritage and regulating any restoration work done within the confines of the city to ensure everything is done tastefully and keeps modernization within reason. There are even strict rules that govern the color houses can be painted and the signs that can be used. It's amazing to literally be walking amongst history that can date back to the 2nd century.
Within Hoi An's 23 square miles, there are anywhere from 300 to 500 tailors eager to make you clothes at record speed and for record low prices. You can bring in pictures of any dress, pants, jackets, shoes, anything you want and have it made for you ~ picking out the fabric and personalizing it completely for you. I saw a dress I liked hanging in a shop. I was measured and picked out a fabric before I even knew what was happening and it was made for me in less than 24 hours. I was amazed and loved my new dress!
Right outside of the heart of Old Town lies a beautiful beach and an abundance of incredible fields. I have a slight obsession with rice paddies. I just think they are so gorgeous. Our first day in Hoi An, we ended up spending about 10 hours walking around little neighborhoods, farms, fields, and the Old Town. It was great!
At night, along the river, lots of older women sell little paper boats with a candle in it that you send a wish down the river on. We found a real cute little boy helping his mom sell them. He was so absolutely adorable. A few minutes earlier someone walking down the street handed me a rose. I passed the rose on to the boy and he couldn't have been happier. He sang for us and just loved posing for pictures! He was such a cutie and made me miss my students so much!!!
Happy Birthday to Me!!!
As a birthday surprise, my amazing parents surprised me with a room that cost more than $15 at the Hoi An Beach Resort. It was the best surprise I could have asked for! We were treated to wonderfully white bed sheets, a comforter, big showers, and a beautiful river view room. My mom also heard from a "little bird" that I wanted to go to a cooking class and scheduled us a full day with the Red Bridge Cooking School. I was so excited!
How lucky am I?!?!?!?
Our sweet room and our view:
Cooking class was a lot of fun. First, we went to an organic herb village called Tra Que. It was really interesting to see how they grew the herbs. Everything is done by hand, there is no machinery used at all ~ not even to water the fields. We got to taste a lot of the herbs and picked out some things we would be using in our dishes for the day.
Next, we headed to the market to pick up the rest of what we would be cooking with. Asian markets never seem to stop amazing me. There is a constant chaos, yet everything remains so organized.
Our last stop was the cooking school. We were handed aprons and a class of wine at 10:30 AM and were told that we weren't prepared to cook until our first glass of wine was finished. We had a lot of fun throughout the day making our own rice noodles, an incredible five color salad, Joe did some Vietnamese BBQ'ing, and we cooked shrimp in banana leaves. We made four dishes that are signatures of Central Coast cuisine which is said to be the most complex in the country. We succeeded in class but don't ask us to do it again in America.... I'm not so sure our skills will travel with us!
At the end of class, our group sang me happy birthday with a candle in a pile of noodles!
Today we rented a motorbike and headed 45 kilometers outside Hoi An to Vietnam's most extensive collection of Cham ruins, My Son. Set in the middle of a jungle, overlooked by Cat's Tooth Mountain, these ruins provided for a great escape into nature. While you can join a tour to the ruins at just about every street corner, we opted to do it by ourselves and get to the grounds nice and early, allowing us to have the place to ourselves. Unfortunately, only 20 of the 68 original structures still stand. My Son was once an important intellectual and religious center and served as a burial ground for monarchs from the 4th to 12th centuries. Unfortunately, during the Vietnam War extensive carpet bombing covered most of this area of Vietnam, devastating the temples, among much more.
More than anything, we enjoyed our hour long motorbike ride out and back. We drove further and further into small towns and got to see some magnificent scenery. This was only our second time renting a motorbike but we are hoping by the time we finish traveling, we'll be expert motorbike drivers like true SE Asians. Then we can add ourselves to this shockingly impressive gallery.... ENJOY!!
If you'd like to see the rest of our Vietnam pictures, take a look here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.666055612372.2105750.32103399&type=1&l=0a58fe601c