Sights in Hoi An, Vietnam

One of the benefits of the Long Life Hotel is that they offer a very reasonably priced car service. Of course the driver doesn’t speak much English, but if you just want a ride out to the Cham ruins of My Son, about an hour each way, at $20US it’s a good deal. According to the guide book tours run $10 per person. The other advantage to taking a private car is you can get there before the tour buses and have the small ruin site practically to yourself.

We left the hotel at 7:30AM (The ruins open at 6:30) Like all the trips we’ve taken here the drive is long and slow, passing through small towns and along rice and corn fields. The young rice plants are a brilliant green on this overcast morning. The driver constantly honks his horn as he moves past the motorbikes, bicycles and the occasional cow. Rural Vietnam is poor, but the faded brightly painted buildings surrounded by tropical plants and small vegetable gardens somehow cheers what would otherwise be a bleak setting.

My Son is an Unesco Heritage site set in a jungle valley. This was a holy site of the Champ Kingdom with most of the structures built between the seventh and thirteenth centuries.  Although the grounds seem large when we first entered the gate, the site is really quite small. It takes about an hour to walk the circuit at a leisurely pace. Some say that the trip out here is not worth it. Angkor Wat it is not. But since I’ve not seen Angkor Wat I don’t make that comparison.

It’s a pretty, cool morning with fog clinging to surrounding low hills, the ideal weather for exploring the ruins. Group B and C are the only ruins that are really intact enough to be of interest as the site was heavily damaged during the Vietnam War. In fact the guide book warns not to stray too far from the main paths as there still could be unexploded mines around.

Elephant Relief

The dark-red brick structures with faint carvings of figures and other decorative motifs are quite impressive in the lush jungle setting. With the plant life trying to reclaim its ground you can imagine the work it took to uncover the edifices.

By the time we complete the circuit (just before 10:00AM) the parking lot is jammed with tour buses and more buses are filing in on the narrow road that leads to the main entrance. Still more visitors are on foot. Packed with people the ruins won’t be the same for them.

Back in Hoi An we went back to Morning Glory for a light lunch. Tried their crispy pancake and two types of noodles, cao lau, a local specialty, and mi quang with seafood. The crispy pancakes are indeed a crispy version of a dense crepe. Served with bean sprout and a dipping sauce, they are rolled with greens in rice paper. Much better than the ones we tasted at the Mekong rest stop. Both bowls of noodles were tasty and small. (Really meant to be an appetizer rather than a main dish.) The cao lau is made with a local brown thick noodle served with slices of roasted pork in a flavorful broth. Yesterday Linh told us that the secret recipe to make this brown noodle is guarded by two local families. The mi quang noodles were served with a couple pieces of shrimp and crab in what tasted like a fish stock enriched with coconut milk. A lovely lunch overlooking the street from the balcony of the second floor of the restaurant.

After lunch we spent the afternoon taking in some of the local sights and doing some required shopping. I’m not a shopper, but sometimes it is necessary. Thankfully we found a fair-trade shop called Reaching Out just across from the restaurant. They employ disabled craftsmen to make the products who you can see working in the workshops of the store gallery. The crafts, jewelry, lacquer ware, ceramics, carved horn, and soft goods are well done and tasteful.

As an old trading port Hoi An has a number of Chinese merchant houses and Assembly Halls to visit. One tiny home was a showcase for an old collection of family ceramics. Another was filled with dark mahogany furniture inlayed with mother of pearl. Most remarkable are the years marked on the living room walls noting flood levels. Living so close the river homes were expected to flood. The furniture was simply moved upstairs.

Dinner was at a restaurant recommended by Stephan from our bike trip in the Mekong Delta. Doa Tien is a hospitalities teaching establishment that serves a broad range of dishes in an open-air old colonial dining room. The servers are friendly and eager to please. We enjoyed most of the dishes we tasted. This was our third time ordering white rose, a seafood dumpling in a manioc dough. Their version was the most flavorful with the fried onion and garlic garnish still crunchy. The noodle with bok choy was good but nothing special. The mackerel, Don’s new favorite fish, (Don has always been a fan of mackerel but we learned at the market yesterday that there is a larger mackerel that has a slightly milder flavor) tasty in a mild mustard sauce was slightly overcook. The steam duck, however, was a disaster. Of course who would order something called steamed duck? I can’t imagine that steaming is the best way to cook a duck and now I know it is not, soggy skin and tough meat.  Overall a good but not great restaurant made more entertaining by the enthusiastic servers.

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