Sunday, December 6, 2009

Primitive Vehicle Users Only.

The Archaeological history of the places we are visiting is something that I am finding most fulfilling. At Quy Nhon we saw the wonderful Cham sites that were fairly unvisited yet largely restored. This makes sense as the Vietnamese people take great pride in their history. We were heading to Hoi An next and this promised to be interesting for it’s great old city centre and for the ruin that lie outside the city in a site called My Son (pronounced Me Sun).

We climbed on the train and travelled to Hoi An via Danang on a soft seat in air conditioning this time. This wasn’t by choice, the hard seat wasn’t available at the time we wanted to travel. It was only an extra 40,000 Dong so we were complaining. Surprisingly, we were again, the only westerners on the train. This is fun because we get to be the only ones immersed in with the locals. At the same time though we are getting to the stage where we want to meet some people who speak English and are in the same backpacker boat as us.

We decided that in Hoi An we’d make more of an effort to meet and hang out with backpackers and with that in mind our driver and his sister (who was in the front seat) talked us into staying at the An Phu hotel in Hoi An. The place was a cool old building that had been turned into a hotel. We walked in and were shown a few rooms and after picking one of the cheaper ones with a private balcony we settled in. There was something a bit creepy about the hotel though and over the course of the first day we saw bats, rats and cockroaches. Granted the roaches are pretty common in SE Asia, but the bat flying in the hallway and the number of large rats I saw gave me pause. We were there now though and we were only staying 3 nights so I decided to stick it out.

We headed into town which was just down the road from the hotel (which was another reason to forgive them the animals). The centre of Hoi An is like the South East Asia that we had read about in old novels and see in old movies but just doesn’t really exist anymore. After walking down the first street we quickly realised that tailors were the main enterprise in Hoi An. One after the other the tailors line the streets with mannequins out the front clothed in their designs and even more hanging from every conceivable location inside the stores walls and from the roof. With much bemusement and a chorus of “come in sir/madam, see my store” or “you want a new suit, I make for you 12 hours” we headed towards the river and grabbed an early dinner at a cute little restaurant called cordon blue.

I’d like to note that I am enjoying the fact that we are finally in a part of Vietnam where you don’t have to search to find Pho Bo (pronounced fo ba, or at least that‘s how it pronounced here). I’ve been told that it’s more of a dish from northern Vietnam so I look forward to eating more of the fabulous beef noodle soup in future.

We were treated to a sunset like nothing else we’ve seen so far I think. The strong pinks and oranges were breathtaking and the view from one of the bridges with it setting over the old city just reinforces all of the old SE Asia images you didn’t even know you had. Walking around the city at night is just beautiful and at night there seems to be a rule where no motorbikes are allowed to be ridden. This means that you can walk around in the middle of the street with just push bikes around you and everyone is dressed beautifully.

We later found out that another rule for locals states that in the old city ladies must be dressed either in traditional attire or at least in clothes that covers them up conservatively. No one seemed to bothered with it though and it really did add to the relaxed feel of the city centre. In the end we made it an early night and headed back to the hotel for a drink. It was at this point that we saw our first huge rat and a bat flying through the hotel.

We headed out the next morning with an aim to get me an outfit for Laura and Headly’s wedding in Austria. Thanks to our exploration last night we were able to narrow down the areas we saw that looked like they had nice clothes shops. We headed into the city centre and after wandering around and seeing all the outfits that everyone had out, I hadn’t seen too much that I was hanging out for. I liked some of the Chinese style tops and there were lots of winter jackets, but nothing that screamed out that it was what I wanted…or needed. Drew finally suggested a tailor that had some beautiful jackets.

It was just inside the door that I found a lovely knee length jacket in a forest green that did up on an angle and had a really cute neckline. This was my first time buying anything to be made and I was worried that the price would be more that we could budget, in the end the lady said $37 US and agreed to make it up in a dark red with cute black buttons. She also threw in a think extra lining for free and said to come back the next day to check it. This was amazing!

We headed off to be inspired by something else for the wedding and finally found a shop that didn’t look quite as nice but had some great examples in the windows. In the end we settled on Thai Silk, also in red. We came up with a nice design and then after some consideration I agreed to get a suit jacket to go with it that could double for work when we got to England. I looked and looked with the girls for a design for the jacket, but could only find a few parts that I really liked. In the end I picked some parts from other jackets and designed a cute pleated part at the back that I had dreamed up myself. I was a bit nervous, but in the end with the Thai Silk outfit and the suit jacket was $59 US. Pretty nice if I do say so myself.

With all the outfits I could possibly need ordered, Drew and I headed back to the hotel and rented a motorbike and headed down to the beach. I wasn’t really in the mood to swim so I paid 10,000 Dong and rented a sun bed. The beach is under reconstruction after a large typhoon which wiped most of the beach out. It’s being rebuilt by moving sand down to the shore and planting big palm trees to try to stop the sea washing away. The water was nice, but the waves were mainly dumpers and the rips were really strong. In the end it got overcast and cold so we headed back to the hotel and then headed to a second hand bookstore.

It was run by an American expat who stocked some romance novels!! Finally. I ended up buying the 3rd in the Clan of the Cave Bear series, the first in the Mercy Thompson series and a Susan Elizabeth Philips book called Ain’t She Sweet. I got a discount because we ended up swapping them for some of the books that we’d finished. We then dropped the motorbike off and headed out to dinner at a place we’d seen the night before called the Before and Now bar. It ended up giving us one of the best Western meals this far. The Brusetta was lovely and I had a spag boll that was fantastic. We wandered to a bar and had some drinks and played some pool and then headed home to bed.

The second full day in Hoi An we headed out on a tour to see My Son (pronounced Me Sun) which is one of the most extensive Cham sites in Vietnam. The bus was a really dodgy tour that gave us a bus with a hole in the floor, but it was cheap at $6 so we didn’t complain. My Son was meant to be one of the main capitals of the Cham culture that migrated from Indonesia many many 100’s of years ago. We got a ride from the gate up to the walking trail in old American Army jeeps. We had an a very enthusiastic explanation of the site from our guide and then headed up the track to the first site.

The site is extensively damaged and you can still see the bomb craters. The site is intriguing to Archaeologists because the bricks that make up the towers and rooms you go into are not held together by any visible cement or glue. The most recent suggestion says that they were held together by honey and some other ingredient from the forest. The site is quite overgrown and the parts that have been cleared are beautiful, but the extent of the damage is devastating. The buildings that remain have had a lot of work and there is still work going on with the help of UNESCO.

The buildings are a light brown stone and are all dedicated to a Hindu god. There were some intriguing stone alters that I would suggest would be sacrificial stones that were the same as some we’d seen at Angkor. The guide on our tour that we were only following and listening to occasionally finally confirmed my theory, though in Angkor they swore it wasn’t for sacrifice but they couldn’t tell me what it was for.

Site A at My Son was clearly at one time the centre piece for the culture. It would have been huge if the dimensions of the destroyed portions of the part that remains is an indication. It would have had a temple that was easily three or four times the size of the other temple we had seen at another part of the site. The floor plan looked like it would have been similar and the carvings that remain on the base were of a similar style to the other existing temple. This is one of the sad losses in the war with America, they had bombed this site and when they couldn’t destroy it they sent a helicopter in to hover over it and blast it till there was nothing left.

The VC never occupied the site during the war and the USA only destroyed it to make sure they couldn’t occupy it in future or for some twisted psychological reasons. After looking at some more destroyed temples and some bomb craters where temples were, we headed back to the bus and then got transferred to a boat for lunch and a cruise down the river back to Hoi An. We stopped by an artists village and watched some amazing wood workers creating wonderful things.

When we arrived back in Hoi An we went to the coat shop called 'Na Na' first. The jacket was beautiful and fit me perfectly first time. With many thanks and a spring in my step we headed to the next tailor to pick up my jacket and silk outfit. The jacket was perfect and the skirt was lovely, but it needed a little tightening. The top was nice, but sadly was nothing like what I thought I’d asked for. In the end they said they’d remake the outfit to be what I wanted and the jacket was so lovely that I ended up getting a work skirt to match, we agreed to head back there in four hours and pick it all up.

We ended up renting a motorbike and heading to the beach again. The weather was a little warmer so I decided to go for a swim with Drew, sadly it was still dumping and had a strong rip so I didn’t stay in long. We headed back into town and picked up my clothes that were all fixed and fitted perfectly and I dropped some clothes off that needed to be taken in, we were told to come back in about 2 hours. We then we headed out to dinner at the Before and Now bar again. The last time we ate upstairs in the restaurant and this time we decided to eat in the more relaxed bar. It was just as good as the first night. We just needed a few good comfort meals to allow us to continue on our way.

On the way back from the restaurant we walked past a cute skirt, I decided to try it on, it was a little too tight and the girl agreed to let it out a little. As it was already 9pm she said she’d drop it at our hotel reception for me, after she was finished. Then we picked up the pants I was getting taken in from the tailor which was the shop next to the hotel. We headed out to have a drink at a bar around the corner from the hotel called the "Why Not?" bar. This is not the only 'Why Not' bar we’ve seen, but they don’t have anything in common. (Well... Other than booze -Drew)

We had some drinks and started talking to the people in the bar, there were people from France, Canada, Germany, a fat guy from Russia that knew no English and a few Aussie’s. We drank and chatted for hours until we found the bar closing. We then got "free shuttle" to a place called the "Last Stand Bar". The 'free shuttle' was three to a motorbike so a girl I’d just met and I climbed on the back in the rain and headed for the bar located just over the short bridge from old town on Cham island.

It was a great night fun and the next time I checked my watch it was 3am. We were catching a bus at 7am and I hadn’t even gone to bed yet. I left Drew at the bar and headed home on a motorbike taxi and after picking up my package of clothes from reception, I headed to bed. I hoped Drew would come back before the bus left for Hue in the morning…

Note: At this point we are about a week or so behind in our blog posts after travelling to Hue, then to Hanoi were we took a tour to HaLong Bay and have just returned to Hanoi from a tour to Sapa. Later today we take a bus to Laos and we have a bit of time near the internet to hopefully catch up, Facebook is still not working so hopefully we'll upload a bunch of photos when we get to Vientiene in Laos.