We arrived in Hoi An and all I knew is that we were there for 3 nights so I could unpack and sort myself out. I have to admit that I had not done too much research on the area, I just wanted to go with the flow.
It is about 100 miles from Hue but it is much more laid back with the river winding through it, an old trading post dating from 15th – 19th century lined with multi coloured shophouses and merchant trading premises. It is busy and touristy, with evening bringing busy shop stalls and street food carts, but I did find a gentle charm during the day just strolling past the buildings, some of which have been preserved so you can get some of that lovely french/chinese/portuguese vibe. You can also get clothes, shoes and eye glasses made at a fraction of the price and in 24-36 hours – a shoppers paradise.
As the area is very fertile and rural, it is known for agriculture and fruit and vegetable production. The first day was a visit to Tra Que Village, a cooperative farming area that families have tended to for generations, where we learnt about the traditional farming methods and how agriculture still works in the rural area. It is a large area of working allotments and the families grow fruit and veg for themselves and to take to market, using traditional methods.
We were also encouraged to have a go at helping out! Not sure how much of it was for a tourist show and how much actually goes to market but it was a very nice, calm and quiet space which was a welcome break from all the full on hustle of the urban areas.
We then had a cookery lesson from a chef who we were told, was a world renowned chef, actually he was so entertaining! We all had a great amount of fun watching him and then we cooked traditional Vietnamese pancakes with him which was really entertaining! It was a strange experience as we planted some traditional plants, had a foot massage and then a cookery lesson?!
The town is also trying to be green, vehicles are banned from the centre and taxi’s are run on electricity. Having said that, the highlight of the stay was a Vespa food tour of the best authentic food places. There were 15 of us paired with a Vespa driver taking us through the area, making stops at different eating places to try the local specialities. As pictures are worth a thousand words, there are lots on this page as anything that I could write would not do the trip justice.
We tasted traditional flower dumplings, hot pot, pancakes and of course some local rice wine – let’s just say that some preferred it to others. It was the best fun and I think that I can safely say, the highlight of the trip for alot of us, being on the back of a bike, experiencing the town from a different perspective and then being able to place a lit candle on the river and make a wish whilst watching it float downstream. I would say it was nice to feel the wind in your hair but we had to wear helmets, the locals hate wearing them as, in their words, they are f**king hot!!
The last day I just wandered around, yet another foot massage and more food. In the afternoon, there was an excursion to a place which was supposed to be a great example of Vietnamese architecture, to see the great Golden Bridge and some stunning countryside.
Ba Na Hills is billed as the most important mountain top resort complex and was first developed by the French in 1919 to provide respite from the intense heat. When the French left, it fell to ruin and then the Vietnamese government allowed Sun World to develop it. It now has a cable car (the longest non stop track cable car) a french village complete with castle and a miniature Notre Dame, wax work museum, rollercoaster and gaming arcade – all at 1500m above sea level.. Its like Disneyland on speed and the most bizarre experience!
The Golden Bridge is a wide span bridge supported by two giant hands and I get that it is a great bit of engineering so high up in the hills but that is all – I wish I had not wasted the $110! It was very surreal, the weather was not great and it was misty which gave it a abit of an empty movie set type of feel and the Chinese seem to really like it. The Vietnamese are very proud of it and think that is the best thing since sliced bread! I just found the large pigs and fairytale characters a bit on the spooky side. But I will agree that it’s great engineering infrastructure.
Dinner was an international buffet (not!), with an Eastern European band playing old 70’s disco music for entertainment….. yes, you read correctly.
Again, the pictures will explain better than I………. I think also that I was not looking forward to the 3.30am wake up call for the 7am flight to Saigon..!!