Mr. G met us at our hotel first thin in the morning to ride together to the My Son sanctuary, a UNESCO heritage site owing its origins to Indian Hinduism. On our way there Silvia and I realised something mind-blowing: unlike any road we had travelled up to then, the way to My Son was clearly signalled by various road signs and we would have probably been able to easily find it by ourselves.
The very first thing we found once we arrived at My Son and parked our bikes was a map of the site. Perfect!
You can see from the picture below how it was carefully made, with some of the wording and drawings oriented properly and some randomly rotated by 90 degrees..
The site itself was very fascinating and luckily there were many trees to provide some shade as the day was extremely hot and the sun shining bright.
After spending two good hours wandering around the sanctuary we went back to the bar at the entrance of the site, by the parking space and had a coffee and a cigarette with Mr. G, he too tried our rolled tobacco cigarettes and like the other Vietnamese men who tried them did not seem particularly impressed. He rode with us back to Hoi An and then we parted ways: he went back to Hue and we decided to wander around the city with no specific plan. We headed South, towards the city centre and then along the river, until we found the market and decided to park our motorcycles and take a look around.
The market was significantly bigger than the one we saw in Thanh Toan the day before and many people were riding through it with their mopeds and bicycles.
At some point we smelled something delicious and saw two women grilling chicken skewers and decided to try some. We ordered a portion and sat at the tiny plastic tables laid out for the purpose. Once the food was ready one of the women came to show us how to eat what she had just made for us. She was really sweet and attentive and with her ridiculously dirty hands and extreme kindness she took the chicken off the skewer and rolled it in some rice paper with peanut sauce and raw vegetables (something that many recommend not to eat when visiting certain countries as they could have been washed with any water) for us.
I took the first one as I knew Silvia was screaming internally because of the hygiene conditions. We both thought the woman would have let us roll the next ones but she insisted and rolled Silvia’s first one too.
THEY WERE HEAVENLY! Straight into the top 4 meals of our trip, all the skewers/rolls were devoured in an instant. We had to endure a tough internal struggle not to buy more and quickly moved on to the rest of the market before our iron will power could crack to that delightful smell.
In a street just behind the market area we found the shop of a lantern maker. The lanterns are a symbol of Hoi An and finally we were able to see exactly how they were being made, using fabric, glue and pieces of flexible wood.
After our walk around the market area and our visit to the lantern maker we had a quick rest at the hotel and went back out for dinner and a walk around by the river, in the centre of the city. Again as the previous night the streets along the river were lit up by coloured lanterns and people’s voices, while the boats in the river were gently rolling, and silent hawkers -mainly old women- all around, were trying to sell the experience of lighting a small paper lantern and gently abandoning it into the river with a background music of speeding mopeds and bicycle bells.
We wandered around various “travel agencies” to get some information about sleeper buses and how and where to go next. Everyone was talking about Dalat, an amazing place, number 1 destination for honey moons in Vietnam so we decided to give that a try but there was no direct bus leading there as the city is off the coast, unlike all the places we’ve stopped in before. Eventually we bought tickets for the following day to Nha Trang and decided to ride to Dalat from there.
Towards the end of the night we were approached by two American young men that had started our same crazy plan and had bought two motorbikes. They had a problem (our same problem): not enough time to see everything and ride all the way down to Ho Chi Minh City (the old Saigon) and asked us for suggestions on how to solve it so we revealed how we had previously “cheated” by using the sleeper bus to travel by night. We don’t know what the two ended up doing to get to Ho Chi Minh in two days only.
Throughout the whole trip we saw many times people transporting huge loads on really small and improbable (and improvised) vehicles and fortunately -for our amusement and wonder- Hoi An was no different: one of the things I remember best were two men (one was driving) on a moped transporting an ice cream barrow- that even had a canopy- sandwiched in between the two; don’t ask me how that was possible as still now I have no idea.
I am not sure how to explain and why, but despite being crowded with tourists and full of bars and elements that don’t seem to be part of an “authentic experience”, Hoi An really had some genuine charm and a magical feel to it.
It felt like traditions and new life styles could coexist harmoniously or even had blended together so smoothly to seem perfectly natural.
Lovely lovely Hoi An.
Thank you so much for reading, I hope I managed to keep it entertaining as I am definitely better with images than words.
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Just a few more entries to conclude the Vietnam series so stay tuned for the next entry!