Hòa bình và Tình yêu!
30 May 2011
28 May 2011
According to local legend, when the Vietnamese were fighting Chinese invaders, the gods sent a family of dragons to help defend the land. This family of dragons began spitting out jewels and jade.These jewels turned into the islands and islets dotting the bay, linking together to form a great wall against the invaders. The people kept their land safe and formed what later became the country of Vietnam. After that, dragons were interested in peaceful sightseeing of the earth, and then decided to live here. The place where the mother dragon descended was named Hạ Long, the place where the dragon's children attended upon their mother was called Bái Tử Long island (Bái: attend upon, Tử: children, Long: dragon), and the place where the dragon's children wriggled their tails violently was called Bạch Long Vỹ island (www.ngm.com).
Our next stop along our cruise was a view of the famous rock formations in the bay. We stopped by “Fighting Rooster Rock,” “Incense Rock,” and one referred to as “King Kong.” Many of the formations in the bay have local names, and often include more conventional identifications with which visitors can relate.
After our final cruise around the bay area, and many hours on the boat, we headed back to port, reaching back to Hanoi later that same night immensely tired, but also thankful for having had the opportunity to visit and observe such a beautiful place.
25 May 2011
Once we arrived in Hoi An, we were welcomed brightly by our hotel reception with tea and delicious macaroon cookies. Immediately upon arrival, we could see this was a quaint town that we would enjoy spending the next 5 days wandering and exploring. Our plans for Hoi An included a visit to My Son to the see the Cham ruins site, a cooking class, visiting the buildings in the Ancient Town World Heritage Site and relaxing at the beach on the South China Sea.
We decided the trip to My Son Sanctuary (also a World Heritage Site) would be our first day since we would have to take a tour group to visit and the trip starts early in the morning. Hoi An was pretty hot when we arrived and was even hotter in the jungle where the Cham site remains. This site served as the religious and political capital of the Champa Kingdom. We visited the entire site and were fortunate that this group tour involved just 5 minutes of the guide telling us about the different sites and then letting us explore on our own for the next 1.5 hours. The entire site covers a rather small area, so we were able to walk through each of the excavation areas with plenty of time to spare. The majority of our photos show the most excavated area; the others are now simply being preserved and are covered with tarp and surrounded by scaffolding since they do not wish to damage the Cham bricks. It is interesting to note that the Cham bricks are perfectly shaped and put together so there are no joints, much like the work of the Inca (only the Inca used large stones and the Cham made their own bricks). To this day, Vietnamese attempt to replicate the Cham brick but have been unsuccessful in determining the exact combination of ingredients to make a brick that does not break down like the modern day formula.
The site predates the Angkor sites by a few centuries and has some “same, same, but different” elements in terms of shapes of temples and carvings of figures into the brick. The Cham actually built the structures first, then carved right into the brick structures, incredible work. These are far smaller than the elaborate Angkorian structures and provide an interesting comparison between the different empires, who were enemies.
My Son also has a strong connection to the Vietnam War (known as the American War by the Vietnamese) as the Viet Cong utilized it as a base and the Americans bombed the monuments. When asked not to destroy the historical monuments, Nixon agreed, but ordered continued killing. There still massive craters left by B52 bombers. The My Son district is also the location of the infamous and horrendous My Lai Massacre of 16 March 1968.
Following the visit to My Son, we took a lunch break back at the hotel and then rented bicycles and traveled 4km to An Bang Beach, which was recommended by our receptionist as better than the one recommended in the tourist books (which is nice since this was more of a local beach and not quite overrun by tourists). The beach is beautiful with mountain views surrounding the South China Sea and small fishing boats along the shore making their way out to sea. We got a little relief from the afternoon heat in the warm waters and enjoyed the first beach day of our entire trip. We chose to skip beaches in other areas since we’d lived in a tropical climate for the past 3.5 years and heard the beaches were spectacular in Vietnam. It was well worth the wait! The ride between the beach and town passes through rice paddies which also provided us gorgeous scenery along the way.
Photos from Red Bridge and a fisherman we encountered on the return boat ride from class
Photos from Red Bridge and a fisherman we encountered on the return boat ride from class
Next up was a day spent adding new recipes and techniques to our repertoire. In order to ensure we would get into a class, we made advanced reservations with the Red Bridge Cooking School for the Half Day Course and spent our second day in Hoi An immersed in Vietnamese culinary education. We had a lot of fun learning the recipes and making our own rice paper – we’ll be sure to share our new skill in making fresh spring rolls with those of you who join us for dinners! We also made Vietnamese crispy pancakes, eggplant claypots, and fancy food decorations. The best part was trying all our creations and eating a huge meal after the class. We did not realize how much we would eat that day and were so full by the time we boarded the small boat back to town. During the ride we encountered a fisherman throwing out his net and pulling in his catch and stopped to watch him work - an incredible sight.
We first took a tour of the produce market and learned some of the fruits/foods of Vietnam, many of which are the same we had in Belize only with different names. One interesting fruit is the Vietnamese Pitaya (aka Dragon Fruit) as it has white flesh rather then the bright purple/pink found in Belize and in Cambodia.
Since we were still quite full we decided to have some nice dessert treats later as we walked through the lantern-lit streets during the Hoi An Full Moon Festival held on the 14th day of the lunar month and during which the streets are closed to motorized traffic (we happened to be on the bridge just before closing so we saw a lot of traffic getting out of town and causing some jams) and the lights are turned off along the river so lanterns and candles and the bright moon light the way. We also happened upon a small parade and there were more carnival-style games happening in the streets (we watched a fun game on our first night in which participants attempt to break a hanging claypot with a bamboo stick while wearing a clay mask with no eye holes). It was a festive night and great way to end such a fun day.
During the remainder of our visit, we toured some of the buildings of the Ancient Town. A ticket can be purchased that grants access to one each of the five different types of preserved spaces. We were able to skip a museum and visit 2 Chinese assembly halls, which we found to be the more interesting of the sites. We also visited an old house that combines Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese styles. Our other stops included the Quan Cong Temple and the handicraft workshop where we found primarily a shop. The variety of architectural styles from the Japanese and Chinese who settled in Hoi An during its busy days as a port town provide stunning scenery and a beautiful backdrop to the narrow streets and riverside shops of this delightful town.
In addition to the varied culture, tradition, and food of Hoi An, the town is home to an overwhelming number of tailors and shoemakers. The seamstresses and tailors can make anything – they just need a photo and your measurements and you will have a designer outfit in no time. With a limited budget and only backpacks, putting together a new wardrobe was not in store for us, but after reading reviews of tailors and asking around, ginnie was able to have a beautiful dress made for the family wedding in June. It was hard not to have a suit made for Anthony as they are so well done and cost much less, but to carry it back would be quite a challenge. This is also a shoe-lover’s dream as you can design and have shoes made as well! We did not go that far, but it’s tempting! We also visited the markets and discovered they sell sleep sacks, which we use since they are good protection from sheets when traveling and being silk are far more comfortable in the heat (we used ours the entire time we lived in Belize and every day since - our first ones were a departure gift when leaving for Belize and since we have each had to replace them); we are now frustrated with how much companies charge for them since we were able to get really large ones for less than $5!
We also set aside a full day to return to the beach and decided to give the tourist one a try (Cua Dai). The 5km bicycle ride was not as scenic as it passed by shops and eventually hotels and resorts. The prices for renting a chair were far more expensive and the beach was not as nice, so we decided to simply continue along the road and returned to An Bang Beach for the day. We actually had a cooler day for this visit, but it was perfect for relaxing. On the ride home, the rice farmers were burning paddies and the sky lit up with a beautiful magenta. We rode back out to get a few photos of the hard work of the rice farmers. Witnessing this, we will be quite careful not to waste a grain of rice!
Our departure from Hoi An was just as lovely as the arrival when our hosts presented us with gifts. We loved our time in Hoi An and feel certain we will return some day.