Trip Start Mar 19, 2008
21Trip End May 07, 2008
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Where I stayed
The city possessed the largest harbor in Southeast Asia in the 1st Century and was known as Lām Ấp Phố (Champa City). In 1999, the old town was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO as a well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port of the 15th to 19th centuries, whose buildings display a unique blend of local and foreign influences.
The old quarter is full of winding lanes and Chinese-styled shop houses, which are lit up at night by glowing Chinese lanterns...really pretty. The area has been largely preserved as is, any renovation has been done slowly and carefully. Only motorbikes and bicycles are allowed in the old quarter..no cars which is nice, although I still saw a few traffic jams. Some days only bicycles were allowed which was very sweet.
Gosh we loved it here. We splurged our first night in a super fancy hotel which was a restored Chinese merchant house (used in the movie The Quiet American) with fancy robes and slippers we got to wear. We woke the next morning and planned to eat breakfast (included) and spend a leisurely morning in the room using the in-room Internet and relaxing with our first satellite TV of the trip. Too bad the our lock jammed when we were going to breakfast and we had to climb through our window to get our stuff and check out early - they had the door off the hinges and were still working while we left). From there we stayed at the Hoi Au guest house a little outside of the old quarter which was recommended by friends we met. A really nice hotel except we had one incident with a spider that was sooooooooo huge (I am not exaggerating it was at least 10 inches long and wide). I declared it an emergency situation and I called the front desk to help us. A man showed up with a NET to catch it......I still need to find out what the name of that spider was. Otherwise the hotel was good choice, it had a pool!
We rode bikes around town and also to the beach at 5:30am to see the sunrise. We had read that all the locals go to the beach at this time and sure enough it was packed (but still quiet). Just people chatting among themselves or playing badmitten or soccer.
We rented a motor-scooter and rode to My Son ancient Cham ruins - bombed out during the war (Russel drove it--not me I just clung to the back).
Russel went diving for a day off of Cham Island and I explored the markets (a little to much pressure to buy things at times...I am not sure what I am going to do with this bag of lemon grass I bought).
The locals were so nice to us. They did stare and laugh at us at times, we must look like cartoon characters to them. They work really hard. Minh, the woman we met outside of the hotel who rented us bicycles and motor-scooters and sold us water, works everyday from about 6am to at least 10 or 11 every night. No vacation, no holiday. She was always so pleasant to us hugging me hello everyday.
The food was mostly delicious. We sought out a really casual local looking cafe (with minimal tourists) and went there for a few meals. By the end the owner recognized and started bringing us extra food and showing us what to put in the rice paper, how roll it and what sauces to dip it in. The owner spoke minimal English but it did not matter as we were able to bond with him through the meals we were eating which was really nice. The locals were so warm and welcoming especially when it comes food and meals. We also had a amazing meal at cafe de Amis - the chef has become somewhat famous and has no set menu you either order seafood or vegetarian and the dishes just start arriving, we lost count but were finished more than once only to be presented with yet another dish. We did one fish and one vegetarian and left very happy. The chef came around table to table to chat and tell stories and also sat outside having beers and smoking (who was doing the cooking?!) Very nice evening and at 100,000 VND a person a little out of the budget (it was around $6.00 each so no real worries)
We took another cooking class that included a trip to the market where we bought some cool Vietnamese knives and other utensils - including a tool to do vegetable carving which we both failed miserably at in the class (If we could have used our new tool we would have done better I am sure). From the market we boarded a boat for the cooking school. We were shown through the herb garden while one of the staff pointed out the different herbs and when they were used and for what. Then it was off to school. This was much less hands on then in Thailand. The Chef would demonstrate and we would go to our stations where everything was already prepared, all we had to do was dump it in the pot, we did get to eat our creations and they were overall pretty good. We met a nice couple from Australia and another couple that we had shared a taxi with a few days before were also there. On the return trip we got to see some local life on the Red River and watch them raise the fishing nets and inspect the catch.
We did expierence one minor food disaster, maybe not disaster but.... On the way back from riding to My Son, we decided to stop outskirts for lunch, we figured we would get an authentic local meal - boy did we. Yow, there were no menus so before I knew what was happening Russel and I had 2 huge plates of bloody pork in front of us and about 800 flies arrived to dig into to our pork too. Oh no!!......The woman was so sweet - she brought out rice paper and sauce and salad to make our own pork spring rolls and also walked us through the steps of how to make the rolls and eat them. When I tried to make a roll without the pork she nodded 'no' and picked out the bloodiest piece of pork with the most flies on it, helped me put it in my spring roll and watched me eat it. And of course i smiled and said 'delicious'. Ouchie, so to top it off--that invisible fish taste was somewhere on my roll---but there was no fish on the table..??I used extra salad and extra lime but could not get away from it. Russel was having the same issue with the fish taste but could stomach the meal better then me. I really almost got sick. There were some kids at the other table near us eating rice and vegetable and soup, why no pork for them?(Russel and I finally realized weeks later that the 'fish ' taste is from some sort of leaf they grow here I forget the name of it but they throw it in a lot of the salads). The meal would have been MUCH better without the fish, we could not for the life of us figure out where it was coming from - We assumed it was in the rice paper..... We finished the meal (almost - it had to be 1kg of pork each) - paid our gracious host and were off on our motorbike back to Hoi Ann.
We did of coarse get some clothes tailor made - how could you not. I was a little nervous at first but by the end I was having fun picking out beautiful fabrics and styles for a few dresses and tops. Russel had 2 suits made for him.The prices were great and the women were really nice to us, they gave us a gift when we left and the owner even rode with us to the airport when we were leaving. So we will be jobless when we get home but we will look really good in our new silk outfits!!!
Our last morning before the taxi we went to the fish market in town to watch the locals buy and sell - NYSE has nothing on this frentic atmosphere - They were some serious bargainers and a few fish thrown around in a tense situations.
Next stop Ho Chi Minh or as it seems interchangeable here - Saigon.