Back to the 80s: The Return of the Rollerdrome

Trip Start Oct 24, 2005
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Where I stayed

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Monday, February 27, 2006

And grab a night bus north to Hoi An we did. The bus left at 7:00 PM and arrived at the ripe hour of 6:00 AM. The bus was also perhaps the most uncomfortable I've ever been on, making it a delightful overnight journey. There was no leg room (even my short 5'5" legs were crammed in and jammed into the seat in front of me), the seats were very hard, and they kept the lights on all night (an oddity - I've been on trains in Thailand that turn off the lights at 8:00). Needless to say, by the time we arrived in Hoi An, we were a bit worn out and ready for bed (yes, at 6:00 in the morning). Fortunately, the hotel the bus dumped us off at was the one recommended to us by a couple we hung out w/in Sihanoukville, and it was really quite nice, so we didn't need to wander about town in our zombified states. One thing worth mentioning about the hotel is that it was situated next to an outdoor roller-skating rink. We (and most of the Vietnamese adults huddled around the gate) found it quite amusing to watch the kids skate - most of them couldn't even stand up (Pah, are you listening?), let alone propel themselves forward, but enjoyed themselves immensely, nonetheless. It must have been a short-term thing though: while we were there, the rink was dismantled and the kids had to find some other form of entertainment.

Hoi An was once a very important trading center; at one time it was one of SE Asia's major international ports. It also served as the center of the Champa kingdom, which enjoyed its heyday between the 2nd and 10th centuries. The Cham people were heavily influenced by the Indians, as is evidenced by their sampling from Hinduism and their use of Sanskrit. Their importance to the region can still be felt: an attempt to save many Cham cultural elements is ongoing, including music and dance (both of which we enjoyed performances of). Nearby are the Cham ruins of My Son (which we did not visit, as they apparently pale in comparison to Angkor, and we had recently visited the Cham temples in Nha Trang). After the decline of the Chams, Hoi An remained a very important port city, but was nearly destroyed during the Tay Son Rebellion in the late 1700s and had to be rebuilt. Unfortunately, its significance in the trading world slipped as its neighbor, Danang, began to grow in prominence.

Hoi An is one of the rare places in Vietnam that remained virtually untouched during the war, much in the same way Dalat survived unscathed. As such, its lovely downtown area remains intact. This historic section of town is filled w/beautiful wooden buildings, showcasing architecture not used (or even seen) today, and set along the Thu Bon River. Much preservation has gone on in this area, and many of the homes have been painstakingly restored, all having the effect of creating an incredibly charming town.

We explored the "Old Town" extensively over the six days we spent in Hoi An. As the Vietnamese tend to do, they have capitalized on this unique area, and have created Hoi An Old Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. For 75,000 dong (about $5) you can buy a ticket to see your choice of five different "attractions" (one museum, one assembly hall, one old house, one intangible culture (either a musical performance or a handicraft workshop), and either the temple on the Japanese covered bridge or the Quan Cong Temple). We spent one afternoon making our way through the ticket (see the pictures), but also spent a lot of time just strolling through this part of town, taking in the sights and smells (and lots of the fantastic food!).

Hoi An is a tourist's paradise. Everything you could want is for sale: gorgeous lacquerware, handcrafted (on the spot) wooden figures, exquisite tailor-made clothing (we know someone who bought a tailor-made suit modeled from the Marks & Spencer catalog for $60!), handmade (to fit, of course!) shoes.... The list goes on and on - and the beauty of it is that everything is cheap. I can assure you, there were many temptations, but we didn't have room in our packs or much disposable income (actually, we have no income) in our wallets, so we contented ourselves w/window shopping.

The only downside to our time in Hoi An was the weather. Aside from the first and last days we were there, the skies were cloudy and the air was a bit chilly. We had planned to squeeze in a little more beach time, but as the weather wasn't cooperating, we planned to head further north. However, on the day we intended to leave, we opened the balcony doors to sun and warmth, so we prolonged our stay for one more day. The Cua Dai Beach, about 5 kms from our hotel, is a pretty stretch of sand that extends all the way to Danang, some 30 kms (and includes the famous China Beach). It is littered w/the usual fruit vendors, massage-wallahs, and restaurants, but when we were there, it wasn't terribly crowded, and was quite relaxing. It was the perfect way to end our days in Hoi An, a charming little town in which one could while away a great deal of time. But we had other things in mind - the next day we were off to Hue, the scene of some intense fighting during the war, and situated along the lovely scented Perfume River (I kid you not).
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