It is a while ago now that Miles and I visited this understated, beautiful country, which is so rich in sad war history and blankets of green fields producing some of the freshest and tastest food we have eaten.
If you are thinking about a trip, this is the second of 3 posts on my favourite Vietnamese city, Hoi An, and Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. And there will be plenty of photographs as i had the most enjoyable time photographing this culturally vibrant place.
Part 2 of 3: Hoi An, a quaint and tranquil cutie
Hoi An is the most gorgeous wee, beachside town. Beautiful old buildings filled with restaurants, lanterns, jewellery and clothes and draped in bright boganvillias and lights. And did i mention tailors? well, they are everywhere - we had never seen so much of the same thing anywhere.
Hoi An is famous for its custom tailoring and you can see why. You cannot come here and not get something tailored, so we had 5 garments made at Be Be Design tailors which the hotel recommended. Turns out this place is practically running a monopoly on the town's tailoring industry but it is very good. Their factory is upstairs with 30 tailors working around the clock to satisfy the Christmas period demand. Be Be's is one of the only tailors with their own factory on site. Cuc was the lady who helped us along with Vince the boss's son who didn't do much other than crack us up with his hilarious kiwi accent. We asked him about the working conditions of the tailors which seem to be of a high standard and he said they are paid a base wage plus commission on each garment made. It was a fun experience being fitted and choosing fabrics but after 4 trips back and forth for fittings and tweaks we were pretty over it.
After we finished our first fitting at Be Be, Vince had one of the ladies take us to the shoe smiths around the corner. We had 4 pairs of shoes made at No. 09. All turned out well for Miles - after he tried on his one pair at the first shoe fitting he liked them so much he ordered another pair in navy! They were ordered, made and in his hands within 5 hours. The shoes for me were challenging as they couldn't get them quite right. All up the clothes cost $510 and shoes $320.
We had the best meal of our trip from Ms Ly's. The restaurant is super busy and you need to book for dinner. A US expat runs it so you can trust the cleanliness and food preparation but it still maintains its Vietnamese roots and serves the tastiest Vietnamese fresh spring rolls, grilled pork on rice noodles and grilled fish wrapped in banana leaf.
Mermaids is also tasty and dates back to the same vintage as Ms Ly's. They both opened around 1993 when the first westerners started visiting Hoi An. At that time there was only an 8 bedroom hotel in the small town, a stark contrast to now where the old narrow streets are buzzing with tourists and resorts are going up on the edge of town and along the coastline.
For cheap, good food and really great service, you need to go to Khanh Koa in Ba Trieu street. We stumbled across this place on our first night in the town and went back the next day for lunch. The waitress was so helpful, even dishing our food up for us on our table and helping us choose Hoi An's delicacies. Hoi An is famous for a delicous dish called "white Rose', essentially a super delicate dumpling that looks like a rose on the plate. The "Vietnamese tea" she gave us at the end of the meal was especially memorable.
My Son, 50kms out of Hoi An is an absolute must. It is Vietnam's hint of Cambodian temples and is a 2km wide valley of green forest, winding pathways and thousand year old stone Hindu temples. We hired a car and driver to take us so we could avoid the tour buses that make it an all day trip, stopping multiple times along the way.
My Son's ruins date back to 4th - 14th Century AD, however it lay forgotten for centuries until a French discoverer found it again in 1898. This place is ideallic and nostalgic, and is home to the burials of many kings and religious leaders. Covered in moss and partially intact, you can still picture what the temples once looked like. The tallest one once stood at 28 metres high, and now in ruins, stills towers against the nearby mossy stone structures. Each brick was laid with no mortar to hold them in place so for them to still be standing is quite something. There are few statues amongst the ruins as many of them have been taken to the city's museum for preservation.
The American carpet bombings during the Vietnam War in August 1969 destroyed a significant number of temples and tombs at My Son that the French had worked hard to restore from 1937. However, the structures in the centre of My Son escaped ruin, and this is what you can see today. Most are structurally unsound, and there is a lot of work being done to help restore the structural integrity of these stunning temples.