Friday, March 9, 2012

Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh City

Heading south from crazy Hanoi by sleeper train, we made our way to lovely Hoi An, a small city known for its historical architecture, beautiful beaches and tailor-made, custom clothing.

Daniel started the trend of tailored clothing when he ordered a suit.

It ended up looking so good that Monica and I decided to get some tailor-made clothing of our own.

I sew for fun, and have designed a few dresses and skirts of my own. Unfortunately, my sewing skills are lacking a bit and the things I make never end up looking as professional as I'd like them to look. This is where the Hoi An tailors come in. They are any fashion designer's dream come true.

I sat at a coffee table with the ladies at the shop discussing exactly what I wanted, drew a picture of the dress and specified lengths, widths and angles from the image I created in my mind. I chose the fabric from an enormous selection on the second floor, got measured, and the next day had my first fitting! A few adjustments were needed, but those were sorted out and fixed within a couple hours. I couldn't believe how flawless the dress turned out to be, and how perfectly it fit me. It ended up costing $45, which isn't small change, but for a custom-fit and -designed dress, I think it's a great deal.

Monica got a classy pencil skirt and button-down shirt--perfect for an interview. The skirt also looks great with a casual tank top.

Daniel got a nice pair of shoes and I ended up getting two quirky pairs of my own from the cobbler across the street from our hotel. He was such a kind and honest man. I definitely recommend doing business with him [Minh Hein] if you're in the Hoi An area. Each pair of shoes was $15, and fits like a glove. It's a great opportunity if you have wide or narrow feet, or if one is bigger than the other, etc.

I got two pairs. This is just one shoe from each pair. Though I guess I could wear them together like this if I'm feeling really crazy...

We walked along the river downtown and were blown away with the beauty of the paper lanterns lighting our way.

Cool logo.
The next morning, we got up (relatively) early to see the abandoned temples of My Son, 50 km from Hoi An. My Son was built by the Champas who ruled Central Vietnam from c200AD to c1700AD until finally annexed by the Vietnamese in the 19th Century.

Bricks were used to build the temples--without the aid of mortar--and sculptures of gods, priests, animals, and scenes of mythical battles and devotion adorned the walls.

I found another cute puppy--they're all over the place.
After the fall of the Champa, the jungle began to reclaim the temples. The temples had already fallen into disrepair by the 1960's when the Viet Cong used My Son as a base. Partly because My Son is not Vietnamese heritage, the Vietnamese did not care for its preservation. An Act of Congress was finally passed prohibiting US bombing of My Son which in effect allowed the Vietnamese to use My Son as a base.

From the 4th to the 14th century AD, the valley at My Son was a site of religious ceremony for kings of the ruling dynasties of Champa, as well as a burial place for Cham royalty and national heroes.
My Son is perhaps the longest inhabited archaeological site in Indochina. [Wikipedia]

This stone linga is dated to the 10th century.
The next few photos are part of my "dated postcard" series.

Of the ten groups of temples, tourists can visit about four or five.

Saving these for a new temple?

At one of the clusters of temples, perfectly round bomb craters were in plain view.

The path leading us out.
Free golf cart ride.
A boat back to Hoi An.
Those are faded images of space shuttles. This water tasted high-tech.
The boat stopped at a wood-carving village in the hopes that us tourists would buy something.

The next day, Daniel and I bought the Hoi An tourist ticket, giving us access to five historical city attractions of our choosing.

We went to an old house, a temple, a couple museums and my favorite: the Hoi An Handicraft Workshop, which gives free music/dance performances twice daily.

Making paper lanterns.

I love the old buildings of Hoi An.

The next photo exemplifies what Hoi An is all about: giving you what you want when you want it.

As you walk down the street (as a tourist), you are incessantly hassled to buy one thing or the next. To not let it drive me crazy, I started thinking about it as though people just wanted to make me happy (not just hassling me for the money). Ha, yeah right...

The Japanese covered bridge.

Bamboo is stronger than you might think.
A couple of funny photos:

Hoi An has street signs (unlike a lot of other cities in SE Asia), but a lot of the time you can only read them from one side:

Gotta walk around again...

We had a nice day biking to the beach, but I didn't take any photos of that.

Finally, we packed our stuff up and prepared ourselves for another sleeper bus from hell.

It was pretty bad, considering the bus didn't stop where we were supposed to get off (a little beach town called Quy Nhon). When we asked them to turn around and take us back (10 km), they tried to kick us off the bus in the middle of the night on a deserted street.

I'm going to keep the story sweet and just say that we ended up in Nha Trang, and it wasn't bad! There was a beautiful beach around the corner from the hotel we camped out in for a day (didn't stay the night because we got on another night bus to Saigon). Also, I enjoyed two pulled pork sandwiches from a legitimate barbecue restaurant.

I wasn't crazy about Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and to be honest, I was ready to get to Cambodia. We had one full day there and ended up packing a lot in: ate pho, went to the French colonial post office building, the Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum, Notre-Dame Cathedral and the less-touristy Chinatown district.

The Thrasher typeface is used everywhere in Vietnam.
Scary wiring overhead.
The Notre-Dame Cathedral.
Inside of the main post office.
I really enjoyed the Reunification Palace because of its design and history. It was built in the 1960s and was the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It was also the site of the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gates. [Wikipedia]

You can find some strange things in this building if you look close enough.

My favorite room of the palace (the lounge) was being buffed when I passed by.
On to the terrifying basement floor, full of war rooms, radio communication stations, a shooting range and more.

Next, we visited the War Remnants Museum (its current name since 1993). Before that, it was the War Crimes Museum, before that it was Museum of American War Crimes, and when it first opened in September 1975, it was called The House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government [of South Vietnam]. That about says it all.

One more word about Saigon: the traffic is INSANE. No photo could do it justice.
And on to the Chinatown district in time for sunset.

The peanut man. I bought some from him right after he playfully threw one at another peanut man nearby.
I ended my stay decadently with a four-layer Vietnamese iced coffee ... can't complain.

And now we're in Cambodia! More soon to come...