Saturday, 26 January 2013

Hoi An , Just one Surprise After Another

Craig Writes: This enigmatic country continues to surprise and intrigue. For over 2000 off their 2500 year history they've been at war either with themselves or some belligerent neighbour wanting a slice of the Vietnam pie. They've fought of the Champa, Chinese, Russians, French and countless other marauding invaders. As Zwayne our invaluable guide has said, the government may be easy to defeat but the vast spread of the village network makes the people very hard to conquer and control. You remove an "arm" here and it will appear again somewhere else later. For a culture with a history so steeped in centuries of warfare they seem such a humble, kind and peaceful people. They bump and bounce of each other all day long with not a word or gesture of anger or arrogance . Where there would be fights and blood shed in western cultures, here there is only calmness, tolerance and extreme flexibility. But, as you talk to them about their history, their culture and their day to day life and aspirations, you can sense lying just beneath the surface a tempered steely resolve to endure, to make the most of whatever life and opportunity afford them. Vietnam is like the small quiet kid sitting in the corner of the play ground, content to keep to himself, not seeking attention or fuss. A perfect target for any bored bully who fancies a soft target for a bit of fun or some easy gain. Its only after he picks himself up off the ground, bloodied and dazed that the bully realizes his mistake. 

Zwayne , Zwayne, Zwayne, we thought we may have had to adopt him. We've now had five different guides and he is hands, feet and chop sticks way above the rest. The tradition is to tip your guide and driver. We kept doubling his because he continued to blow us away with how far he would go to make us happy. We may have had to cut off a month at the end to pay for his tip but we just wanted to make him happy, and realistically, adoption wasnt an option. There were genuine hugs and exchange of email details when he finally left us at Hanoi airport. I'm sure if security would let him he would have followed us onto the plane to make sure our table trays were upright and our buckles nicely secured.

In the city of Hanoi you're taxed according to the width of your house. I know, strange but apparently true. Consequently you find they are all between 4 to 5 metres wide, 3 to 5 stories high and looong. So, side by side you have these enormous Lego blocks of apartments peeling off into the distance. The odd thing is that in the country areas the same tax does not apply but as life in the city is revered and the country folk think its cool to be like their city cousins you'll find standing in an open paddock with enough room for an opera house, this narrow shoe box of a house. Odd! 

There stacked high but not much wider than a parking space
We left behind the beautiful little town of SaPa and those naughty Black Hmongs and headed back down to Hanoi on the sleeper train. No vomit runs this time just a nice relaxing trip. A few hours lay over in a forgettable little hotel and a one hour plane ride down to DaNang. A big US air base during the Vietnam war and more pleasantly the home of China Beach where the late '80s show, China Beach, with the yummy Dana Delaney was set. Good series with a killer sound track. Met by our new guide Vu. On the downside, he talks in short clipped sentences with every second one finished with a rhetorical, yes! and a funny little laugh at the end of every other sentence like he's just said something funny. "..and this hospital was where a bomb drop in the war and everyone die, "hee hee hee". I don't get it. 
On the upside we're going to save on a big tip. It was only a 20 minute bus ride to our resort, Le Bellamy. Huge open plan rooms. Two toilets, separate shower and bath, four poster king size bed, and a 20 metre balcony across the front. The South China Sea pounding clear and sweet. So removed from the simple lives we have seen over the last few days it borders on surreal.
Le Bellamy is only a short cab ride into Hoi An so we popped in for a look around and to find Cargo. A french patisserie recommended by a Sydney couple we met on the way down from Hanoi. Such was the extravagant richness and sheer size of the servings that afternoon tea was to also serve as dinner. Hoi An is a gorgeous little town. Population is only around the 100,000. 

Pretty little town
Boys on the avenue
Oh get thee behind me Satan
From the 13th to the 19th century Hoian was a major trading port and only diminished in importance once the silt washing down from the mountains finally made it impossible for the big ships to enter the harbour. Many of the old buildings are still in use today and beautifully maintained. UNESCO has recognised the town as a World Heritage site. The streets are clean, the shops pretty and well stocked with quality merchandise. You can get a custom fitted cashmere suit made for $180 or a high powered laser beam with a 1km range capable of taking out the retina of any pilot for only $5. Every restaurant and cafe has a happy hour two for the price of one if you think paying $3 to $4 dollars for a full strength cocktail or $2 for a beer is too much and you want to wait. The street hawkers still bombard you but they do take no for an answer. Back to the resort and a lie down to let the body work on that chocolate mousse mountain. Next day we're off at 9 to My Son. A one thousand year old cluster of ancient Hindu temples secreted at the base of two mountain ranges and hidden from civilisation for hundreds of years till the French found them in the 17th century. The ancient Champa Kings were anointed there and many of them along with national heroes and important religious leaders were buried there. They were built over many many centuries. On a hunch some Viet Cong may have been hiding there the Americans managed to destroy most of them in a one week carpet bombing raid. Nice one Uncle Sam!
Old fossil with family in front of old fossil
Is that a Linga or are you just happy to see me
One of the great mysteries of the place was how they managed to build these 30 metre high extravagant monuments and grand temples with no cement or mortar. Just one dry brick on top of another. And, the bricks were made so they retained no moisture so even 1000 years later no moss grows on them and they are still strong with little deterioration. Apart from the bombed ones of course. 
It was eerie,intriguing and fascinating. Almost as fascinating as watching a mischievous randy little monkey sitting guard at the entrance to the ladies loos chewing his toe nails one minute and giving himself a little heady the next. The poor Japanese women didnt know whether to film him or ignore him. Some did one while pretending to do the other. 

Back to Hoi An for a bit of a walking tour with Vu. Ooohh a visit to a silk worm farm. That'll be as interesting as watching rice boil. Well, spank me pink and call me Nancy. It was actually quite fascinating. Hands up if you thought the little fellas actually spun silk like a spider spins a web. WRONG ! These creepy little crawlies are treated like bug royalty. Fed three times during the day and twice at night. Then they get to hang out,curl up and nap for a full day. As they fatten up and get bigger their moved to a cocoon rack where they spin their little cocoon. This is where they'll turn into a chrysalis then a moth, fly away and get to spend the rest of their short little lives sitting on a cabbage leaf somewhere. Wrong again. The lucky ones get to go make some babies so the whole wheel keeps turning, the not so lucky ones get to be boiled alive in their cocoons to make it possible to extract the silk from the cocoon. Yes, the cocoon is made of silk. You can get about 500 metres of single thread silk from one tiny cocoon. Bloody fascinating I reckon.

From little things big things grow

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