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Hoi An, China Beach, My Son - report from an expat

Hoi An, China Beach, My Son - report from an expat

Jul 5th, 2010, 09:16 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2003
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Hoi An, China Beach, My Son - report from an expat

The following rundown might whet your appetite to visit this part of Vietnam, if you haven't already. It was penned by my daughter, who with her husband has been working on projects with an Australian aid agency in Hanoi for the last year. The jobs don't pay much, but now and again they manage to get out and about.


"Our friend from New York, J. and his girlfriend M., came to visit last week and we had a great time showing off Hanoi to another set of visitors. Hanoi was extremely hot – we even had some nearly record-breaking days of 40 degrees, coupled with the ever-present humidity. One particularly hot afternoon was spent sharing a bottle of champagne at the pool, but even the pool was hot and we had to guzzle the champagne to keep it from getting the same way.

"We travelled down to Hoi An with J&M for an extended weekend away. I wasn’t sure if I’d love or hate Hoi An, I’d heard it is a bit of a tourist trap and I wondered how I’d cope with the hard-sell tactics of a thousand vendors and tailors. But I quite liked Hoi An and the locals we met were very nice.

"We stayed in what was perhaps one of the friendliest hotels I’ve been to – the Phuoc An if you are ever in the area. For $20 a night we got a double room, free bike hire, a pool, cooked breakfast and the loveliest, friendliest and most helpful staff ever. Don’t eat at the restaurant though (except for the free breakfast) as just next door is a much better one. Café 49 is a very unpretentious place, unlike the trendy restaurants of Hoi An old town, but the food is great, the family who run it are lovely, and the beer is 3000 dong a glass (that’s about 20c).

"Down the street from our hotel was the old town of Hoi An, which by day was hot and sunny, but by night is romantic and charming, all lit up with colourful lanterns. It’s a great place to wander around as motorbikes and cars are banned in the evenings and so all the local kids come outside to play (they can’t do that in Hanoi!) More than 800 historical houses have been preserved, and the old town has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage area. As it used to be an important trading port there's a lot of outside influence, particularly Chinese and Japanese. The Chinese Assembly Halls still stand, each one devoted to a particular region of China (we passed the Fujian, Hainan, and Cantonese congregations). The halls are apparently still used as meeting places for Vietnam’s ethnic Chinese populations in the south.

"Hoi An is, of course, the tailoring capital of Vietnam and so we all had some things made – leather sandals and a corduroy jacket for me, some very nice shirts for B, and J&M got the works – a suit, shirts, shoes and dresses.

"The closest beach is about 5 km away, part of what used to be called China Beach by the Americans in the war. Up near Danang is My Khe beach, and further down at Hoi An it’s called Cua Dai. Cua Dai is very pretty and lined with nice restaurants and deck chairs for hire. We spent an enjoyable evening out at the more rustic An Bong beach with an old chef friend from Hanoi (who now works in Hoi An), enjoying the seafood and hospitality at a friendly family run place. Our waiter/host was a lovely, funny 11-year-old kid who made a big impression on us. Unfortunately we learned he doesn’t go to school at all. He spoke pretty rudimentary English but was obviously learning very fast – no doubt in part thanks to some of the expats in the area who fund English lessons for him.

"As always B. and I couldn’t resist hiring some motorbikes to head out in the countryside. On one day we visited My Son, the site of an impressive bunch of Cham ruins. The Cham are an ethnic group that built an impressive kingdom, sandwiched between the Vietnamese and the Khmers in the centre of Vietnam between the 2nd – 15th Centuries.

"Lonely Planet notes that they were semi-piratical, conducting attacks on boats off the coast of Vietnam as they didn’t have enough land for agriculture. It’s no surprise then to hear that they were almost always at war with their neighbours. In the 12th Century they managed to escape Khmer control but by the 17th Century they were entirely overtaken by the Vietnamese.

"My Son was an important religious site for the Cham between the 3rd and the 14th Centuries. The artwork decorating the monuments at My Son is particularly interesting as the Cham were heavily influenced by Indian traders, adopting Hinduism and using Sanskrit as a religious language.

"The Cham are still a major ethnic minority group in the region, numbering about 100,000 people. Today’s Cham are mainly Muslim, with about 20% still practicing Hinduism.

"The 55-km trip out to the ruins is through beautiful countryside with all those stereotypical Vietnamese sights – rice paddies, banana trees, women with conical hats, buffaloes and kids. The ruins themselves are set in a lush jungle valley with pretty streams and overlooked by Cat’s Tooth Mountain. This whole area of Vietnam was heavily bombed during the war (it’s not far south of the demilitarised zone), and My Son was not spared. Many of the ruins were reduced to, well, ruins, and the restoration work continues today. Visitors are warned not to stray too far off the path as the area still has a lot of unexploded ordnances. We visited My Son late in the day and it was ridiculously hot but very quiet, beautiful and atmospheric."
Neil_Oz is offline  
Jul 5th, 2010, 09:54 PM
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Thanks Neil - tucking away in my "Vietnam" file.
Bokhara2 is offline  
Jul 6th, 2010, 05:00 AM
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Very nice report.
dgunbug is offline  
Jul 6th, 2010, 05:08 PM
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Thank you Neil - or rather, thank you DD and DSIL for me -- we're going to be in VN next March for the first time, so we're reading everything that anyone posts on here, and this is a good one!
sf7307 is online now  
Jul 6th, 2010, 06:02 PM
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thanks....always nice to hear another view
rhkkmk is offline  
Jul 6th, 2010, 07:40 PM
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bookmarking. Thanks!
linawood is offline  
Jul 7th, 2010, 06:32 AM
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Neil, I've enjoyed these accounts from your daughter. Thanks for posting.
Kathie is online now  
Jul 9th, 2010, 08:52 AM
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Neil...thanks for posting this. I'll be in Vietnam next March (first time) and Hoi An is one of the places I'll be.
LowCountryIslander is offline  

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