Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Charms of Hoi An

On the 4-hour bus ride to Hoi An, we stopped briefly at a rest stop. In SE Asia, that means your tourist bus pulls up to a place selling cheap fried noodles and rice, cookies, candy and drinks. People wander around hawking bracelets, water, hats, you name it. This is also when everybody lights up their cigarettes, so I headed a block away from the rest stop and was rewarded with this view:
From K - Hue and Hoi An

From K - Hue and Hoi An


Once we made it to Hoi An, we set up shop at a cheap hotel. This was hard to find because Hoi An is apparently popular with well-heeled European tourists who are okay with paying $30-50 per night for a hotel room. After we found Hop Yen ($13 per night, although one of the worst places we've stayed-I'm pretty sure my "pillow" was actually a concrete brick), we set off to explore the town.

From K - Hue and Hoi An


Although a smaller town of 120,000 on the central coast of Vietnam, Hoi An is beautiful and (surprise) a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the 18th century, the town was a famous trading port, but its importance waned when nearby Da Nang became the center of trade.

From K - Hue and Hoi An


Since Hoi An was forgotten for 200 years, the town is a well-preserved example of a Southeast Asia trading port from the 15th-19th centuries. It's also the first place I've visited in Vietnam that isn't peppered with ruins and destruction from our bombings in the Vietnam War.
From K - Hue and Hoi An


Hoi An is also considered the best place in Vietnam for custom tailoring. There are over 500 tailor shops in the small town, where you can design any article of clothing, pick your fabric, and have it custom-made for you. Men's suits only cost about $50 and dresses are about $20-30.

From K - Hue and Hoi An


The town is on the estuary of the Thu Bon River.

From K - Hue and Hoi An


At night, lanterns illuminate the bridge over the river and all the streets and alleys.
From K - Hue and Hoi An

From K - Hue and Hoi An


There are beaches to visit nearby, but for our first day in Hoi An it was amazing to simply wander the lantern-lined roads.

From K - Hue and Hoi An

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Fruit Gardens and Pagodas

After a really uninspired buffet lunch, we continued our long day of sightseeing in Hue. Just after noon, the sun was beating down and as my dad would say, it was "hot as blazes". But we had more sights to see in Hue and we stepped onto the dragon boat on the Perfume River.

From K - Hue and Hoi An


The boat cat. Couldn't imagine how hot it must have been with all that fur.
From K - Hue and Hoi An


Our first stop was a traditional 18th century home. My favorite part was looking at all the fruit trees in the surrounding garden.
From K - Hue and Hoi An

Vietnamese apple-type fruit:
From K - Hue and Hoi An

My favorite: Hue strawberry! Looked like a lychee inside but tasted more like a strawberry.
From K - Hue and Hoi An

Pomelo (I used to get these at the Santa Monica farmer's market): Grapefruit-like, with a thick outer peel. We also saw a cinnamon tree, which smelled amazing. I think Saigon cinnamon is famous, I'll have to look out for some after we journey south!
From K - Hue and Hoi An


Our final stop was the famous Thien Mu pagoda.
From K - Hue and Hoi An

From K - Hue and Hoi An


Built in 1601, the pagoda has been renovated many times, and it is regarded as the unofficial symbol of the imperial capital.

Most Asian tourists have umbrellas in the sun - not a bad idea on a day like today.
From K - Hue and Hoi An


Such a long day of sightseeing, but all the stops were interesting! After this tour, we had seen most of Hue, so we took a 4-hour bus ride to Hoi An, another tourist town on the central coast.

Tombs and Martial Arts Gone Wrong

As the former Imperial capital, Hue is surrounded by famous temples and mausoleums dedicated to the most well-known emperors from the Nguyen Dynasty of Vietnam.

From K - Hue and Hoi An


While visiting Hue, we set out on an ambitious all-day tour to see 3 of the most famous tombs, and the Thien Mu Pagoda.

Our first stop was the tomb of Minh Mang, the most famous mausoleum near Hue. It was nice to be with a tour guide that spoke English because he told us some interesting facts about the tomb setting. It's laid out to represent the King's body, with pillars for arms to represent the strength of the monarchy.

From K - Hue and Hoi An


The color yellow is used to represent the King, so the building that lies above his grave has a yellow roof. The Mandarin guard that served the King is represented by the color red.

From K - Hue and Hoi An


From K - Hue and Hoi An


My favorite tomb was the second one we visited - the tomb of Khai Dinh. Khai Dinh was not a popular guy during his rule of Vietnam from 1916-1925. He had expensive Western taste, and the Vietnamese people resented the fact that he went to lead a life of luxury in France at the same time his country was being exploited by the French colonists. He was a puppet king and accomplished very little during his reign. However, his tomb is an impressive blend of Eastern and Western architechture, perched on a hill outside Hue.

From K - Hue and Hoi An


From K - Hue and Hoi An


From K - Hue and Hoi An


His actual grave lies somewhere beneath this opulent throne room:

From K - Hue and Hoi An


There were many Vietnamese tourists at all the sights we visited.

From K - Hue and Hoi An


From K - Hue and Hoi An


Our next stop was a brief martial arts performance. On organized tours they bus you around and take you to places run by their friends and you're never really sure if you're seeing something authentic or not. Most of our tour group were Vietnamese tourists, and they seeemed to enjoy the martial arts show. It was particularly exciting when a girl doing a routine with a double-edged sword lost her grip and the sword went flying into the audience, hitting a girl in the foot. She was okay and after bandaging her foot, the martial arts show went on (another one of the many things we've experienced that could never happen at home).

From K - Hue and Hoi An


From K - Hue and Hoi An


In the foreground: the girl who dropped the sword. Wouldn't want to mess with her. At least the weapon was a dull one, just for show.

From K - Hue and Hoi An

Friday, July 29, 2011

Vegetarian Delights of Vietnam

Although the typical Vietnamese diet includes plenty of pho bo, pho ga, bun bo, and bun ga (beef and chicken soups and sandwiches), there are still delicious vegetarian meals to be had.

Through a combination of internet stalking (happycow.net is a great resource) and wandering, I've found some great vegetarian cafes.

Here's a sampling of some of the best things I've found in Vietnam so far:

Yogurt, muesli, and fruit salad:
From K - Hanoi and Hue

Yes, included in that fruit salad is an avocado:
From K - Hanoi and Hue


Fresh roll-your-own spring rolls:
From K - Halong Bay

From K - Halong Bay


Vegetable Vietnamese curry:
From K - Halong Bay


Dragonfruit (the inside is white with black seeds)
From K - Hanoi and Hue


Fresh fruit at the market:
From K - Hanoi and Hue


Tomato and Cucumber with different fillings:
From K - Hanoi I


Vietnamese dessert: Agar gel with corn and other fruits
Not my favorite, but interesting
From K - Hanoi I


Just to spice things up, I'll end this post on a different note - the following things are the opposite of vegetarian-friendly.

VERY fresh fish (I'll admit, these look pretty good):
From K - Hanoi and Hue


Crabs & More
From K - Hanoi and Hue


Would you like a heart with that? (Gotta love the aorta)
From K - Hanoi and Hue


Some intestines:
From K - Hanoi and Hue

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cycling the Imperial City

Between 1802 and 1945, Hue was the imperial capital of the Nguyen Dynasty in Vietnam. Although no longer the capital, the city is a popular place to visit, thanks to the temples, pagodas, and remains of the imperial palace and emperor's tombs.

After renting some bicycles and riding across the bridge over the Perfume River with all the motos, we found the Flag Tower, marking the entrance to the Citadel, the seat of the Nguyen emperors.

From K - Hanoi and Hue

From K - Hanoi and Hue


Unfortunately, the Imperial City was heavily bombed in 1968 by Americans during the Vietnam War. Most of the buildings in the Imperial City were flattened, and only a few remain.
From K - Hanoi and Hue

From K - Hanoi and Hue


From K - Hanoi and Hue


Despite the fact that the ancient city was severely harmed by the Vietnam War, it was still incredibly beautiful and picturesque. There were elephants wandering around by the outside walls, and many locals flying kites nearby.

From K - Hanoi and Hue

From K - Hanoi and Hue

From K - Hanoi and Hue



It was interesting to imagine living there in the 18th century. We saw the library, the opera house, some administrative buildings, and the Forbidden Purple City. The emperor lived in the Forbidden Purple City with his concubines (the only guards allowed in were eunuchs).

From K - Hanoi and Hue

From K - Hanoi and Hue


From K - Hanoi and Hue


From K - Hanoi and Hue


After visiting the Citadel, we biked home after visiting the local market. At this point in the trip, I've probably seen 25 local markets. But each one is different and interesting.
From K - Hanoi and Hue

Where's Dana?