Learning about Chinese influence in central Vietnam
Now a few days into our trip we flew to Danang, a big industrial city in the middle of Vietnam. The airport used to be an air base of the South Vietnamese; its capture was a major turning point in the war and some hangars were still lying around. We got in a cab to Hoi An, about 45 minutes from the Da Nang airport.
Amazing breakfast at the Ha An Hotel
We stayed at the Ha An Hotel which was in a beautiful colonial-style setting, the rooms, lobby building and restaurant surrounding a courtyard. This hotel was maybe one of the nicest I’ve ever stayed at, for like $40/night. On arrival we enjoyed free welcome ginger tea and fruit on the terrace of the lovely restaurant. The room was elegant, cool, high-ceilinged, with an in-room computer, sliding door opening up to the courtyard-facing verandah and nice and authentic-looking pottery and lamps–excellent attention to detail. And the breakfast was an amazing buffet of Asian and Western food and pastries with made-to-order pho, omelet, other noodles and banh mi.
We spent the morning and afternoon in Hoi An wandering around and into old buildings in the Old Town. Besides the local Vietnamese who fished and made silk, Chinese and Japanese traders came to Hoi An long ago, leaving traces in the city’s architecture. Many buildings, including historic temples which served as congregation halls for Canto and Fujianese migrants, are Chinese in style, usually two stories with courtyards and shrines inside. The Japanese also built a covered bridge over the river. Despite all my time spent in China, the temples didn’t bore me, they involved different colors and details versus their Northern and Shanghai counterparts.
Old Town Hoi An
Hoi An is quite touristy. The place has lots of women inviting you into their stores or restaurants or offering banana pancakes but they aren’t persistent. One perk about the tourism factor there is a street full of tailors who will make a suit or dress for you same-day. The styles weren’t fobby, either! Unfortunately I didn’t have space in my bag to shop but if I were to come back I’d save room–the place also had some decent shoes hot out of the factory, and custom leather places that would make sandals or bags. Yet, Hoi An was not 100% touristy. You still have your schools, wet markets and locals strolling about in the evenings, and some cheap restaurants when you get away from the tourist strips.
Floating lanterns for sale
We also biked to the beach at sunset; it was a cloudy day and not too warm but a nice walk. In the evening we enjoyed the Hoi An riverfront, all aglow with the illumination and reflections of lanterns everywhere and some paper candles floating on the water. It looked so brightly Asian it seemed fake, like an attraction at Epcot. We had $3.50 drinks at our pleasant hotel first. Other places were selling cocktails for $2 in their low season desperation.
In Hoi An we enjoyed a couple banh mi from carts (much better than US versions!), cao lau – chewy yellow noodle with fatty pork and a broth on the bottom, mi quang – chewy yellow noodles with shrimp, shrimp chips, shrimp paste, pork, peanuts and broth, banh bao – little pork and shrimp dumplings with big soft wrappers and hoanh tanh, fried wontons topped with fresh tomato etc.
We also did a half day trip to the My Son ruins, built by the Cham empire in the 8th to 11th centuries. Most of this Hindu temple complex in the jungle had been destroyed by American bombers, and the French had absconded with the statuary heads to display in the Louvre, but some bits still remained, made of rust-colored bricks.
Hindu carvings at the Champa ruins of My Son