When I arrived in Hoi An, I thought I might take a tour or two to see the surrounding area but, after yesterday’s wandering, I’m charmed by this ancient town and really don’t want to stray very far. It reminds my much of those historic German towns of Rostock and Lübeck in which I was lucky enough to spend some time this winter (read Drop Me Anywhere – Germany Series). Just as I walked through ancient city gates in those towns, I walk across the Japanese Covered Bridge to enter the Ancient Town of Hoi An.
Japanese BridgeThe Ancient Town area of Hoi An is a specific area of a few blocks for which an admission ticket is required and the main entrance to the area is via the Japanese Covered Bridge. Constructed in 1590, the Japanese Covered Bridge was built to link the Japanese community with the Chinese quarter in Hoi An. It’s been restored many times staying with the original themes. There’s a tiny temple inside for which an admission from your ancient ticket is included should you decide to stop for a look.
As the sun has set, I cross the bridge wandering through the ancient town and taking in the beautiful lights of the traditional lanterns (it gives new meaning to red-light district).LanternsI continue walking and hear a gathering crowd in the square, along with singing, violin music and drums. I step up to find an ancient BINGO game. I must play! For 20,000 Dong, I buy a paddle and the lady next to Bingome tells me she’ll help me to understand. Paddles with Vietnamese words are slowly drawn and, if it matches one of the three words on your paddle, you get a flag. Collect three flags and you win a lantern. In between each paddle drawing, a man and a woman sing some traditional BINGO calling song (for those of us who have worked on board cruise ships announcing BINGO, this is most interesting and amusing). The man is really into it and, dressed in light-blue silk, he does a few Ninja-like moves to accompany his singing. I become really excited when I win my first flag and, soon after, I win my second one. Unfortunately, the game ends before I win a third flag, but this was as fun as any BINGO game I’ve been to before.
While at breakfast the following morning, I meet Eoin (pronounced Owen), an Irishman also enjoying a few days at the Blue Clouds Homestay. As we chat, two things come to mind; first, that’s a hell of a lot of vowels for one short name and, second, the last Irishman I met in Vietnam scammed me out of nine beers.
Like me, Eoin has no plan for the day but to wander, so we decide to wander together. We walk into the Ancient Town and pay our admission. Here’s the deal; it costs $6 to enter the Ancient Town and your admission includes entry to five of approximately twenty historic houses, museums, folklore shows, and other local, historical interests. Both of us had already bought admissions yesterday but he left his at the home-stay and my two remaining tickets have been ripped from the sheet and lost. At least the price of admission goes to the local economy and upkeep of the historical places.
We shop a little because, well, the shopping here is amazing. Clothes, shoes, jewelry; they got it. And if they don’t have what you want, they’ll make it for you by tomorrow. I’ve ordered a coat, which I’ll need for our next location, and some shoes as a couple of pairs of mine are wearing out. I was able to choose the style of the front, back, sleeves, and neckline of the coat, as well as the main, trim and lining colors. For the shoes I chose the heel, soul, color and style. As you may know, part of the reason you decide where I go is to cut down on the many decisions associated with travel. If I’d had more time, you would have not only been my Virtual Travel Buddies, but my fashion designers too.
We walk through town admiring all of the things for sale and stopping in the many art galleries. The talent in this town is amazing and the three things keeping me from buying are lack of luggage space, lack of money and, oh, lack of a place to live currently.
MemorabeliaOld HouseYesterday I used one of my tickets to visit the Tan Ky House, one of the historic homes you can check out here. It’s 200 years-old and, well, not very interesting. It’s basically one room of very nice wood and a display case of souvenirs people have left from around the world.
I also visited the Museum of Trade Ceramics which is historically important as Hoi An was a major trade center, however I find the museum simply a small collection of broken pottery – much of it IncenseChinese. I also stopped by the Phúc Kiên Assembly Hall (I don’t think that first word is pronounced as you think it is) which is also a pagoda. The scent of incense permeates the place which reminds me of Bali. It’s ornately decorated with statues on alters and large, cone-shaped spiral incense hanging from the ceiling. This one is worth a visit.
Coffee MakerAs Eoin has also visited many of the local historic buildings the previous day, we grab a snack and do a bit more browsing before heading back to the homestay where he grabs a shower and I join two others from the homestay to visit King, the son of the owner of the Blue Clouds Homestay and boyfriend of Kim, the manager. King is opening his own coffee shop, The Espresso Station, in the next couple of months and Eoin and the other couple came by yesterday to watch him roast his coffee beans. Today, we get to learn the proper way to grind it and pour it. King tells us about his plan for the design of the place which, like many Vietnamese shops, will be run out of his home. He explains the work he’s put into studying the craft while in Saigon and how he quit his job to make this dream come true. I can completely relate and would recommend you go visit his place when you visit Hoi An. And oh, such care is put into making the coffee, it’s like you can taste the love in it.
I head back to town to meet Eoin, do a final fitting for my shoes and pick up my coat, before heading to the Folklore Show where we use one of our Ancient Town tickets. We sit on stools and are entertained by an orchestra accompanying singers and dancers, as well as a taste of the ancient BINGO game (I don’t win here either).Folklore showAfter the sun sets we, once again, enjoy a walk through the beautifully-lit ancient city before walking across the river to grab a bite at Restaurant Sau, which Eoin has frequented the last few days. For a whopping $4.00 each we have a couple of beers, some spring rolls and soup, and a local main-course. Even better, this Irishman doesn’t stick me with the check. (Eoin, you represented your country well.)
Hoi An has helped me to enjoy these past few days in Vietnam and I have huge regrets at changing my flight ticket to depart six-days earlier than planned. Still, I’ll enjoy twenty-days in Vietnam which, I reason, is more than most people get and longer than some other locations I’ve been to.
Tomorrow – I rent a motorbike again. Pretty much anything could happen (see Uneasy Rider).
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