1. We arrived at Hoi An last evening, after a long travel of 600 km from Dalat and night stops at Nha Trang and Quy Nhon. After looking at Ha An Hotel (recommended by my son, Yiping) and a hotel in Cam Ranh Village, we decided to check into An Phu hotel which is at the fringe of the old town, at US$40 a night for superior room. We like Ha An Hotel very much (US$55 a night), a very attractive boutique hotel, and would have stayed in it if not for the lack of car parking facility at the hotel. On the right is a picture of An Phu Hotel and a sunrise view of Hoi An from the balcony of our room on the 3rd floor.
Staff of the hotel spoke good English and were very customer-friendly.
2. This is my 2nd visit to Hoi An; first was Nov last year when I was here for the annual Vietnam-Singapore Joint Tourism Committee meeting. I had a brief stay here of one night then. After settling in the hotel and the usual washing up and tidying up, we took at walk in the old town. Hoi An old town is a Unesco World Heritage site. In this area, buildings are subject to preservation laws, and a number of streets in the area are not open to vehicular traffic (sign says only primitive vehicle users only). In practice, bicycles and motorcycles are allowed. Overheard one of the tourists lamenting that there were too many motorcycles now. Area comprises mostly 2 storey shop buildings, much like our Chinatown. Many are now shops and restaurants catering to tourists.
3. Until the 19th century, Hoi An was an important centre for trade in the region. Between the 2nd and the 10th century it was a busy seaport of the Champa Empire. Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and later Dutch, Portugese, French and English ships came to trade. It was also an important stop-over port for ships waiting for the change of wind and site of the first Chinese settlement in South Vietnam. The character of the town reflects the rich exchanges it had with people from many parts of the world.
4. However, it is today eclipsed by Da Nang, which is some 30 km away. Was told that silting of the river had affected the usefulness of Hoi An as a port and it had also sustained damages caused by a number of typhoons in the recent years. Another source attributed it to changes in the political situation at that time, especially with Emperor Gia Long giving the French exclusive trade rights to Da Nang. Today, like Venice, its economic importance had been significantly diminished but it remained as a major tourist attraction, an interesting show-piece of the town's rich past. We will see more of Hoi An today, after our trip to see My Son Cham temples, also a World Heritage site.
5. We settled for dinner at the Street Stalls in old town, after failing to locate Mango, the restaurant recommended by my son, Yiping.
Here, we met an Asian Canadian girl backpacking for 6 weeks in Vietnam and Cambodia.
6. To break the journey to Hoi An into 2 smaller manageable bites, we decided to spend a night each at Nga Trang and Quy Nhoh. Outside Nga Trang, we visited Po Nagar, a 8th century Cham Towers (even older than Angkor Wat), 2 km to the North of Nga Trang town. Built originally as a Hindu temple, it remains an important place of worship for the Cham people, and Vietnamese and Chinese Buddhists, each according to the respective traditions. As it was weekend, the place was packed with visitors. We had to practically squeeze into the inner chambers where the prayers were done. Chambers were suffocating from burning of joss sticks but this did not deter the constant stream of devotees going in. The authorities had modified the chamber and put extractors in but obviously this did not solve the problem entirely. Regularly, the helpers would take the burning joss sticks out. Picture on the right showed a Cham family enjoying their weekend at the temple.
7. Next, we decided to try the mud bath in the nearby Thap Ba Hot Spring Centre, excited by what Lonely Planet put it as bathing in hot thermal mud. The centre was packed with locals and a small number of tourists. There was signage in Russian; so persumably Russians do make it here. Thuan said that the locals believed that the mud treatment was good for the skins. Overall, it was disappointing. The mud was thin and mildly warm. We had expected it be hotter (afterall, its thermal mud) and the mud thicker. Service quality was mediocre. If properly done, this place has great potential, but like what Sunny said, until competition comes along there is little incentive for the company to improve. All in, we spent about 400, 000 dongs (approx US $23), including the picture taken to the right.
8. We didn't spend much time at Nga Trang beach and the neaby resorts, but apparently the Vietnamese government was making serious efforts to turn the area into a major international resort town. Vinpearl Resort and Spa on Hon Tre Island was one of such initiatives, having hosted the Miss Universe contest there and would be hosting the Miss World contest in 2010. The island is linked to the mainland by cable car. Roads in the area are wide, boulevard style with good landscape on both sides. Clearly, they were done with the intention to impress. We did not have the time to see Vinpearl and will have to leave it for another time. On the right are 2 pictures I took during our morning walk along Nga Trang beach.
9. Along our drive to Hoi An, we encountered an accident and was slowed down somewhat. In most stretches the scenery was just awesome - the scenery along the coast and the padi field.
10. From time to time, my car had stirred up curiosity among the locals. This was a taxi driver at the hotel we stayed in at Nga Trang, Asia Paradise Hotel. Many wondered what a right hand drive car was doing in Vietnam.