We said goodbye to Pill and Rob this morning as they both headed up to Hue and I hope very much that we’ll meet up with them again in Hanoi. Pill is brilliant fun and so easy to talk to I really felt like she was one of my friends after only days in her company, and Rob seems like a really laid back, down to earth, chilled out kinda guy.
The remaining five of us (Sam, Emma, Tasha, Neil and I) boarded the bus to the Unesco World Heritage site of the ancient kingdom of Champa at My Son. During the Vietnam war the Viet Cong used My Son as a base and in response the Americans bombed the monumnets. Traces of 68 structures have been found and Vietnamese authorities are attempting to restore as many as possible. Archeologists have divided My Son’s monuments into 10 main groups, lettered A-K, all of which are in easy walking distance of each other. I must admit that the ancient Champa kingdom was not as intact as I’d imagined from the photographs in my Lonely Planet guide, and the amount of vegetation growing between the bricks made it difficult to appreciate fully what is left. However, it was a pleasant walk around the grounds and the interiors of some of the monuments resemble mini museums displaying Cham artifacts. We were also able to watch traditional Cham performances of music and dance.
We travelled back to Hoi An by boat and ate lunch out of individual plastic boxes which looked like miniature steamers. We all sat up on the deck of the ship, soaking up the sun and watching village life along the river. We made one stop at a wood carving village where everythings from bowls to buddhas to huge wooden boats were on display inside the many shops and workshops we visited.
We arrived back at Hoi an just after 3pm and collected our completed clothing from Phuong Nam. Emma and I were so impressed that our linen trousers were such a perfect fit that we joked about the fact that it was a shame we didn’t have time to order another pair. A joke that was taken seriously by Thao (the store owner), who informed us that it wouldn’t be a problem for her tailor to make us another pair of trousers by around 8pm this evening. When you’re wearing a pair of fully-lined tailor made trousers that you’ve designed, out of a quality material that you’ve chosen for the equivalent of 7 or 8 British pounds, it seems like an impossible offer to refuse. So Tasha, Emma and I put another order in with Thao at Phuong Nam tailors and vowed to get our backpacker budget back on track once we left Hoi An.
Following our final fashion splurge, we got a couple more sections sliced off our sightseeing ticket by firstly visiting the Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation, and secondly, Tan Ky House. We were warmly welcomed into Tan Ky and given cups of Vietnamese tea whilst a friendly lady who spoke excellent English talked us through the history of the building, its inhabitants and the features within it. Tan Ky is the oldest private house in Hoi An, built two centuries ago as the home of a well-to-do ethnic Vietnamese merchant. The owner’s family has lived in the house for seven generations, three of these are still living in the house today, the youngest of which is a 20 year old female student. The house is beautifully preserved and the design indicates evidence of Japanese and Chinese influences.
We walked back to our hotel across the Japanese Covered Bridge, which was built by the Japanese community of Hoi An in 1593 (it has been restored several times since) in order to link them with the Chinese quarters across the stream. After we’d collected our clothes from Phuong Nam this evening (and Neil was measured for yet another shirt which he’s asked me to collect for him tomorrow), we ate at Cafe des Amis, an original riverfront restaurant which has no menu to speak of : diners eat whatever the chef, the friendly and attentive Mr Kim, feels like cooking that day. There are three set menus, consisting of 3 courses and a small dessert : 60,000VND for vegetarians; 70,000VND for seafood; and 90,000VND for meateaters.
The idea in itself deserved one final splurge. We’d been traeted like celebrities at the tailors over the last couple of days, so why not dine like one? I can honestly say, it was the most delicious meal I’ve eaten since my arrival in Vietnam, and a wonderfully unusual choice of dishes, most of which I’ve never tried before. We ate shrimp, squid, crab and some kind of meaty fish (possibly tuna), and the mix of flavours used in all 3 dishes was spot on. The meal was finished with the only dessert I’ll actually eat (with the exception of the odd cheesecake) : a wonderfully smooth creme caramel. Tasha wolfed hers down so quickly that Mr Kim gave her a second! No visit to Hoi An should be complete without a visit to Mr Kim’s restaurant to sample his delicious mix of the best Vietnamese food in Vietnam.
Photo is of the remains of the ancient Champa kingdom at My Son.