A wonderful day in Hoi An

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Situated on the Thu Bon River. Hoi An was a trading port, at its height between the 15th and 19th centuries. The old town is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site and you can read all about that here. The city lost prominence when trade moved to the nearby city of Da Nang but because of that Hoi An remained intact.

After landing at Da Nang airport we were taken in a large bus to the outskirts of the old town of Hoi An before transferring to the hotel in smaller buses. My main memory of the drive was the clothing shops with dressed dummies showing off their wares. Apart from the historical importance of the town, Hoi An is noted for its clothing industry and for making lanterns. But that evening, we booked in to the hotel and had dinner.

The next morning, we set off on a fascinating journey learning about how the ordinary people live. A bus took us to the outskirts of town where the houses were interspersed with rice paddies and vegetable plots. We transferred to a cart drawn by a water buffalo and ambled along down a lane between the fields. Nobody has a European-style garden. Any arable space is given over to rows of well-tended herbs and vegetables. Geese and ducks paddled in the rice paddies and often we’d see women turning over the soil with hoes, preparing the land for the next crop.

We noticed what appeared to be grave markers in many vegetable plots. If I got it right, that was what they were. Vietnamese bury their dead twice. After a death the body is interred near the family home, where it stays for three years. Then the body is removed and the bones carefully collected and placed in an urn in the family plot, also close to all the family homes. Buddhists believe in reincarnation so it’s important to collect ALL the bones.

The family altar

Next we went to the home of a poor farmer, to whom we were introduced. The main room at the front of the house is only used by men, another reminder that this is a strongly paternalistic society. Pride of place in the main room was an altar to the ancestors. We were invited to take pictures. I felt uncomfortable about that, but Pete took a picture. Furnishings were simple, with hard floors. In this climate, mould has to be an issue, as it is in Queensland. A covered area at the back of the house is where they ate meals. Also very Queensland.

At this property we were taken for a walk through the gardens while our guide pointed out and named the herbs, vegetables, and fruit trees. Our host demonstrated how the gardens were watered in the past – two watering cans on a yoke worn across the neck. Pat did a great job.

Farmers are poor and they supplement their income with fish. We boarded a boat to see how that’s done. Some farmers build floating platforms using drums to support a net, and construct a simple shed which they use when they tend the fish in the net. I expect the Vietnamese barramundi we buy (if we don’t mind muddy fish) is raised in places like this. Out on the river it was clear fishing was a big deal. We saw many boats and several villages along the banks of the delta.

Tracts of what appeared to be coconut palms grew in the water. I thought at first they had to be mangroves but they weren’t. Our guide called them water coconuts or mangrove palms. They do have a small fruit – which, like everything else in this country, is eaten.

Further out in the river an elderly couple in a small boat demonstrated how they cast a drop net to catch fish. The lady handled the boat while the man dragged in the weighted net and cast it. Tony and Mark accepted the offer to give it a go.

If we caught these in Oz we’d be fined.

Another fishing technique was to place a net in the water and leave it for a time, then lift it using a simple pulley. Peter and Mark had a go at that. It proved to be hard work and as soon as the net began to rise, the herons joined in, leaving the boys with one fish to show for their trouble.

As our boat sailed closer to one of the villages we noticed lots of small, round coracles, each containing three people, clearly having a whale of a time. Several of the little boats were joined together and music was playing. I asked our guide what was going on. He grinned. “They’re Koreans. Crazy. That’s a karaoke machine.” They were certainly having a wonderful time. Apparently Vietnam is a cheap holiday destination for Koreans. They stay in Da Nang and make day trips to Hoi An. This must be a pretty lucrative side trade for the people in the fishing villages. Like the farmers, they’re down the bottom of the pecking order and it seems everybody know how to propel these little boats in a straight line.

Then it was our turn to hop into the basket boats. It’s a good name for them, woven out of young bamboo. This fascinating article will tell you all about them. It’s so appropriate – the French taxed boats, so the Vietnamese used ‘baskets’ instead. One person in the boat with one oar propels the boat. Two other people sit across the central seat. Our guide demonstrated the technique for getting in, which ended up being easier than you might think, and we were off.

The boat went past the village and then our lady took us into the little channels between the stands of mangrove palm. During the typhoons which hit these areas regularly the fishermen hide their large boats in these channels to keep them safe.

We drifted past a group of Koreans surrounding one basket boat that put on a show. One of the two passengers disembarked. The oarsman stood up and used the oar to whip the boat into a wild circle. The audience loved it – but I’m not sure if the remaining passenger was all that thrilled. It must have been like a carnival ride.

Our pace was a lot more sedate.

Back at the hotel we were left to our own devices and warned that a ‘light lunch’ was advisable because we’d be going to a restaurant for a special dinner. Our main concern was laundry. Anyone who has travelled knows that mounting pile of dirty clothes is always an issue. In our last hotel we received a special offer – one full laundry bag (not very big) for only one million dong! (That’s about AU$62) But our APT guide told us the laundry over the road from this hotel in Hoi An charged a fraction of that price. However, he warned us not to use the laundry bags in our hotel room. This hotel was very happy for guests to souvenir anything in the room – duvet, pillows, robes, slippers, laundry bags – but there was a charge for everything. We had our own laundry bags so it wasn’t an issue. We organised our laundry and headed over to Mrs Anh’s. She weighed the bags, told us it would be 180,000 dong (about 11 bucks) and we could pick it up tomorrow. I’m sure she did a roaring trade.

The covered Japanese bridge in old Hoi An

That evening we were to have a lovely dinner at a restaurant in Hoi An old city. When night falls the town turns into a fairy land of lights and lanterns, with boats on the river and busy tourist shops along the waterfront. This was one of the few times in our trip that it rained and the reflections off the wet pavement added to the spectacle. We took our chances walking to the restaurant, but the rain set in and Long went off to buy as all disposable ponchos for the walk back to the hotel. We gave ours to Mrs Anh when we picked up our laundry.

Plastic ponchos like the two people are wearing. Not elegant.
Not an elegant look at all. But practical.



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