Our intrepid editor Seb King continues his adventure eating up the road on his bike, playing beach football with strangers and purchasing a suit. There's also a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage sites of My Son and Hoi An's Old Quarter.
After our vaguely adjusting to life in the Mekong Delta we happy to hit the beaches again and head back to more urban ventures. The thought of not peeing into a stream off some rickety bamboo platform and using a toilet that flushed seemed like luxury enough.
“I wished they stop feeding us fruits from those trees”, my Skinny Partner began. “I wouldn’t like to wake my digestive system out there in those swamps. Can you imagine it?” He chuckled as the taxi drove into the dusty streets of Hoi An’s Old Quarter.
“You know I haven’t really thought about that much. But you’ve got a good point. We didn’t pack any tissues or anything did we?”
My Skinny Partner shook his head. Four days of gastric congestion seemed to have past me by in a flash.
The taxi driver cut the discussion short. “Thien Thanh Hotel. This is it.” He had disturbingly long thumb nails and I struggled to determine their purpose. Perhaps it was some religious statement; perhaps it was just so he could pick his nose better. Either way we paid the man the agreed sum of ten US dollars each and went to check in.
The doors of the old Honda slammed behind us. As if possessed by some form of theatrical inspiration the driver threw his hands to the heavens. “In English Thien Thanh. It mean ‘blue sky”. He smiled and I noticed a few of his teeth were missing. But credit where credits due, this had to be the first camp taxi driver I’d ever come across.
We booked the Thien Thanh Hotel on the internet a week previous, but when we arrived the owner of the place had no knowledge of our reservation. Joy.
“You not on our list. I can no offer you room. We full,” she would repeat over and over again.
This was not what we needed after traipsing around the swamps of the Mekong for three extortionately long days. On the verge of walking out she suddenly underwent a change of mind.
“You can stay. But you have to pay double.”
Like a bull to a red flag I had to hold my Skinny Friend back from pouncing on this woman dressed in a flowing silk kimono. “We had a booking! On the internet. You know, on your website?” His eyes were crazy and he’d resorted to finger waving.
I didn’t need to say a word throughout this drawn out argument. The anger vented by my Skinny Friend meant that the lady was either a very skilled actor or else was teetering on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but I’d be dammed if I knew which. Nearly an hour of circular debates later, we’d managed to bag a room for a lot cheaper than the going rate. Funny that.
Our room cost us $35 (US) between us. On top of that we felt the need to hire mopeds. The bikes cost us $4 (US) a day and served as a powerful, if somewhat dangerous companion. By following the deserted coastline a few miles on the worn tarmac of the road, our helmets safely back in the hotel, we found our spot.
The sea breeze battered our faces as if they were made of putty. The Asian sun beat down on us with fury. I unleashed euphoric shrieks of ‘yippee!’ or ‘wahooo!’ into the hot and humid air at irregular intervals as my machine lurched forward at a pace, I hoped, would melt the tyres of my bike.
At lands end our geared mopeds drew to a halt. We slammed the kickstands onto whatever hard ground we could find. Traditional Vietnamese fishing boats bobbed on the horizon, flour white sand slipped between our toes. For the first time in nearly four months of travelling we’d discovered a secluded beach with no bars, no restaurants, no hawkers, just the sun and a glistening ocean the colour of sapphire.
Above: Women Work The Sea In The Blistering Heat
Being that Hoi An was the largest harbour in South East Asia in the first century it’s no surprise that the coast still provides a way of life for so many of its locals. Instead of the long, thin dragon boats that you’d see anywhere else in Vietnam, in Hoi An the fishing boats are circular and it’s almost as though the crew are riding on an upturned hollow shell of a gigantic turtle. But there’s a theory this behind madness.
Between the pair of us we managed to deduce the following: when Cambodia and Vietnam were part of the Champa Kingdom from the 7th century to 1832, Hoi An was central to the spice and fishing trades. The strange rounded shape of the fishing ships in this part of Vietnam could be authentic remnants from this era, meaning that they were potentially over a century old. They certainly weren’t designed with petrol motors in mind and as a result the crew had to rely on their own strength to row out to sea.
A lack of fluid in the incandescent rays of the sun can lead to obvious problems. Dehydration became an issue. We decided it best to hop back onto the bikes and find a nearby beach with some form of consumer amenities.
A couple of kilometres back along the coast, in the direction of Hoi An’s Old Quarter, we found exactly what we were looking for. Sun loungers with umbrellas, hordes of dark skinned revellers and most importantly, a bar.
From a bucket of cool water the wrinkled old man selected two young coconuts. With a machete in one hand and a half-lit cigarette in the other he hacked away at the casing of the tropical nut. Thwack, thwack, thwack. Three clean connections shattered the top of the oversized seed to form a triangular void. The wrinkled man repeated the thwacking process and popped multi-hued straws into the gaping wound of our drinks.
Young coconuts make for a refreshing and nutritious beverage. They’re a lot cheaper than a Coke and double up as a meal if you manage to scoop the sweet, spongy pulp from the inside of the seed with a spoon (or failing that, the end of your straw). We each paid the old man 1$ (US) for our drinks and a further 1$ (US) for a pair of sun loungers.
Above: The Next Beach We Visited Was A Little More Commercial But No Less Secluded
It wasn’t long before watching others play football out of curiosity transformed into its youthful sibling, having to play. I left my sunburnt Partner behind and toddled off to ask the group that were using sticks as goalposts if they needed a spare player. With the combined help of a few broken Vietnamese words I’d picked up on my travels and a couple of jabs at the football with my finger, thankfully, the guys seemed to understand my request to join their game.
Above: West Meets East. Heavy Feet Are Not Ideal For The Intricate Skills Required For Beach Football.
My heavy western feet sunk deep into the pure white sand as my fellow teammates effortlessly glided from goalmouth to goalmouth. Everyone seemed to find the fact that my legs sank a metre into the sand whenever I ran very amusing and after just 60 minutes of hardcore beach football it was time to return to my lounger and cool off in the sea. I was completely spent. Being the only Westerner in the match and (excluding my Skinny Partner) possibly on the beach provided an entertaining novelty for a variety of eyes, including old fishermen, street hawkers and paraplegic landmine victims. With our skin a vibrant hue of pink rather than bronze, it was time to retire to the hotel, catch a shower and head off to Hoi An’s Old Quarter.
Above: A Rare Moment Of Glory.
The Old Quarter of Hoi An is an artisan’s paradise as well as being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. At nightfall a cornucopia of paper lanterns line the cobbled streets outside the array of art and craft shops and the cuisine is heavily influenced by colonial France. The town centre is pedestrianised and closed off to all motorised vehicles. We enjoyed the local seafood beside the Thu Bon River as it flowed in mellifluous ripples under the all-seeing gaze of the stars. A word of advice, if you order prawns in this part of the world then expect them to be a hell of a lot larger than their diminutive relatives in the Thames Estuary...
Above: The Old Town Of Hoi An Is A UNESCO World Heritage Site
I turned into bed early that night. About an hour's taxi ride away another UNESCO World Heritage Site lay in wait. At 5am my Skinny Friend and I plopped ourselves back into the old Honda for a sunrise tour of the temples of My Son. By 6am I was free to wonder around the luscious jungle in search of lost ruins beneath an ascending blood-red sun.
Above: The Ancient Ruins Of My Son
Nature has claimed the ancient My Son Temples for itself. Roots of trees and grasses grow freely in the cracks of these historic relics and vines crawl into every permissible orifice. But it’s not just nature that’s attempting to destroy the temples, UNESCO has salvaged artefacts and stabilised a number of breathtaking structures from bomb damage in the Vietnamese war.
Above: A Sculpture To Commemorate The Elixir Of Life. Water Used To Flow From The Base An Spurt Out The Tip; Very Phallic.
If you want to stand a chance of exploring these temples quietly, without mobs of tourists with wailing children and armies of cameras then I’d suggest booking a sunrise tour (6:00am). It’s well worth getting out of bed for.
Entry into the UNESCO World Heritage Site of My Son cost 65,000 Dong (about $5).
Top Tip: If you’re thinking of buying a tailor-made suit then Hoi An is the place to do it. There’s probably more tailors here than people and you can pick up a four piece suit with shoes for under $150. However, I would recommend using a place called ‘To To Boutique’. The seamstress double lines everything she makes so you know it’s not going to fall apart when you get home.
To To Boutique,
32-34 Ba Trieu,
Hoi An 0510, Vietnam
Lost? Missed the last instalment? Catch up here (Homestay In The Mekong Delta, Vietnam)
Alternatively to read Seb's next adventure click here (Bangkok, Thailand)