The train ride from Hue to Danang is packed with stunning views over the
South China Sea. From Danang, we minibus to Hoi An.
Hoi An is the tailoring capital of Vietnam. April is downright giddy as
we peruse the dresses on display in the storefronts. We get measured and
browse through fashion magazines for ideas. In one store, April draws a
dress design on paper (it will turn out nicely tomorrow). In another,
she shows the tailor a photo of a dress she snuck in at an overpriced
shop (this one won't work out so well). This is a mecca for
shoppers, but even Paul enjoys getting a tailored suit for $70.
Later, we sit in a restaurant and enjoy cao lau, a local specialty. Paul
thinks it's fantastic.
We spend the morning on a
tour of the nearby My Son archaeological site. Our tour guide seems to
have a talent for making people uncomfortable. We learn that his father
served as a soldier for the northern communist army. "He, Viet
Cong - HaHaHa!" our guide says, stretching his mouth wide open to deliver
a very fake laugh. We're
used to thinking of the war in sober terms, and can't imagine why this
statement should be funny.
My Son was never really on our list of things to do in Vietnam.
We're here mostly because our clothes won't be ready until evening,
but we soon find ourselves rather impressed with the place. There's
a fair number of tourists milling around, but the ruins hold an ancient
gravity that manages to shine through. These buildings, some dating
back to the 7th century,
were used by the kingdom of Champa as a religious
center. When our guide says the name Champa, he stretches
his mouth open wide enough to fit April's head, and lingers on the
'a' for three or four seconds.
A good bit of our tour is devoted to the Champa bricklayers, who
built their structures without
the assistance of mortar. Their secret recipe continues to confound
modern researchers, though it seemed to
involve engulfing the buildings for days in huge fires. While
the original walls resist moss, the bits that were reconstructed by
modern teams are all covered in green. Our guide declares these facts
to be a "great mystery - ahhh."
Though our guide is rather young, his connection to the war seems
very present and alive.
By the end of our tour, we think we understand why.
Many of the largest buildings at My Son were destroyed by American bombs
- the result of false intelligence that the Viet Cong were using the
ruins as a base.
Even today, huge bomb craters lie ironically next to beautiful
statues of Hindu gods. Being the first bomb craters we've seen, these
are pretty moving in their own distinct way.
Back in Hoi An, we find a woman selling food our of her two
shoulder-balanced baskets. She offers us plastic
"chairs" to sit on, which are really just 3 or 4 inches high. Paul
balances on his for a short time until the legs bend and he topples onto
the sidewalk, amusing an entire block's worth of locals. There are a lot
of ingredients, so the woman shows us how to wrap the skewers of meat
with noodles and vegetables in rice paper and dip it in sauce. Paul
declares it the greatest street food of all time. It's so good, we eat
many times what a normal local might be expected to consume, but the
nice woman doesn't seem horrified by our gluttony.
After dinner, we enjoy the nice evening on the riverbank
We've been trying to calculate our itinerary for the rest of the trip
and always felt a day behind. Really we could use an extra few months,
but we feel like we've already cut out all the destinations we can
bear to. Flying could save us time, but all the possible flights
have been booked. There's not a lot of options available, so we
decide to take a 4am train to Nha Trang. It leaves from Danang, so
we taxi back there to sleep for a few hours. Our brief glimpse of
Danang makes us wish we actually stopped to see it. Paul steps out just
to buy a soda, and runs into dance performance in a city plaza.
This city seems to enjoy itself.