8-21 April 2008
Day 6
Hoi An

The train ride from Hue to Danang is packed with stunning views over the South China Sea. From Danang, we minibus to Hoi An.

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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. IMG_1964

Later, we sit in a restaurant and enjoy cao lau, a local specialty. Paul thinks it's fantastic.

Day 7
My Son

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.

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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, IMG_1995 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.

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Hoi An

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.