Wheel alignment

Monday, 4 April 2011

G&J's Excellent Asian Adventure, part 4

Hoi An and Central Vietnam continued....

Jennie had been looking forward to Hoi An for retail therapy and we found a shop which satisfied a fair few of her needs in one hit!  It was a shop which bred silkworms and made garments from silk as well as a range of clothing from other high quality materials such as linen.  One of the great things about Vietnamese shops is their courtesy.  Whilst Jennie was wandering around plundering the shop, I was given a comfortable chair with a complimentary pot of green tea - sure beats being lead around by the nose trying to answer questions about style, colour etc which no guy on the planet has ever answered truthfully without getting into serious trouble!

Silkworm cocoons being unwound into thread

The C.E.O saw some linen slacks she liked so got measured of a pair.  In fact the cost was so reasonable that she ordered 2 in different material patterns.  Two women measured Jennie, then took 2 digital photos of her front and side-on as a guide for the tailors.  Twenty four hours later, she had 2 beautiful pairs of  dressy slacks which were an absolutely perfect fit.  Some items in raw silk were also purchased for our daughter and 2 daughters in law so that got a lot of the shopping out of the way in one hit!

Recording Jennie's measurements
(I'm under caution not to show Jennie being measured!!)

Typical Hoi An Old Quarter street

Customer refreshment area in a photographic shop
- customers are treated as valued guests

Poolside for pre-dinner cocktails, Hoi An

Working up an appetite!

After some serious shopping, it was time to immerse ourselves in a bit more culture with a trip to My Son (pronounced Mee Shon) Holy Land less than 2 hours from Hoi An.  On the way, we stopped off at a little farmlet where a family grew peanuts, sesame and rice as well as making rice paper for spring roll wraps or toasting to eat with other food.  They also had a couple of cute piglets out back which Jennie loved and she was less than amused when I said, "Ooh, breakfast!  Another own goal on my part, sigh....

Fresh peanuts

Sesame pods and seeds

Jennie making rice paper and sesame seed wraps

Dried wrap ready for sale

Arriving at My Son, the local guide gave us an overview of what we were going to see.  Originally built and occupied between the 4th and 12th centuries by the Cham people for religious purposes, it was only rediscovered and fully reclaimed from jungle in the early 20th century.  Each historical period has its own architectural style.

 Our My Son guide - what a gentle, lovely guy

We walked some distance to the buildings with temperatures in the high 30's C and fearsome humidity. In no time at all, we were literally soaked through with perspiration - Giau had her revenge for our teasing in the north of the country when we pulled her leg unmercifully!

The buildings were magnificent and the gaps between the hand-made bricks were virtually invisible - amazing construction skills.

Brick column - joins are all but invisible

One of the rediscovered buildings

Inside, looking upwards

Ornate detail carved into the bricks

Sharp carving detail, even after passing centuries
Intricate construction

We were told an interesting thing by the guide although we haven't been able to verify it yet.  The brickwork of some buildings was damaged in the Vietnam war so replacement bricks as close as possible to the originals were made for restoration.  Now here's the thing....  On the inside of the buildings, moss and fungus grows on the replacement bricks but there's not a trace on the originals - a clear sharp line where old and new join.  Allegedly, science has not yet explained the absence of growth on the original bricks.

Moss and fungus to the right, not to the left

Stone tablet over 2m high with Sanskrit engraving

It might have been punishingly hot at My Son, but we wouldn't have missed it for the world.  What a privilege to see the intriguing product of an ancient culture from another part of the world.

Returning to Hoi An, I photographed the bikes below sitting outside the hotel next to ours.  They're Russian-built Ural outfits owned by the hotel for hire or running guests to and from town - how cool is that!  Apparently, the hotel is run by a Frenchman with a passion for bikes.

Ural sidecar outfit

I took the photo below to show a Hoi An pedestrian crossing sign.  I thought that the stick figure depicted me perfectly on our first day in Vietnam.  Like a possum trapped by headlights as the avalanche of traffic zoomed past on either side!

Like a possum trapped by headlights!

Traffic in Vietnamese cities is frightening.  There's a lot of it for starters, travelling at different speeds and the centre line of a 2-way road is purely advisory.  If there's a clear space on the other side of the road which permits an overtaking manoeuvre, then you use it, even in the face of oncoming traffic not too far away.  Constant use of horns is not a show of aggression but merely to advise slower traffic that there's someone coming past and to maintain position.  Use of Vietnamese overtaking manoeuvres and the constant use of your horn in the west would either get you arrested or shot in a fit of road rage.  The reason this doesn't happen in Vietnam is enshrined in one word.... TOLERANCE!  There are so many vehicles on the road in Vietnamese cities that keeping a two-second gap from the next vehicle and sticking to a predictable path of travel would simply cause gridlock in seconds.  I presume that the driving style has evolved as a pragmatic solution which suits the easy temperament of the locals.  We saw very few accidents, none serious because of the relatively slow pace in cities and motorcycle accidents seemed to happen as a result of abnormally high centres of gravity from the colossal loads they carried!   The only true accident we saw was in Hanoi when a state-owned true socialist car (A Bentley Continental GT... just a wee sly dig at the socialist choice of vehicles) clipped a bicycle piled high with charcoal bricks.  It didn't look particularly serious and we got the impression that the young driver might not have stopped had it not been for angry cyclists surrounding him and pointing back to the fallen rider.  Maybe it was his Dad's car and he anticipated the world of grief that would inevitably follow.

All too soon, our time in central Vietnam had passed and it was time to fly down to Giau's home of Ho Chi Minh City.  Locals still call it Saigon, which was good enough for us.  See the next thrilling episode!


  1. Lovely pic of you and Jenni sitting on the deck enjoying a cocktail by the beach, you both look very relaxed.

    It has always amazed me how you can walk into some of these shops , get measured and have wonderfuul fitting clothes in less than a day. No doubt it was at a very resonable price.

  2. I've been enjoying reading about your trip. Haven't had anything intelligent to add, so just lurking.

    Can't imagine raising silk worms. How do you bottle feed the young ones when their mama dies?

    See what I mean about not having anything intelligent to add?

  3. Thanks Dan!
    With an exceedingly small bottle held between tweezers. There's an intelligent reply for you :-)

  4. Cheers Roger!
    It's very easy to look relaxed after a couple of large cocktails. Also very easy to talk complete bollocks :-).

    You can say that again - NZ$90 for 2 pairs of high quality material.

  5. The rice paper is wonderful. I've always wanted to make handmade papers. They are very appealing to me. I also love the silk fabrics at the shop, beautiful. I can't imagine the work that goes into them, start to finish.

    I agree the architecture is amazing, and that's interesting about the old and new bricks. I wonder what the secret is. Once again, a great report on a beautiful, and culturally rich area.

  6. Geoff

    Thanks for posting this travelogue of a most fascinating and beautiful country - is there anything of the old French colonial dynasty in evidence?

    N from E

  7. Cheers Kari. If you like the small amount I've shown, you'd go nuts being there!

    Glad you like it. The hotel we resided at in Hue was the old French Colonial Governor's residence. My next post in 24 hours or so will show some of the beautiful old French architecture down south in Saigon where it's beautifully maintained.

  8. I'm enjoying the travelogue. Did you do get to do much exploring on your own? It looks like a beautiful country.

  9. Thanks Richard.
    As well as the organised side of things, we did get sufficient time out to do our own thing in terms exploring towns, which was a perfect arrangement.

  10. Geoff:

    I didn't know peanuts grew in the ground, I always thought they grew inside Tins.

    Did you get a chance to parley-Vous Francais ?

    Riding the Wet Coast

  11. Bob:
    They do, but the tins stay in the ground for the next planting.

    Oui,je parle le Franca1s avec Giau!(plus lentement!)

  12. Wow Geoff, you and Jennie made such good memories. I appreciate that you are blogging and letting the rest us of tag along.

    The silk worms intrigue me as well as the question of why the moss does not grow on the original bricks. Things that make you go hmmmmm?

    And I'd never seen fresh peanuts or where sesame seeds come from so I learned something too.


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