Indochina with Selective Asia – Chapter 3: Hue and Hoi An

The Vespas and the Lanterns

Food safari Our second night in Hue was amongst the most enjoyable we had spent in Asia. We were picked up from our hotel by two drivers with Vespas and taken on a food safari. Riding pillion on a scooter in Vietnam is an experience in itself but by now we were used to the ‘road etiquette’ (such as it was). So we relaxed and let our drivers guide us through the city lights. Chaperoned by our guide Tu, we stopped first at a family home for courses one and two. It was lovely to see this family’s home and interesting to chat about each other’s lives and children. We learned how the food was prepared and saw it ‘on the stove’ and then tucked in to the delicious fare. A sociable glass of rice wine later, and knowledge of how to say cheers in Vietnamese (Yo), then it was time to thank our hosts and bid them farewell before moving on to our second venue. A local restaurant owner hosted us at his own home/restaurant and let us get ‘hands on’ preparing the next course. To be fair, I’m not sure if he was entertaining us or me him with my ineptitude at folding banana leaves into food parcels (that were later streamed). Much laughter, good food (including eating our own creations) and a local beer, then it was ‘on your bike’ to venue 3. A favourite pancake house packed with locals (always a good sign) provided the next course, fortunately without my help in the preparation process. Ingredients for 'medicine' Our final stop was at the local apothecary for ‘medicine’. We learnt that 29 ingredients go into making the herbal wine that, taken after meals, will help with digestion and pretty much any other ailment known to man. One thing is for sure, having enjoyed some and the owners delightful company, we felt no pain. What an amazing evening out.

Home at Hue was the Pilgrimage Village where they treated us to a magnificent upgrade to the Honeymoon Suite. A huge bungalow with secluded private pool; we were a little sad that we hadn’t added a day in our itinerary to simply enjoy the facilities. More like a woodland retreat than a hotel, the staff were wonderfully attentive and we’d love to return here.

It was time to move on from Hue and we headed for Hoi An via the picturesque Hai Van (Ocean Cloud) Pass. We also stopped off for lunch in Danang and visited the Cham Sculpture museum, with over 300 artefacts dating from the 5th to 15th centuries. I worked off a bit of my lunch by climbing the many steps up to the Ong Chon gate (pockmarked with bullet holes) and the Buddhist shrines atop the Marble Mountain. 

Assembly Hall dragon Our upgrade luck continued when we arrived at the Boutique Hoi An Resort and we were treated to a spacious sea view room, just steps from the lovely pool and sandy beach (should have done the lottery this week). The hotel runs a free shuttle bus to the historic old town, which is listed by UNESCO. Apart from having more tailors than you can shake a stick at, the historic buildings and the Thu Bon river make it a lovely place to stroll around and take in the sights. Preserved to a certain extent when the river silted up in the 19th century and its property faltered, its reinvention as a tourist spot has made it one of the wealthiest towns in Vietnam. To get the most out of a visit you need to purchase a ticket that gives you access to the old town and five of the buildings (relatively cheap and helps fund preservation). We attended a great traditional musical/art performance at the Xu Dang Trong (fortunately there was an English speaking compere to tell us what we were seeing) including a game of Vietnamese Bingo (I kid you not). Hoi An lanterns The Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation was also an impressive place to visit. A riot of colours and dragons, this is now a temple to worship Thien Hau. Just as we were exploring the market, the heavens opened and we took shelter in a nearby coffee house. It was marvellous to watch the magical production of plastic from every nook and cranny to cover both goods and humans, but we particularly loved the huge ponchos to cover both scooter and rider. Also getting quite used to paying £2 for a coffee and a large fruit juice, Costa is going to seem really expensive when we get home. 

Sculpture park It’s at night though that Hoi An really comes to life and explodes in a kaleidoscope of colours. The beauty of the town goes up a hundredfold as lanterns of all shapes and sizes come alight on streets, shops, taverns and stalls. The colours reflect on the gently flowing waters of the river, further enhanced by floating lanterns bobbing along. Brides and grooms, with their entourage of lighting and cameramen, taking advantage of this photogenic backdrop for their wedding album and there’s a gentle party atmosphere in the air. With reluctance, after admiring the illuminated sculpture park beside the river, it was time to get some rest in preparation for an early flight to Ho Chi Minh City the next day.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Selective Asia

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Steve Aldridge

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