Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Go on My Son!

Tuesday 22nd March 2011

MP3 track of the day: Pictures of you – The Cure

Weather: Hot in Hoi An, but with a cool breeze. The 'My Son' temples are located within the mountainous jungle to the southwest of Hoi An; this location made the site very humid, however it was quite overcast so it wasn't too hot.


Last night I made two decisions; firstly that I would purchase the painting that I liked and secondly that I would go to the riverfront tomorrow to take some night photos. I had been debating about this one painting for the last two days and now, I had made a decision, I could get some sleep.


I got up on time. I managed to eat a quick breakfast consisting of one bread roll, a slice of butter, some jam and a bottle of water before Kim and I got summoned, to this giant yellow coach, located on the road just outside the hostel. This coach had seen better days; most of the seats upholstery was stained, some seats were broken, the air-conditioning didn't work and I, yet again, couldn't fit my legs into the space provided. Luckily though the coaches horn worked fine … and the coach driver proved this numerous times throughout the journey. We spent a good thirty minutes picking other tourists up within Hoi An until the coach was almost full. It was at this point we started to head out of the city and towards the temple complex.

Our tour guide turned to face us, he took of his sun glasses and gave us a smirky smile. He was a short guy (though, for a Vietnamese bloke, he was probably average height) with a western style hat and a piercing voice. He introduced himself as 'Dong' and said welcome to the 'My Son' (pronounced 'Me Sun') tour. He explained that he was actually a free-lance tour guide and, as I caught him reading from prepared notes, I was overjoyed thinking that he probably new less about the site that I. His English was okay and he spoke extremely clearly, which made a world of difference. He began by giving us the load down on the tour, the times of arrival, departure and the fact that we had to pay for our entry ticket (just like when I went to the Cu Chi tunnels). He then provided a little background before letting us enjoy the view. The surrounding countryside started off with the usual, but no less boring, bright green paddy fields. All of a sudden we hit the mountains and those paddy fields gave way to extremely dense jungle. The humidity was rising and, without any air-conditioning, the coach was getting hot.

I was glad to get off the coach; I was already pretty sweaty and my legs were hurting from being cramped. We had a little time to get our bearings, go to the 'happy room' (the toilet) and, of course, purchase refreshments and gifts. We were then taken over to where a huge map of the region was located. My group (which 'Dong' had named 'tiger group' for some bizarre reason … we aren't three you know!) sat down while our tour guide grabbed a wooden stick and began to talk about the area. 'My Son' was the capital city of the Champa empire, built between the seventh and thirteenth centuries (this means the site predates Angkor Wat). On this site Cham kings are buried in individual temples therefore the whole area is considered spiritual. 'My Son' was given UESCO status in 1999; one of the main reasons for this was because of the unique brickwork found. 'Dong' began to explain that the bricks the Cham's used weren't held together by any mortar; in fact it looks as though they were just placed on top of each other and fitted perfectly. The method of construction is so alien that neither archeologists, or UESCO experts, can give an explanation to how this building method was practiced and became successful. It's great that there are still some mystery's within this world, however the downside is that any conservation work done looks very different to the original due to the use of mortar.

I was starting to like 'Dong'. Fears of him just reading from a guidebook evaporated within his opening speech and he did seem to have a way of keeping me interested. He also seemed a little drunk due to his unusual, and sudden, movements … he was a character. We finally started to walk to site 'B' and 'C', the best preserved sites within the 'My Son' area. Looking at my watch, and remembering 'Dong's' time schedule, we only had one hour and forty-five minutes to see all sites. I thought this was tight however, due to the humidity of the jungle, I really didn't mind. The walk towards the site was lovely; unlike Angkor Wat a lot of the jungle wasn't cut back and so you could imagine the French discovering this ancient site for the first time.

When we arrived at site 'B' and 'C' it became obvious that one hour and forty-five minutes was ample time to see the sights. The map had made 'My Son' look bigger than it actually was; in reality site 'B' and 'C' only occupied a fifty meter squared area. 'Dong' took us around and showed us the difference between original stonework and the conservation work. He also showed us many decapitated statues and said that the heads had been taken by the French and were now in a museum within Paris. The tour was okay; 'Dong' spoke clearly and the visit was well paced. The lack of things to see, compared to Angkor Wat, didn't spoil the tour due to the location of said temples. High mountains, covered in dense jungle, surrounded the whole area.

Our guided tour took a little over an hour. We were then given forty-five minutes to explore site 'A' and 'H'. The other sites (Lettered D,E,F,G and K) were out of bounds either due to conservation work, or the possibly of UXO's being around. During the Vietnam War the Americans bombed this area suspecting it to be a Vietcong stronghold. It wasn't. The Americans therefore partly destroyed a priceless archeological site for nothing. I was looking forward to going up to see Site 'A'; sure there wasn't much there however, due to it being quite open, a nice cool breeze could be found. At this point I had been sweating buckets. After site 'A' I strolled down past site 'K', through some rather nice woodland, and back to the car park. The time, 11:40am.

We left at 11:45am and headed to the riverfront. I had paid the optional $2 to take the boat back to Hoi An which would take an hour longer than the coach. On the way we would call into a woodcarving village and were given lunch on the boat (as lunch usually costs me $3/4 anyway I saw this as a saving). I was surprised to see a fairly newish boat (when I say 'new' I mean not wooden) with an observation deck. Lunch was already out on the tables and so we eat whilst 'Dong' talked about the next leg of our trip. The meal was the usual vegetables with rice however, with bottles of chilli sauce on each table, it made the meal bearable. I finished eating just as 'Dong' finished talking; we were then given a while to just enjoy the view … which to be honest, wasn't that spectacular.

After an hour we docked at this small island. To my left, across the river, I could see the beginning of Hoi An ... we were only ten minutes away. Once off 'Dong' took us to a boat building workshop (well, when I say workshop, I mean a bamboo framed building covered with leaves). He began to explain how these boats were made, the fact they take two weeks to complete and that they were made out of monogamy wood (imported from Laos). He finished off by smirking and informing us that the retail price, of each finished boat, was around £600 … less than a Honda scooter. We moved onto a proper woodcarving workshop where we saw some Vietnamese men creating wooden, hand-sculptured, furniture. Within the building were the usual souvenirs along with some very unique wooden pieces. It was here that I decided that I love wood as a material; the colours, and the warmth, make it so much more interesting than metal or glass. We were then showed other workshops which held little interest. We finally made it back to the boat and docked, within Hoi An town center, around 2pm.

Kim wanted to get some knives, and a painting that she had seen, whereas I wanted to get my painting. I went with her for the knives and we then split up. As Kim was purchasing her painting I went and found the shop that sold the one I liked. The canvass was painted in a very rich, light blue. Just off center was a Vietnamese lady riding her bicycle. She was also in blue and it looked as though she was disappearing into the background. The piece was very simple, yet effective … and it cost $30!

How much! I said. As both of Kim's paintings had cost $25 each I decided to have yet another think. I walked back to meet Kim thinking about the painting. I did like it and in reality they were only asking £20.00 for an original work of art. However, for me, it wasn't perfect so I wasn't prepared to spend that amount. When I found Kim she had just finished her transaction; we both went back to my shop and bartered for the blue Vietnamese lady. Eventually Kim managed to barter them down to $25 which I accepted. Kim was extremely good at bartering and I was very thankful. Due to Kim purchasing two paintings at $25 each I didn't think I was ripping the artist off; however, considering how long it took to bargain him down, I feel I got a fair price. They took the piece out of it's frame, rolled it up, and put it inside a piece of plastic tubing usually used for plumbing. The tube is extremely tough and so, instead of posting another parcel home, I have no objection to carrying it within my big bag. So there you are … I have purchased my first ever original piece of art. It felt rather good.

Due to having spent a fortune here within Hoi An I skipped 'cake and hot chocolate' and headed back to my hostel. I chilled for a while before taking some night photos of Hoi An later in the evening. I booked my coach, for tomorrow morning, to Hue … and Kim did the same. We then headed out for our final meal in Hoi An … which ended up including 'cake and hot chocolate' (I am so rubbish at compromising). The food here is delicious and I am really going to miss it. I got back to my dorm a decent time, due to having to get up at 6:15am tomorrow morning, and went to sleep. It's with the deepest regret that I leave Hoi An. I have loved it here and I wish that I could stay longer. The only problem is that if I do stay longer, I know I will end up purchasing more wonderful possessions. For my wallets sake I have to move onto Hue.

Toodle Pip!

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