Sunday, 20 March 2011

I think I'm in China.

Sunday 20th March 2011

MP3 track of the day: Honeymoon - The young Victoria

Weather: Coldish in the morning but getting quite warm within the middle of the day. There's quite a strong breeze disguising the power of the sun; I think I've got a little sun burnt.





















GOOOOD MORNING VIETNAM!

I was awoken by interior coach lights being turn on; it was at this point that the coach attendant informed us that, within ten minutes, we would arrive within the center of Hoi An. I knew Hoi An wasn't a big place, however I was still surprised that we were so close. The time of arrival seemed correct, it was almost 6am, however the view made me question just how close we really were. Pulling back my curtain I could see lush, green, rice paddies backed by dense woodland. The sun was just coming into view and the morning mist was rising … perfection loomed outside my window.

I'd slept well last night, once I had found a comfortable position. The surprising thing, given my height, was that I could stretch out fully … however only just. We crossed a wooden bridge (that had seen better days) flanked by woodland and there, on the other side, was the beginning of Hoi An. We went through a number of streets before the coach pulled up outside it's offices. I inquired as to where our exact location was and, happily, I was informed that my hostel was only a five minute walk away. I pushed my way through the bombardment of taxi and motorbike offers and headed off on foot. Within five minutes I arrived at my hostel. For the first time since New Zealand I was staying at a 'YHA', and it was a rather pleasant one. I went inside and checked-in. Obviously, being 6:30am, I was told that I couldn't go into my dorm as people were still sleeping. The lady, who's bed I would be taking, wouldn't be checking out until 7am. After that bed sheets needed changing and so the up-shot was that I wouldn't be allowed in until 7:30am. To my right was a long wooden bench; I sat down and waited.

At 7:30am I crept into my dorm, trying not to disturb anyone from their slumber. As I had a good nights sleep on the coach I dumped my stuff within my dorm, picked up my camera, and headed out into town. Whilst walking towards the center I noticed that something was wrong; it took me a short while to realize that I was missing some item of clothing. My hat, which I had purchased in Malaka, Malaysia, in late November was either still in Na Trang, or on the sleeper coach … I couldn't remember exactly where. Either way it mattered not, I was without my hat. Call it an amazing coincidence but, just at that time of thought, I found myself walking past a hat shop. It sold a similar hat to the one I had left behind however, as I'm only within South East Asia for another two weeks, I decided not to purchase one … I had my 'Mclaren F1 baseball cap' that had been in the bottom of my bag since leaving Japan. At 8am I noticed that the weather was very pleasant, the temperature wasn't too hot or too cold; a gentle breeze blew through the streets and, all-in-all, I was looking forward to looking around Hoi An. The only problem was that the sky was full of clouds, making photographing the place a little difficult; I decided to photograph in a away that minimized the white skies as much as possible.

Hoi An is a UESCO site due to it's French colonial buildings. Only three small narrow streets are considered it's center. One street was facing the riverfront with the other two running parallel behind. The streets were littered with wooden French colonial buildings painted in a golden yellow colour; the wooden window shades were brown and there were trees and plants, in full bloom, all around. Being a UESCO site care had been given to the pavements and general layout of the area. With so much shade, due to the narrow streets lined with buildings, it was a joy to walk around the area so early in the morning. There were very few tourists around and so, first of all, I visited the 'Japanese Covered bridge' constructed within the mid sixteenth century (though many restoration projects have taken place after that date). Due to not owning a 'Hoi An's sightseeing ticket' I couldn't step onto the bridge (though I did for a cheeky photo) and so I headed down to the waterfront to cross over the stream on a more, conventional, wooden bridge.

Instead of purchasing a ticket, for each attraction, you have to purchase one of these inclusive tickets. The ticket costs 100,000 dong (around £3) and covers entry, over two days, for one museum, one old merchants house, one Chinese temple and the bridge. 100,000 dong is quite a lot and considering I can see the bridge, I will be going into China so Chinese temples won't be an issue and that I wasn't really bothered about the ceramic museums I started to question whether the ticket was really worth it. Going on my usual stance that I preferred the outside of buildings more than the interior I decided to walk towards 'Phung Hung House' (a merchants house) knowing full well that, without a ticket I wouldn't be able to get it. This didn't stop me trying, though with a frosty Vietnamese lady on reception, I didn't get anywhere. I came back out of reception, crossed the road, and took a photo. The building wasn't that spectacular, it looked the same as other buildings, within the town, only painted black.

Once done I came back across the stream and planned my walking route. As the town only had three small streets, to be considered it's 'center', I decided to form an 's' shaped walking path. I walked east along the riverside street; when at the end I went one block north and then headed west. Again, once at the end of this street I went one block north and headed east along the final center street. As these roads ran vertically there were many streets that ran horizontally and so, as I walked, I investigated them as well. It seemed that each building housed a retail outlet of some sort (or it was a museum, merchant house or temple). There were thousands of art galleries (which I found quite a few paintings I liked), souvenir stores, silk cloth shops, restaurants and suit tailoring services, which the town is famous for. It didn't take me long to fall in love with the hundreds of products on offer. Unlike other South East Asian countries the goods here didn't feel tacky, they felt well made. I loved the plates, bowls, chop stick boxes, paintings (I think I like Vietnamese art) and many, many other things. I think, once I own a property of some sort, I might fly out here to decorate, and equip, my home with all the paintings and utensils that I will need.

As I wondered further through the streets of Hoi An I started to ask myself why. Why was I enjoying Vietnam so much more than any other South East Asian country? Why did I like the products on offer? Personally I think it's because, unlike other South East Asian countries, Vietnam has a very Chinese feel to it. There are Chinese temples, lanterns and Chinese writing all over the country. I believe it's probably to do with the fact that, years ago, Chinese clans moved south, out of China, and settled within Vietnam. I think their expansion west into the rest of South East Asia was stopped due to the western mountains of Vietnam (plus possibly the Khmer empire); this is why Vietnam has this altogether different feel.

Having finished the city center, and with the time being 11:00am I headed out further a field until I had wondered around most of Hoi An. Out of the city center new developments could be seen with the typical shanty buildings ever present. I had photographed, and walked, until I seen the whole town, and it was only midday. I had booked three nights here and I wondered how I was going to fill my time. It was at this point that I herd a voice shouting my name. I looked to my right and saw this western looking lady, with a large Vietnamese cone hat on, walking towards me. It was Kim from the I-to-I teaching English project. Amazed I said hello and then we headed for a drink to quiz each other on where we had been. Having nothing else planned for the day we decided to walk around town 'window shopping'. It was nice chatting away and finding out further information about the places Kim had been to within Vietnam. She was planning on taking a day trip to 'My Son' and inquired if I fancied going. I accepted as that would take up a day.

We just walked and chatted; I saw a painting that I was tempted to purchase but I restrained. We had lunch around 2pm and then Kim had to go and change hotels. I had found some presents for my family, that I thought they would like, and so I purchased them and posted them home. I went back to my hostel to chill and await Kim as we were going to meet up at 7:30pm for something to eat. Kim arrived by bike and we found a restaurant close by. The waiter seemed to be in a little bit of a rush as all of his answers were short and to the point. We stayed there until 9pm; I had been up fifteen hours by then and was shattered. I returned to my hostel and went to sleep.

Tomorrow is going to be a lazy day, still not sure what I'm going to do yet.

Toodle Pip!

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