The Japanese Covered Bridge, the Assembly Halls

It was sunny today! For real, all day, not just for a quick moment between the clouds. After going from San Sebastian to Vitoria to London to Versailles, sun and heat are not things I have learned to handle, so I’m looking forward to finding out what new patches of skin I managed to get burnt today despite my precautions.

After checking the weather, I went off to have breakfast. After the dreamy array of delicious treats at the Pilgrimage Village, breakfast here is woefully disappointing, but at least you can have it outside sitting on the veranda, overlooking the rice fields. After that, I boarded the Jeep to the old town!

Today I was more disciplined and began crossing off items on the list of Hoi An’s historical sites. You have to buy one ticket to the Old Town for 120,000 VND (€5) and that gives you access to any 5 Hoi An sites of your choosing. I used my first stub on crossing the Japanese Covered Bridge, a holdover from when Hoi An was a bustling trade port and populated by Chinese and Japanese merchants as well as the Vietnamese. It’s tiny, but looks picturesque over the river and the old streets. On the inside it has two pairs of statues guarding each side: dogs on one, monkeys on the other, plus it has an entire shrine in the middle. 

Next up was Tan Ky house, a well preserved 18th century residence that combines Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese architecture and illustrates how tradesmen lived back then. When I got in it was absolutely packed with tourists, most French; even if you’re not part of a group, the staff do give out explanations, but it was so jammed and noisy that I preferred to look around on my own and pick up strands of exposition in French or Spanish from the guides around. They have a set of interesting photographs from the different times Hoi An has been flooded (the house was flooded almost up to the ceiling several times in the last ten years alone!) but otherwise it’s pretty small and quick to get through.

I suspect this town may be less of an early riser than the rest of Vietnam, because I came in at around 9:45 and some shops were still closed (in Hanoi lots of places close at 11:00 for lunch…). It took a while until the streets filled again with tourists. Because the streets are closed to traffic, the only transport here are bikes or cyclos (a rickshaw type of thing). Every once in a while you see a long line of ten or so cyclos carrying one tourist each, individually. Also, as if to fill in the wonderful lack of honking here, when bike and cyclo drivers want to warn people off their way they actually say “beep beep beep”. They literally pronounce the words “beep beep beep”, creating the most bizarre scenes. I saw a lady do that who had an actual bell on her bike handle.

Anyway. I also visited the Tran family’s chapel, which was a total bust -practically nothing to see save for a dark, gloomy altar, and I was the only person there so I was a captive audience to the guide’s fast but uncomprehensible English and occasionally had to make “Oooh” and “Aaah” noises while she tried to peddle a bunch of souvenirs in the back rooms. Give this one a pass!
I also checked out the Phuc Kien Assembly Hall (the Lonely Planet guide lists it by its Chinese name of Fujian but you won’t see it referred as that anywhere in Hoi An), which is a very colourful meeting hall for the different Chinese trading families of the 18th century, before the river became intractable to ships. It has vibrantly decorated gates and a nice courtyard leading to the main building with a couple of fountains and bonsais. This one was overrun by German tourists!

I had lunch at a restaurant called Morning Glory (…it’s the name of a plant, get your mind out of the gutter), where they served me a very tasty chicken and rice dish. The rice looked and tasted exactly like paella, oddly enough. I’ve also been trying mango, banana or passion fruit smoothies -glorious! I don’t remember what I paid for lunch but I think it was like 150,000 VND (€6,30). I splurged a bit on the hotels in this trip, but I’m certainly saving on daily expenses.
After lunch, seeing that I was all but done with the daily sightseeing, I prolonged the visit a bit by taking a detour to Randy’s Book Xchange (sic), noted on the LP guide. It’s a bookstore of sorts that’s really the house of an American expat, but he does have a pretty large collection of English language books (as well as a small selection of Swedish, Italian, French language books). If you look at the map you have to go to the end of the old quarter, cross the bridge onto Cam Nam island, and take a right into a completely residential area. On the map it looks like you’re going off into the hinterlands, but it took me like ten minutes tops, it’s closer than you think. I browsed there for a while before going back for more sightseeing.
I only had one ticket left so I took my time window-shopping, then actual-shopping, walking around, stopping for a rest and a refreshment… It was hot under the sun and the town was alive with people. I eventually made my way to the temple of Quan Cong, a Chinese temple with statues and a nice open courtyard.

At around mid-afternoon I was tired and felt like I’d seen everything I wanted to see, so I flagged a Mai Linh taxi (didn’t even have to tell the driver to turn on the meter!) and went back to the hotel for the day. When I arrived I noticed the rice plants on the fields were really leafy, unlike in Hanoi and Sapa, and it looks like the rice is almost ready for harvesting. Have you ever seen rice still on the plant? I walked up to the field to snap this picture:

Tomorrow I’m going to HCMC for the very last leg of my trip! I wonder how the big southern city will look and feel after this relaxing break in Central Vietnam!

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