Tailors & Mountains...
05.07.2009 - 15.07.2009
Tired of long distance buses, I get the night train to Hoi An, taking in beautiful coastal scenery and a stunning palm-lined sunset en-route. As both sides agreed to leave Hoi An untouched during the war, it is officially the place to go to see "old buildings". It is still a very quaint, pretty and small place, despite the influx of tourist trade over the last decade, and while tailor shops inhabit almost every building in the old quarter, it means the buildings are renovated and restored without losing any of their charm. In celebration of the full moon there is a lantern procession, and the twinkle of the flames suits the peeling colonial buildings very much.
An hour out of Hoi An lies My Son, the ruins of Hindu temples built by the Cham Kingdom between the 4 - 14th century AD. Though not as impressive as Angkor Wat, the tumbledown red brick ruins bask in the bright morning sunlight and green moss and grass sprout prettily from its walls. Some of the temples are more intact than others, though bombing during the war means all are fairly far gone. One looks like a giant treasure chest, another has its wall carvings still intact, while another is really just a pile of bricks being held together with supports. Oh and there are large stone penises dotted about. (Sorry, that should be "Phallic symbols", right?).
I'm back on the buses as I work my way down the coast, stopping for a couple of nights in Nha Trang before moving on into the mountains of eastern Vietnam.
The road to Dalat slowly winds its way through surprisingly European-like forests, with glimpses of hilly vistas as we round treacherously steep corners. Dalat itself is pretty-ish, the jumble of roofs on different levels making up for the grey sky and a mist more atmospheric than dampening. Vest tops and shorts are exchanged for trousers and jumpers as I adjust to the more familiar cold climate. A hot coffee is now more than welcome & a brisk walk no longer leaves me drenched in sweat.
I get a days tour of the surrounding area with one of the many Easy Rider motorbike tour guides & head off into a countryside dominated by coffee plantations. I see rice wine being made; cooked rice ferments in earthenware jugs and is then distilled, the discarded husks of rice used as fuel, nothing wasted. I visit a flower farm, small fields of bright colours under plastic roofs, and a silk factory where a pile of rattling silk cocoons are boiled, teased and unwound before being intricately woven into patterned silk by huge noisily vibrating machines. Elephant waterfall, now devoid of elephants, is nevertheless impressive and at its base there is scrambling to be done amongst the chunky roots of the water drenched trees. I stand beneath the fall of the water, a little to one side, and brace myself against the spray thrown up as it pummels the rocks alongside me. It is amazingly powerful. The last stop is Dalat's very own "Crazy House", built by artist/architect (And local governor’s daughter) Ms Dang Viet Nga. Originally a labour of love and now an ever growing tourist spot, nothing about this guest house is conventional. The walls and windows curve, giant animals guard the bedrooms and the three buildings are connected by Escher-like staircase-bridges.