Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Beautiful Hoi An and majestic Hue

Hoi An was definitely the loveliest town we visited in Vietnam. Famous for the hundreds of tailors it contains, and the whole area protected as a world heritage site, it appears trapped in time, nestled beside a river which reflects the traditional buildings and ever-present bicycles and scooters. The town is basically one big museum, with temples reflecting the different influences over time, a picturesque covered bridge and preserved old houses set up as though still in use.

After F got himself fitted for a suit in a hot and sweaty tailors, and I boggled at the sheer range of outfits they promised to be ready in 48 hours, from simple tops to full wedding dresses, we visited some of the sights and enjoyed strolling through the streets, shaded by overhanging tree branches, stopping off for the occasional ice-cream. We spent sunset on the bridge, watching the sun drop below the water and lighting up the sky in shades of orange and crimson before walking back to our accommodation. At night the town comes alive with colour, bright lanterns swaying from trees and lining the roads, floating inflatables on the river glowing (including the creepiest cats-in-a-basket model), and fairy lights strung up.

After more tailor fittings the next day we decided to take a cookery course. Vina, our sweet chef, coaxed us through green papaya salad, pork spring rolls, chicken and vegetable soup and fish and chicken in banana leaf (with a lot of patience!), before we enjoyed the results. The course was fun and tasty, and armed with a Vietnamese cookery book, something we intend to try out at home in the future.

I would have loved to spend a couple more days in Hoi An, but time ran away with us and before we knew it we were off again, edging our way further north to Hue, the old capital of the country before the rise of communism. We explored the Citadel, an impressive palatial complex dominating the cityscape, containing beautiful examples of sculpture and building decoration and outlining the history and decline of the Vietnamese kings.

The next day was spent visiting some of the great Kings’ tombs. One was surrounded by a moat of giant lotus flowers injecting bright pops of colour into the vast green water, another situated high above the landscape with views stretching far beyond framed in huge golden archways. Each was incredible in its own distinct way, reflecting the style of the King and the increasing foreign influences on construction and decoration of the interiors.

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