Typical building of Vietnam

Taste of Vietnam - Part 2: Da Nang and Hoi An

January 29, 2015

This is the continuation of Taste of Vietnam - Part 1: Ho Chi Minh City.

After our busy day in Saigon it was good to be back on the Millennium. There was time for a quick swim and a cool refreshing cocktail as the ship cruised out of Phu My harbour, en-route to our next stop, Da Nang. On most cruises you generally spend every night out at sea and arrive bright and early at the next port; occasionally, if the distances are larger you may spend a day or two “at Sea” between ports, which gives you a chance to enjoy all the facilities on board, attend info talks about the next port of call and decide on your excursions, if you have not already booked them.

Hoi An or Hue?

Once again I was faced with the dilemma of which attraction to visit and which to leave out. I was keen to visit Hue Imperial City, but after doing some on-line research, I found that most visitors recommended Hoi An, so that was where we headed. Once again we faced a fairly lengthy drive of around 90 mins, but the sights along the way were really interesting. We drove all along the coast past Non Nuoc Beach – a stunning and almost deserted stretch of white sand fringed by calm turquoise water; I could not believe that it was so deserted, and I’m sure that when the world gets out this place will take off as a beach holiday destination. I am told that the fresh fish and seafood at the local restaurants is fantastic too.

Woven baskets boats

Woven baskets boats
Years ago there was a tax on boats, so the locals ingeniously started using water-proofed woven baskets instead, to avoid the tax.

We saw several Vietnamese ladies balancing their characteristic double baskets full of fish or other fresh produce on their shoulders, or selling the catch along the side of the road. What really interested me were the up-turned large round baskets we saw all along the beach; our guide explained that the local people use these to fish from, instead of boats. Years ago there was a tax on boats, so the locals ingeniously started using water-proofed woven baskets instead, to avoid the tax. Of course, they are rather unwieldy in the water but these resilient people have perfected the art of fishing from a basket. These are called Thung Chai, and if you have time you can go on an eco-tour in one of them.

Marble shop

Marble Shop in Vietnam
Statues and ornaments made of marble quarried from the near-by Marble Mountain.

The beach area was pristine and the entire drive is fringed with beautiful roadside gardens and several very Western-looking beach resorts, which also looked deserted. Next time I visit Vietnam I’m going to make a point to return to Da Nang for some fun in the sun. We had one “comfort stop” en-route to Hoi An at an amazing marble showroom, selling some of the most incredible marble statues and ornaments I have seen anywhere, using marble quarried from the near-by Marble Mountain. Unlike the lacquer-work crafts, these souvenirs are too heavy to carry home in the suitcase, but they are happy to ship purchases all over the world.

Hoi An walking tour

Old trading port in Hoi An
Hoi An is very well-preserved old trading port, which dates from the 15th to the 19th century.

We arrived at Hoi An Ancient Town around mid-morning and could not wait to start exploring. The tour I chose included a walking tour of the most interesting landmarks followed by about 4 hours on our own to eat, explore and soak up the atmosphere. Hoi An is a remarkable place, and I am really glad that I chose to visit this very well-preserved old trading port, which dates from the 15th to the 19th century, and has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status. The old buildings are full of character and if you close your eyes (and ignore the crowds) you could imagine you had stepped back in time. The great thing about the Ancient Town is that the streets are a pedestrian zone, so no cars, (although there were several motor cycles which seemed to ignore this rule).

We walked the narrow streets from end to end, stopping occasionally at a pavement café to enjoy a cool drink and the air-conditioning. As befits a merchant town, most of the ancient buildings now contain shops selling all kinds of local crafts. There is a lot of duplication and a lot of competition. Good buys include ladies clothing, beautifully crafted paper goods, lovely Chinese lanterns and woven placemats and table runners.

Vietnamese local delicacies

There are several good places to stop and try local delicacies – we choose beautiful translucent prawn spring rolls and fresh squid served with fragrant steamed rice – accompanied by very un-Vietnamese iced-coffee. It was all delicious. Just beware of choosing the restaurants that are suggested by the tour guides – they are often very touristy and not the best option at all; rather just follow your nose and see which places are really buzzing.

Back to Celebrity Millennium Ship

Caged birds in Vietnamese houses verandas
Caged birds are extremely popular in Vietnam and many houses had several cages on their verandas.

We left Hoi An around 3.30 to head back to the ship and it was bliss to settle into the air-conditioned coach. (It is really hot and humid in Vietnam and you should not go anywhere without a hat, sunglasses, water bottle and sunscreen; I found that pure cotton clothing was the coolest). The drive back to the ship always seems to take longer but there was plenty to see along the way, including the characteristic huge fishing nets and several shrines and pagodas dotted here and there along the way. Most of us probably also had a quick power-nap to keep us going.

Back on board Millennium there were yet more decisions to make; which restaurant should we choose, should we watch the live show, dance the night away in the disco or flirt with Lady Luck in the casino? There is never a dull moment on board ship.

Our next exciting stop was the much-anticipated Ha Long Bay – you can read about this highlight of the cruise in Taste of Vietnam - Part 3: Ha Long Bay.

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