So we left Hanoi and traveled to the beach near Da Nang in Central Vietnam. We had booked the Fusion Maia Resort on the advice of a friend – two daily spa treatments are included in the room rate – and we were certainly not disappointed! In addition to the gorgeous stretch of coastline, we knew we’d be nearby the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Hoi An and My Son.
Our arrival at the spa hotel was heralded by lanterns, which had become one of the themes of our entire trip.
Everything was spectacularly beautiful. The stretch of beach along the hotel’s waterfront edge is famous as an R & R station for the US Military during the Vietnam War – better known as China Beach – and we were headed there for some much-needed rest and relaxation ourselves.
Nearby Hoi An is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port and authentically dates from the 15th to the 19th century. Settled by the Chinese and Japanese, as well as the Dutch and Indians, the town boasts a unique architectural heritage. As the river silted up in the last centuries, its importance as a trading center waned and it never developed into a modern-day city.
The Tan Ky is a marvelously preserved example of an 18th century merchant’s house, one of many that remain, built just before Hoi An’s fall as a major shipping center in the region. Open to the public, it is run by the eighth generation of the original family. It has the typical layout, with shop up front, living and sleeping quarters in the center and kitchen out back. The staircase is even steeper than a step-tansu would be.
The merchant houses are all built around open courtyards.
One of the most unusual features of Hoi An is the historic Japanese Bridge, linking the Chinese and the Japanese sides of town. After the shogun limited travel out of Japan in the 17th century, the Japanese presence died, but many of the houses retain Japanese details in their building methodologies.
Handmade lanterns were available for sale throughout Hoi An and graced every building and were hung along every street.
There was a profusion of flowers everywhere.
Every restaurant and building was prettier than the next.
The market was loaded with every variety of fruit – many of which I could not identify!
And cyclos were lined up along the river, available for rent, as were river boats.
Beautiful people everywhere, from older…
In Asia, there is always the requisite wedding shot to be found!
Even more entertaining than the wedding photos were the young couples having staged and costumed photos taken.
Nighttime in Hoi An was amazing, with all the bridges and lanterns lit up. For all the tourist attractions and shopping (BTW, Hoi An is the place in Vietnam to get clothes made – there were tailors on every corner) there was nothing phony or staged about it. It was much bigger than I had expected and much more real.
For my basket junkies I have to share this photo of silkworm baskets in use at the silk factory shop in town.
We also saw amazing basket coracles pulled up along the beach on a morning walk.
The region is also home to a very different sort of cultural heritage site, that of the ruins of a Cham Dynasty complex called My Son, about an hour and fifteen minutes away from Da Nang.
Truly surprising to see Hindu deities in the midst of Vietnam, but the Cham people were originally from India and they brought their religion with them. There were Sanskrit inscriptions on stelae as well.
I have tried to get to Angkor Wat in Cambodia repeatedly over the last 15 years, but something always thwarts me (like Pol Pot himself escaping from jail one time and terrorizing the country again). My Son will have to be my mini-Angkor for now.
It was mysterious and romantic and reasonably uncrowded.
And much of it is still buried and being reconstructed slowly.
Good-bye came too soon for my liking, although I was anxious to get home to my girls.
On our last night the hotel gave us traditional paper lotus flower floating candles to wish on.
Maybe my wish will come true…
(As a side and somewhat related note, if you are out of TV shows to watch and waiting for more Downton Abbey or think it has jumped the shark and are finished with it, I cannot recommend the late 1980s TV show “China Beach” enough. Early Dana Delaney [before the bad botox] and Marg Helgenberger [before CSI], along with Boonie, Dodger and Dr. Dick Richards, trying to make sense of the war, the injured and their lives working at the 510th Field Hospital. Not sure if it is available on iTunes or DVD, but it should be!)
Many thanks to J.S. for photos 2 and 22.