Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Hoi An

The ancient city of Hoi An is a UNESCO world heritage site, nestled along the Thu Bon river. Quaint and picturesque, its streets are lined with tailors, shoemakers, and cafes. Behind the main tourist streets are narrow laneways and hidden courtyards and bustling markets. It is a lovely town to wander, though the touts are persistent and plentiful! As you walk past vendors and restaurants and tailors selling mangosteens, tailored coats, hammocks, lanterns, trinkets, peanuts, and tiger balm, you will be called to and entreated with the common refrain ‘looking! Looking, buy something from me.’ I was unwittingly captured by a woman offering $1 manicures, and while she did her work she had me read her ‘testimonials’ book, which actually was filled with warnings to future patrons to be weary of her upsells and extras – I didn’t have the courage to tell her that the testimonials weren’t all that flattering, and managed to avoid her forceful offers to thread my brows and legs, and escaped with my unruly eyebrow hairs intact (and my fingernails looking pretty much the way they did when I walked in). 

We bought one of these awesome bamboo root carvings from this man,
who bears a remarkable resemblance to the one in the photo above...

Having a cheese moment. No Laughing Cow, we're talking real, raw milk cheeses.

Three of our five days here were overcast and rainy, but after lots of café sitting and cheese eating (real cheese!!!), we were itching to get moving again, so we rented some bicycles and rode out to the sea. Just a short 4 km bike ride brings you to a long stretch of beach on the South China Sea. Massive waves pound the sand that extends for miles in each direction. There’s something I adore about a wildly crashing sea with moody clouds overhead…

We met some puppies on the way to the beach!


Turns out I actually really do like long walks on the beach.

This giant beetle was flailing helplessly on his back. I righted him,
but he was headed straight for the crashing surf, so I moved him inland...

Beard is coming along nicely.  :)

Incognito. In very, very effective cognito.

On our last day, the rain held off and we rented a motorbike and drove out to the Marble Mountains, between Hoi An and Da Nang. The Marble Mountains are a set of three startling protrusions of rock rising up dramatically from the otherwise flat valley floor. Once mined intensively, there now seems to be some protection measures in place from further excavation, and presumably the myriad marble carvers at the base of the mountain are using imported marble (though they won’t tell you that).

As we were riding there, a woman rode up alongside us and guessed correctly where we were going, and told us to follow her. This has happened before, and normally they’re luring you somewhere where they get a commission. There is always a catch. This catch was that she’d give us free parking in exchange for taking a look at her store instead of all the others, just in case we happen to be in the market for a pair of massive marble lions to flank our driveway. (In the end, we got away with only buying a small, laughing Buddha. A lucky Buddha, said she, though not so lucky as to prevent the minor ignition troubles we had when we were leaving…)

But what an amazing place! The largest of the three mountains has a series of caves and pagodas tucked all over the mountain, with a labyrinth of stairs and pathways between them. Walking into Huyon Khong Cave was an experience I’ll never forget. Through the arched gateway along the path into the mouth of the cave is a statue of lady Buddha, and off to the left you see a dim light beyond the darkness where the cave continues, and you follow this around a corner where you can see through the dimness to another cavern whose diffuse light and distant people hint at it’s size. Above you, bats are squeaking in the darkness and you hear various tips and taps from droplets falling from stalactites you can’t see. You begin to walk to walk down the dark steps that lead into the massive cavern and you see a giant Buddha statue across the way, perfectly framed by the rock, and at the bottom of the cave is an entire, free-standing temple. Though light is pouring in from openings high above, it’s still dim in the cave, which lends the space an entirely magical and mystical feel. Just awesome.

The entrance to Huyan Khong Cave.

Huyen Khong Cave, Marble Mountains.

Giant marble statue, anyone?

Typical Vietnamese eatery.


  1. Amazing pictures Amberlea!!!! I really wish we were going to Asia!
    Hope you are having fun!

    Alex (Obasan)

  2. incredible! So you're having the marble lions shipped back right?
    Mark - you look comically GIGANTIC sitting in those red chairs!
    Miss you guys!