Monday, July 18, 2011

Hoi An, Vietnam

Beautiful Hoi An

      Hoi An is an ancient trading center which was influenced more by the Chinese over the centuries than the other Vietnamese cities we’ve visited.  It’s filled with old teakwood houses carved in ornamental designs.  Sometimes these carvings are lacquered in bright colors and Chinese characters.  It altogether has its own unique character and the “Old Town” has been proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage site.  In an odd way it reminded me of St. Augustine as the old quarter has been closed to traffic (which in Vietnam is a godsend) and is filled with curious little shops and craft demonstrations.
This is much more typically Chinese than Vietnamese

We visited the “Oldest House” which is still occupied by the original family who built it six generations ago, even though it has been flooded many times when the Thu Bon River overflowed its nearby banks (the owners have marks showing how high the floodwaters have risen in their house over the years).  We saw the Japanese covered bridge dating back to the 1600s, which also doubles as a temple. 
The Japanese covered bridge

I never thought I'd see a Thai monk on a Japanese bridge in Vietnam - wearing a cowboy hat and carrying a camera, no less.... but here he is

      Then the group dispersed – mostly to shop as Hoi An is the mecca of bargain hunters and fashionistas from America, Europe, Australia – and even the Thai people want to go crazy shopping in Hoi An.

      The town is filled with tailor shops.  Show them a photo of your senior prom dress from 1978, tell them how you want it updated, choose your beautiful silk fabric, let them take your current measurements, and return the next morning for your creation – probably for $50 or less.  Better yet, go to a cobbler shop and let them trace each foot (this is especially handy for people whose feet are not the same size).  Look in the current Vogue magazine and place and order something like this:  “I want this shoe, but with a rounded toe and a wedge heel, about an inch higher than the one in the photo.  I want teal leather with fuchsia stitching, a taupe sole and this flowered material as the lining.”  Plop down $20 and return the next day for your custom made shoe, which they will alter if it’s not exactly what you wanted.  (BTW, it’s very odd that Vietnam accepts US dollars as readily as Vietnamese dong.  You can’t do that in Thailand or any other country I’ve recently been to.) 
      I wasn’t really in the market for a new wardrobe, however, so I placed a modest order for an Italian wool winter coat in Stetson green and lined with silk – to wear to the Stetson football games!  I also ordered a couple pair of capris just to wear for the rest of my time in Asia as they’re light and comfy and fit perfectly, and a silk blend shirt to keep me cool as I walk the steamy streets of Vietnam.  I didn’t order shoes as my feet are swollen from all this travel/walking/heat but I’m definitely having non-shoppers remorse at the moment and wish I’d bought more.
This kid was looking so cute until I went to take his photo, then he had to look "cool"

I ended up buying some wood carvings from this place

Shop keeper in Hoi An.  I bought Jeff one of these gongs so he can summon me (ha!)

Typical Hoi An scene

Below are some photos of some of the craftspeople I saw in Hoi An.  These aren’t demonstrations for the tourists – they’re working artisans preparing goods for sale.
Women weaving bamboo mats

Hand weaving textiles

Silkworms growing

They put the silkworms in this frame for them to spin their silk cocoons

Pulling the silk strands off the cocoons

Embroidery.  Yes, I bought some of this, also

Rubber tree plantation.  Actually, this is closer to Saigon than to Hoi An.

Collecting the rubber

That's my hand pulling the rubber off of the tree

This guy is just sitting out in the middle of the rubber forest, carving and trusting that someone will happen by to purchase his work

      Our hotel in Hoi An was lovely, also.  It was called the Life Resort and below are some photos: