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We wanted to celebrate our 10 year anniversary with a holiday we'd never forget - we reckon 6 months of travelling the world (from trekking on the Inca Trail and through the Amazon to riding an elephant in Thailand) should just about cover it!

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Hoi An and the ancient Cham ruins

The rest of our stay at Nha Trang was spent relaxing on the beach, ordering room service and reading. The sun was deceptively hot (it felt cooler due to a strong breeze) which resulted in us cooking ourselves for too long and consequently none-too-attractive crabstick effect: red raw on the front and white on the back. If anyone was in any doubt as to where we were from, it was confirmed when we turned around. Even the lobsters being prepared on the beach by the local women looked pale in comparison.
We comforted ourselves by retreating to our hotel, whacking up the aircon and reading our books. I was reading a book called "The Girl in the Picture, " about the famous picture of a young girl seen running from a napalm bomb during the Vietnam war, her skin covered in burns. I knew how she felt.I could imagine the same picture, only with me running away from the beach instead.
The fact that the room service was ridiculously cheap was quite a novelty - we ate and drank to our hearts' content, all for about 3 quid a time, sniggering when the bill came.
When the time came to pack our bags and catch the sleeper bus to Hoi An, we were apprehensive, not exactly relishing the idea of anouther 12hr journey cooped up in a child-size bed. But we were pleasantly surprised..for the first time ever, we had enough legroom. They should have slapped a UNESCO world heritage sticker on that bus and made it the eighth wonder of the world. A bus...with legroom. Pioneering.
The hotel in Hoi An was our little luxury...3 whole stars. It had an infinity pool, dark wood furnishings and Sky TV. Unfortunately the weather wasn't great though so we didn't get to test the pool out. And there was no bar. Oh well, you can't have it all I guess. Not for US$ 25 (inc bed and breakfast for both of us) a night anyway.
That afternoon we went into the Old Town, which we agreed is one of the most picturesque areas in the whole of Vietnam - an ancient trading port with lots of quaint little alleys and narrow lanes boasting unusual little restaurants and old colonial buildings. We visited an old 19th Century house, where the owner welcomed us in and cooked us some delicious local food, particular to that region. One dish was called Cao Lau, a broth of flat noodles, pork slices, bean sprouts and greens, topped with croutons. The other was called White Rose, which was a little dumping stuffed with shrimp. Not as nice as it sounds actually - it tasted like a blob of glue with a prawn inside. We did that English thing of muttering under our breath that it tastes awful, then politely telling the waiter that it was delicious and tipping generously. The food here is a bit hit-and-miss: it sounds great on the menu but some of the cuts of meat look like something the local stray dogs would turn their scabby little noses up at. (Once when I ordered chicken I thought they'd mistakenly given me beef.A second examination revealed that it was in fact chicken, albeit a brown and wrinkly one).
We wandered about the town, visiting shabby little museums and the Japanese Covered Bridge.
The next day we took a tour to the Cham ruins, an ancient set of temples built around 700AD. Having visited Angkor Wat in Cambodia we'd become temple snobs, and wrinkled our noses at the dilapidated unkempt sites with grass growing out of the top of them, dismissing the fact that they WERE 1300 years old. Added to the fact that the tour involved a little Vietnamese guide whose English left a lot to be desired was the simple truth that there were far too many people in the group, all followiong each other around like lemmings. There's no fun in being herded around from one pile of old rubble to another with about 50 Japanese tourists snapping everything in sight, blinding you with the flash from their humungous cameraman-worthy equipment, yapping away and walking into the background of the few pictures we actually managed to take.
We returned to the Old Town a few times for meals and to walk along the riverbank in the evening, which looked amazing when lit up by hundreds of tiny fairy lights and beautiful chinese lanterns. Aside from the lovely Old Town, the rest of Hoi An was a multitude of tailor's shops lining the streets on either side of the road, all characterised by little women with tape measures around their necks desperately trying to haul people inside. Once over the threshold, you are thrust into a kiddies plastic chair as several women appear from nowhere and start pummelling your shoulders and massaging your neck, whilst putting a copy of the Next Directory in front of you. As the massage is so relaxing, before you know it you are leafing through some old catalogue, picking out dresses and suits that you might like to buy. It's quite a good sales technique, I had to admit, as I was almost lured into buying all manner of garments, none of which I needed nor particularly wanted. I dragged myself from the trance they'd put me in just in time to see Liam being measured up for a wool suit jacket in a daze.We snapped ourselves out of it and made our excuses, leaving with our wallets intact,just.
Back at the hotel we checked our visas - only 5 more days left on our 15-day visa for Vietnam. We'd better get ourselves to our next destination, Hue, which is about halfway up the country. It's a race against time, attempting to travel from one end of Vietnam to the other in 2 weeks. Okay, start the clock...

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