Hoi An and Mui Ne

Hoi An Hoi An is a very old town, with a history going back over 2000 years, and its inspiringly named Old Town is the main reason people visit it. Influenced by Chinese, Cham and Vietnamese styles, the Old Town is filled with shophouses, narrow lanes, Chinese temples and meeting halls, and is a lovely place to wander around in. Fortunately, an agreement between the two sides during the Vietnam war meant that the town was left alone, so all of the historic buildings are still intact. Tailoring is a particular specialty in Hoi An, and there are many places to get custom made suits and dresses throughout the town - I was sorely tempted to buy something, but held myself back, not wanting to fill up my pack. The main drawback is the popularity of the town for tour groups, and they can make some places impossible to see or enjoy - but a few steps take you into a shaded lane, and a restaurant with cheap beer, so it's all good. The hotel I was staying at deserves a special mention - the Sunflower. I'd picked it because it had dorm rooms, and I thought it would be good to meet some people. It was bit far out of the centre of town, but that would be fine - I like to walk. The main thing about the place was the people who were staying there - almost exclusively English, very young, and some of the worst examples of backpackers I'd ever come across. On the first night I overheard a guy saying that he hadn't left the poolside all day, and probably wouldn't the next - the loungers round the pool were almost permanently fully occupied. I couldn't understand why someone would travel all the way to Vietnam, and then to Hoi An, to sit by the pool all day. The next day I listened to someone else describing his night out - apparently he chundered all over a bar. Classy. I thought that he might have been having a joke, as he sounded almost exactly like 'Gap Yah' man, but after a while I realised that this was all natural. Oh, and don't get me started on people who come into the dorm room at 3am, turn the main light on, and stamp around for twenty minutes... Luckily, Magali and two friends were in town, and I arranged to eat with them and escape the hotel for the evening. I sampled one of the local delicacies, White Rose which is a type of shrimp dumpling, while the others tried a variety of other local dishes. After dinner, a wander along the riverfront to a bar led to a few drinks, a shisha pipe, and a fierce table football match
Streets of Hoi An

Streets of Hoi An

Streetlamps

Streetlamps

Old lady in boat.

Old lady in boat.

I rented a scooter the next day, with the primary aim of visiting the Marble Mountains near Danang. These rock outcrops had been used for years as source material for the local sculptors, although this has now stopped as the locals sensibly realised that they were mining a valuable tourist resource. Visitors can only really visit one of the mountains, which has a large cave at ground level, and various Buddhist temples and shrines on the top. Climbing the steps to the top was hard work - although there is a lift to the top, I thought a bit of exercise would be better for the soul. There were hordes of children around some of the upper caves, so I gave them a miss, but the very top of the mountain (up yet another steep flight of steps) had excellent views of Danang and the surrounding area. The best part of the trip, though, was the cave at the bottom - Am Phu - which was very atmospheric, dimly lit, and filled with statues. There were steps which led up and out of the cave to a viewpoint, though it was a bit of a disappointing view, especially compared to the one at the very top. Steps downwards and deeper into the mountain, however, led to darker and narrower tunnels, and a bizarre collection of hellish sculptures. Flayed bodies, demons, and even a woman being sawn in half - it seemed like a version of hell, from a uniquely Asian perspective. After the mountains, I headed to the beach - well, the coastline anyway, as there was a parking fee for the beach itself. The weather had turned, and grey clouds were scudding across the sky, so I sat for nearly an hour just watching the waves hitting the shore. Very peaceful, and a great antidote to the busyness at the Marble Mountains. Dinner was a curry with Magali, Karen and William again, then a few drinks in a fairly swanky bar - a very pleasant way to finish off my visit to Hoi An.
Odd sculpture in Am Phu cave

Odd sculpture in Am Phu cave

More odd sculpture

More odd sculpture

Watching gods in Am Phu cave

Watching gods in Am Phu cave

Statue in Am Phu cave

Statue in Am Phu cave

Mui Ne Continuing down the Vietnamese coastline from Hoi An, on another night bus, I came to Mui Ne - a small beach resort. I bypassed the larger resort of Nha Trang, based on advice that would be just a party town full of grumpy Russians. Mui Ne is a town based on a single road following the beach for about 15km, with a fishing village at the northern end, and then a long strip of resorts and restaurants along the coastline. I was only staying here for one full day, mainly to have a bit of a relax on a beach, but also to visit some of the local sights. My hotel had steps down into the sea, which was beautifully warm, and I spent a good part of my first evening swimming up and down the coast and sitting on the beach watching the waves lap against the shore. My full day was spent on a tour around Mui Ne, visiting the Fairy Springs, the fishing village, and some of the nearby sand dunes. The Fairy Springs is a stream, carving through high sandstone on one side and jungle on the other. The actual springs are at the base of the sandstone cliffs, where water comes up through the red sand. It was a pleasant walk, though I had hoped for a more spectacular gushing spring out of rocks (with a rainbow, and possibly fluffy animals having a drink) - the bizarre sight of an ostrich (available to ride) was not what I'd expected. The fishing village was next up, though we only stopped for a few minutes for a look at a bay crammed with various fishing boats. One of the local peculiarities is the coracles that many people use - both as fishing boats, and as taxis out to the larger boats. The sand dunes were the main draw for the day, though the 40 minute drive out to them was a little wearing - the jeep we were transported in for the day wasn't really designed for comfort. The dunes themselves were pretty huge, with steep slopes that begged to be slid down - we all rented some of the plastic rectangles with a handle at one end to do just that. I quickly worked out the best way to go down - lying on the sheet facing forwards, and starting a slide with a short run-up - and it was a lot of fun. I managed a spectacular failure on my last run though, digging into the sand instead of sliding, then cartwheeling down the slope. No broken bones, fortunately! We had one final stop at a different set of dunes (red sand instead of white) with the hope of seeing a good sunset, but the building clouds on the western horizon meant that wouldn't be possible. My short visit to Mui Ne was finished off with a last dip in the sea, before food and sleep. A 6am start the next day to catch a bus to Dalat...
Lights of fishing boats

Lights of fishing boats

Sand Dunes

Sand Dunes

The Fairy Stream

The Fairy Stream

Boats in the harbour

Boats in the harbour

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