Hoi An


image.jpegSo far from home and yet such a familiar picture. This is the coast road between Hue and Danang. With a flat expanse of water and tree covered mountains tumbling down to meet the horizon it reminded me of Loch Lomond side; the leaden skies pregnant with yet more rain added to the impression.

We were en route to the ancient city of Hoi An, hoping for an upturn in the weather and anticipating venerable dwellings from the merchants days when traders from China and Japan laid over in Vietnam, awaiting favourable winds for their homeward journeys. The weather gods remained in judgement on our merits; further rain and mists meant our journey over the mountains, with its attendant scenic views, was replaced by 6km of soulless tunnel. However, there was indeed light at the end of our tunnel and as we emerged on approach to Danang the skies lightened and the rain abated.

Danang is a modern coastal city with many hotel complexes along the shoreline. Mainly locals holiday here and most of the big hotel chains have developments either in place or advertised. The Sheraton was where the American delegation lodged during President Trump’s recent visit. Echoing current US shadows cast on this part of the world were the American air bases from the Vietnam war which still stand near the beaches on which the g.i’s took ‘R and R’ during the conflict.

Opposite the shoreline stand a series of marble mountains. In wartime the Vietcong used caves here to hide from American troops; now they quarry marble to sculpt statuary for temples and hotels, giant Buddhas which stand silently by the roadside as if meditating on days gone by. image.jpegWe reached Hoi An, buoyed by the absence of rain and set out to explore. The old town is approached by alleys lined with market traders selling fruit, vegetables, herbs and fish. image.jpegAs we approached the old town, the legacy of the recent heavy rains was evident. The swollen river had breached its banks and the boats sat empty, tourists too timid to brave the rapidly flowing muddy waters. On entering one of the merchant houses we found a mark halfway up the wall showing to where the inundation had encroached earlier this month when floods affected large swathes of central Vietnam.

The streets of Hoi An are lined by houses in a mixture of French, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese architectural styles. Some retain their original function as merchant houses or meeting places, while others are converted to stylish shops and eating places. The developments show pleasing sensitivity to preserving the originality of the place. Lanterns are strung on and between houses in a riot of colours and shapes.

The Japanese have largely left but a sizeable Chinese community remains in Hoi An and they have preserved a number of community centres in which to meet and worship.

Over the doorways to each house, decorative ‘eyes’ known as ‘mat cua’ protect the building and its inhabitants from malevolent influences.

image.jpegSafely protected, and mercifully dry, we came to the end of our trip at the beautiful covered Japanese bridge. Tomorrow we have another day to return and enjoy some more of the wonders of this venerable place.

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