Without multiple travelers’ recommendations, we would have passed over this site as we drove from Hói An to Hue. It turned out to be Troy’s favorite spot in Southern Vietnam and we should have planned 2 hrs to see it all.
The stairs aren’t terrible going up… going down I did a lot of side-stepping to keep from rolling my ankles. At the top, you are rewarded with lots of wonderful (and varied) places to explore. First, check out this temple.
Pop over the bridge and say hello to this lovely lady.
There are lots of nooks and crannies to explore.
There are older Vietnamese women selling incense for you to burn for Buddha.
After we exhausted all the nooks, we climbed up to the top! It was HOT!
The view was vast and interesting. We paid a guy $1 to take our photo and print it out right there. Money well spent.
Notes: The area is lousy with marble-carvers who try to get you to park for ‘free’ at their shop. Just ignore them and pay to park in the designated area. On our way through, I noticed that many of the statues that they were carving didn’t have faces and our driver explained that the faces would be finished when they were ordered so the facial features can be customized.
On this leg of the SE Asian adventure, Troy and I were always moving, or thinking about where to go next. Once we landed in Hòi An we looked for a good day trip and found a UNESCO site 1-hour away: My Son Sanctuary.
We booked a van tour through the hostel down the road and headed out to see some ruins. When we arrived, there was a 20 minute cultural dance performance that was fun but pretty ‘touristy’. Then our guide took us to explore the site.
Unfortunately, the Vietnamese were hiding out here during the war and only 25 of 70 structures survived the carpet bombs. There is quite a bit of walking involved and you have to stick to the paths in case of unexploded munitions.
The temples are dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva. Here he is, wearing a snake for a necklace. He looks pretty serene…
If I hadn’t been to Angkor Wat a few weeks before, I’m sure this site would have been a bit more enthralling. But the scale pales in comparison to Siem Reap.
Luckily, Troy is always game to keep things entertaining. Note: The structure behind him was being restored.
Speaking of entertaining: here’s a photo of me and a linga (the representation of Shiva used for worship… and suggestive tourist pictures.)
Oh WAIT! The boat has to make a stop for a snack & ‘Cultural Experience’! (Aka- a tourist trap.) Here I am sanding a headboard at a workshop.
Back in the boat, we enjoy the lovely cruise down the Thu Bon River to Hói An.
My trip through Vietnam last fall was vaguely planned (to leave room for spontaneous fun!) so while I had heard that Hói An was FAMOUS for custom-ordered clothing – I resisted making any plans to get something made until we arrived there. I was happy with the tailor and the experience but I was not happy with my garment. Here is a list so you can learn from my mistakes.
Here are five things to know before ordering custom clothes in Hói An.
1- Find a reputable tailor. Luckily, my friend Amanda had just been to Hói An and had some great advice: “There are like 300 seamstresses of which most are not legit and they will try to “pull you into their places”. Go to Kim Phung, she has a profession store and her “manufacturing” takes place right down the street. She can make your stuff in like 24 hours or so so go there first with your designs or pick something out there and you can most likely pick up next day and take with you – or pay for shipping. I shipped and it arrived three months later.”
Here is my friend Amanda with Kim Phung @ 119 Tran Phu Street, Hói An
2- Choose your items early. I had figured that I’d just pick out something from a book that I liked. That is not how it works. Spend some time looking things up online and save a few photos from different angles to show them how you want the garment to fit. I showed the woman 1 photo and she made some notes and showed me a similar photo in a catalog she already had. I ended up choosing a simple black dress that I thought would be ‘timeless’ in silk. It ended up looking like a frumpy dress you’d wear to a funeral.
3- Choose your fabric and know how to recognize silk. Hói An is famous for silk and silk lanterns. Therefore, I thought I’d get a silk dress! I had even read up on how to tell if it’s actually silk… but then when I got there it seemed like too much of a hassle to get the nice woman to pull strings off the fabric and burn them to prove it was actually silk.
4- Haggle for the best price. For many American tourists, haggling is stressful and the falsely inflated prices make it feel like you’re being cheated. Of course the locals overcharge the tourists sometimes but haggling can be fun! Ask the price, then counter-offer with 1/3 that price and hopefully you’ll come to a price that you both can agree on.
5- Plan an extra day for a 2nd fitting. The garment that they make IS based on your exact measurements, but they will cut it a bit larger to make sure that it fits. My garment was frumpy and didn’t do my figure any favors. With another day to cinch in the waist and adjust the darts, it might have been wearable.
Oh how time flies! A year ago, I was making my way through SE Asia and had just met up with my Aussie friend, Troy to travel through Vietnam together.
This face says, “How do you eat this Báhn Xêo, which is larger than my torso?” Troy and I met in Ho Chi Minh City and spent the next day on a tour booked from our hotel, exploring the Mekong River.
The tour was very ‘touristy’ but gave a nice glimpse into the culture of the Mekong and lunch was a vast array of food. Including this giant fried fish.
HCMC was a big, noisy city full of an intense number of motorbikes. We didn’t enjoy it. In an attempt to ‘tourist’, we went to the War Remenants Museum. It had with a bunch of leftover US tanks/planes and interesting exhibits with graphic images of war. It was from the Communist view but I didn’t feel is was entirely propaganda- just the view from the ‘enemy’ in a controversial war. We were ready to move on pretty quickly. The only other entertaining thing we did besides eat a lot of Bahn Mi and gelato was take a walk in the park… where there were groups of high schoolers doing team building activities. Of course Troy inserted himself into the fun and harassed a poor teenager, then tried to put him in the trash can. There were also groups of women doing dance routines.
We HAD to get out of there. After pricing the train from HCMC to DaNang and then finding a flight for THE SAME amount of money, we began our journey north. That night we stayed at a homestay in the darling town of Hói An.
Our homestay was really lovely. The house was new and the hostess was a local chef who gave us cooking lessons.
The best part of cooking class was walking through the morning market, buying the ingredients for our dishes. I adore this photo of colorful legumes and rice.
Everyone in town knew our hostess and she took great care to describe what we were buying to make spring rolls, Báhn Xéo and Cau Lâo: a pork dish made with yellow noodles made only with water from Hòi An.
Hói An has a beach, but we never saw it. Partly because Troy lives in Sydney and partly because of the weather. The rain turned the streets into rivers and when cars would pass by, the waves of water would lap up under our table inside the restaurant. Yeah, there was a lot of rain.
Our favorite hang-out was DK’s hostel, with insanely cheap ‘happy hour’ specials, wi-fi and a pool. We didn’t stay there, but we hung out enough to know that it’s a pretty nice hostel and we booked our onward travel with them. They can hook you up with some great trips. The ‘Top Gear Tour’ to Hue was a popular one- it’s from a popular British TV show with old guys who like cars. I was still determined not to be injured in a motorbike accident so we took the train.
One last tidbit: we met Thuy Anh Nguyen, the star of the Indie movie ‘Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere’ which played in Venice and Toronto Film Festivals. Of course, Troy was happy to give her an acting lesson.
This unique structure is the gateway from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City.
Here I got from PP to HCMC:
1- Get a VISA before you go. When traveling overland from Cambodia to Vietnam, you have to get your visa beforehand. Luckily, I was staying at a fantastic hostel in PP (name it here) and I handed over my Passport and $65 to the front desk. They sent it to Kampot and it was back the next day with my Visa.
2- Book a 6-hour bus trip from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
3- Spend an hour going through customs. (I waited much too long to get my passport back. As I watched the groups behind me get their passports, I began to suspect that the higher-cost tour companies get expedited. When they finally handed my passport back, it seemed to have a RED cover and upon closer inspection, they had given me TWO PASSPORTS folded together. I nearly walked out with the passport of some unfortunate Vietnamese woman.)
4- Arriving in HCMC and try to meet up with your friend. Troy had instructions to meet me at the bus but the drop off location isn’t always the clearly listed on the website. I had given Troy the address of the ticket office- but got dropped-off at the bus terminal. I eventually found the ticket office and contacted Troy with the Wi-Fi there.
5- Eat Phó! Troy had been staying in HCMC already and we took a cab back to the hotel, then headed out to find some Phó. Success!