I think one of the reasons I fell so in love with Hoi An is because I had no check list. There were few places I had to go and even fewer things I had to see. We strolled leisurely through the food halls and markets, ate at food stalls, chatted in broken English with merchants, “paddle boated” down the Thu Bon river (our claim to Vietnamese fame), and just took it easy.
The only tour we took while we were in Hoi An was the My Son Ruins tour. We’d heard these Hindu ruins compared to Ayutthayah and Angkor Wat, so we arranged a day trip through our hostel that would take us by boat cruise down the Thu Bon river to the ruins.
There are two tour options: a half day tour that leaves the dock at 8am, visits the ruins, and returns by lunch; or the full day tour which includes lunch and additional stops at the Carpentry Village, Pottery Village and Cam Ha Fish Market. We debated which we should take, but in the end decided to go with the one that served beer. Unfortunately for us, our boat captain bypassed the fish market, which I’d been most looking forward to, and they ran out of beer after I made my lunch selection so the boys got stuck with coca-cola light. We might have been better off with the half-day trip… but, hey, you never know what you are going to get. And the lunch wasn’t bad… Especially if, like Brian, you happened to remember that you still had a giant carrot in your backpack after visiting the market.
As for the comparison to Angkor Wat… the reality is that My Son is just not. (I tried to make a little rhyme there, but it fell flat. I apologize.) They are impressive ruins and well worth the visit, but there is really no way to compare them to Angkor Wat. One of the reasons for this, is that the area was heavily bombed during the Vietnam War. Our guide explained that although there used to be over 70 temples in the area, most of them had been destroyed by the Americans. He looked at us- the only three Americans on the tour. We all nodded, he nodded back. What else can you do? There are still large areas that are roped off and signs warn of the dangers of unexploded ordnances and landmines. Later I asked the guys if they had felt any guilt walking through there. Neither of them had thought about it. I had. It’s a weird feeling to be both madly in love with a man who has dedicated his life to the U.S. Military and in love with a country that has been so deeply impacted by it. But that is a whole different kind of blog than I am writing today.
My Son is crawling with both English and Japanese-speaking tour groups, as this really is one of the only “destinations” when you visit Hoi An. I am sure you can book guides who speak other languages, but these are the two “foreign languages” that are heavily catered to in Vietnam. Although we booked at our hostel, you can also buy tickets in advance through: Hoi An Travel.
Naturally, you will also find an assortment of friendly stray dogs. What would Vietnam be without a couple of dogs milling about?
The ruins, though beautifully covered in greenery, are in fact, ruined. Our guide told us that because the temples were literally crumbling after the bombings (cue a look in our direction) many of the statues and relics were removed from the site to be preserved in museums. This has left a lot of headless statues.
On our way back to Hoi An, we stopped in a wood carving village. I’m not sure what we were expecting, but it wasn’t what we got. It’s very clear that the “village” is set up to sell wood carvings and pottery to tourists. The carvings are exquisite, sure, but the village lacked any of the authenticity I had come to appreciate about Vietnam. It just felt like a tourist trap.
After walking around the village for a little while, I found myself back on the Thu Bon River. The day was just winding down and the heat was finally starting to let up. Taxi boats full of chickens, produce, baskets and bikes ferried people up and down the river. I sat on the river bank and watched conical hats crowded together under the shade of the roof floating by me. Adults nodded politely if they caught my gaze, while the children beamed and waved enthusiastically. I would smile and wave back, making them giggle. As they floated away they would always turn around and reach two little fingers back toward me. Peace, babies. Peace.
In 2013, I quit my job and bought a one-way ticket to Thailand. After four months of backpacking I returned to the States and fell in love with a guy whose job sent us straight back to Asia. Nothing has gone according to plan... and it's been absolutely magical.