Exploring Hoi An

Life Heritage Resort, Hoi An

Life Heritage Resort, Hoi An

Today was pure tourist indulgence in a gorgeous and atmospheric city in Vietnam. Hoi An is full of charm, character, beauty and history, and I already know that we will return some time in the future. We grabbed a tourist ticket for 120,000 dong (about $5.50), which gave us entry to 5 historical sites of our choice in the city – although, it was actually difficult to choose which ones to visit!

We began with the Museum of History and Culture – very informative displays with a quiet courtyard – a gentle, pleasant start to the day. The Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall was next, built for the largest Chinese group in Hoi An with suitably flashy architecture. The Museum of Trade Ceramics was an eye-opener – I had no idea that ceramics were actually traded like other valuable commodities. I just thought that people had their family collections and they were valued because of their high quality in production.

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The last stop before morning tea was Tan Ky House. Preserved homes of real people are of a particular interest to both of us, so this one was eagerly anticipated. It’s a beautifully preserved 18th century, two-storey shop-house – a striking combination of Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese architecture. It is filled with dark, silky hardwoods, of particular note the termite-resistant wooden columns of the jack-fruit tree. But what makes this wooden furniture, columns and panels true objects of beauty is the mother-of-pearl inlay. There are two poem boards whose ‘brush strokes’ of inlay, on closer inspection, are actually exquisite birds in flight. Truly amazing craftsmanship!

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The Cargo Club, where chocolate indulgences await!

The Cargo Club, where chocolate indulgences await!

We had a brief rest and a rich, sticky indulgence of morning tea at Cargo Club – chocolate cream mousse cake (brownie on the bottom with mousse on the top). Too, too much (luckily we went halvies!). After our sugar hit we toddled off to the famous Japanese Covered Bridge, a beautifully crafted symbol of Hoi An’s mercantile past (built in 1593 by the Japanese trading community to link to the Chinese part of town). Contrary to what the guide books stated, an entry ticket is required to cross the bridge, or even stand on it to pose for a photograph. Since we only had one ticket left and wanted to use it for something else, we decided to take pics from a distance and walked across another bridge to get to the other side of this tiny stretch of water.

Phung Hung House has been home to the same family since the 1780s – eight generations! The family traded in cinnamon, hardwoods, silk and glass, and even now still sell silk embroidered linen in the downstairs shop part of the house. Once again, there is evidence of Japanese and Chinese influences in this mainly Vietnamese house, with many heirlooms and the usual central family shrine to reflect its history.

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We squeezed in another clothes fitting at Blue and then headed for lunch at Morning Glory – highly recommended by both friends and the trusty TripAdvisor. The food was spot-on: savoury steamed rice flour crepes, diced mushrooms, bean sprouts, green papaya & carrot pickle, fresh herbs; Vietnamese sweet and sour dipping sauce (absolutely delicious); sautéed pumpkin with crushed peanuts and garlic; stir-fried baby celery and bean sprouts. The first course was really fantastic, but then the waiter completely mucked up the order and brought us chicken pancakes which we didn’t realise were chicken until a couple of bites in! AND a serve of bok choy – someone else’s order entirely. Lucky we weren’t allergic to chicken! They got it right eventually…then tried to give me someone else’s wine order!! The bottom line was the food was great, but the service needs some work!

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After a fairly intensive tourist walk in the morning (and early afternoon), we elected to take it easy after lunch – indulging in some shopping and just enjoyed strolling the lovely streets. A bonus of having a hotel in town (even if it’s at the end of town) is its proximity enabling us to succumb to that desire for a lovely afternoon nap. Refreshed and still of a mind for ticking off the last of the shopping list for family at home, I left the hotel before John in the search for “something special.”

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We met up at the White Marble Wine Bar and Restaurant, who seemed surprised to see us – a booking was made for us by the waitress at Red Bridge the previous night, but there was no record of a reservation. Slightly annoying, but all was well, as no one likes to eat as early as we do, so there were tables available! We had: White Marble’s classic fresh rice paper rolls of prawns, crispy greens and 2 dipping sauces; calamari, flour-dusted and lightly pan-fried, sprinkled with chilli flakes and sea salt (some of the best salt and chilli calamari ever had); mixed Asian greens, stir-fried water spinach, bok choy, green beans, garlic & shallots; Aussie bubbles and Marlborough Pinot Noir. When checking the specials board on arrival, I was quite excited to see a very nice French Champagne available by the glass (have noticed a shortage of ‘by-the-glass’ bubbles in Vietnam – you usually have to buy a bottle), but was not impressed when the waiter said that they ran out of that ‘days ago’. I kindly suggested that it might be a good idea to remove it from the daily specials, then. There was definitely a tightening of the mouth and a brusqueness to the ‘thank you’ as he swung around and left the room only to return with a wet rag to remove the chalk from the blackboard, with terse swipes. Don’t blame me for your slackness, pal – you are in the service industry, so bring things up to speed for your customers.

After putting things right at White Marble, we walked back to the Life Heritage Resort. Unfortunately, the things that were an issue at this very stylish and pretty hotel, were not as easy to ‘fix’. This morning, we looked forward to sampling the full amenities of the slick bathroom that looked like it had leapt straight out of a ‘Trends Ideas’ architecture magazine, but the water pressure was crap. It’s ridiculously inconsistent – full on force, then cutting back to just a trickle, boiling hot then extremely cold, all with little warning. It took twice as long to shower just because we had to negotiate the intricacies of the temperamental plumbing and were standing outside of it half of the time so as not to scald ourselves! But, as you can see from the detailed post above, we didn’t let it ruin our day – in fact, the truly outstanding buffet breakfast went a long way to put a smile on our faces. I look forward to that feast again tomorrow morning.

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About bontaks

Nic is the the ‘Bon’ part of ‘Bontaks.’ Together we are Nic and John – two travel-addicted teachers who enjoy every opportunity to go places, meet people and experience life.

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