This route to Hoi An, a combination of coastal and mountainous road, is a very pleasant drive – even in the rain, which persisted pretty much the entire trip. We witnessed more rural life on the way, with plenty of very sweet looking free range ducks and chickens, foraging for themselves in fields and by the road side, with no fences or restrictions – this is the way they are farmed in Vietnam. I guess their short lives are slightly more pleasant than that of their counterparts elsewhere…before their premature end!
The mountain road took us through the very scenic Phuoc Tuong Pass, Phu Gia Pass and Hai Van Pass (there is a Top Gear episode where Jeremy Clarkson rides through these passes on a scooter – must check it out sometime). We stopped at Hai Van Pass for the best ginger tea EVER that was actually made from ginger, rather than a tea bag! Also bought some trinkets from a guy swearing they were pearls…we shall wait and see as to their authenticity. At least they were pretty, and I had been looking for some long-stringed beads, so even fake pearls are a bit of a bonus.
SIDE BAR – having had these ‘pearls’ checked on returning home, they are certainly not authentic, so unless you are happy with some fairly good costume jewellery, then steer clear of L.I Pearl (or L.T. Pearl) at the top of Hai Van Pass.
At various points through the mountain trip, we stopped to drink in the stunning views. At one stop we looked down on to Vinh Nam Chon, a little bay within Da Nang Bay, and home to a leper colony (yes, leper colony), which is probably the most perfect seaside location in Vietnam. It is only reachable by boat – there are no roads in or out of the place at all, but there is a chance that all may change. According to our driver, Greg Norman wants to build a golf course resort there, including helipad, roads, massive complexes of all sorts. Approval by locals is still pending, but I am afraid of what their answer will be – although, according to a blog written in 2005, there were plans even then for a resort, and the blogger commented that the colony would have to move…but it’s still there – this is probably the only bit of resort development in Vietnam that is not moving at a cracking speed!
Under the shadow of Monkey Mountain we saw from a distance Red Beach, where the US troops landed in the war in Da Nang Bay (north of Da Nang). But the inclement weather put a stop to exploration of both Monkey Mountain and Red Beach…in fact ‘seeing’ Monkey Mountain became a game we played with the clouds – there and gone again in seconds!
For lunch, our driver took us to a very tiny family restaurant housed in a B&B called Hoa’s Place. It was down a muddy road flanked with a range of wild life and dotted with simple accommodation and restaurant choices, but was also within walking distance of the beach. First thoughts were that this was where the locals go, but the others in the small, open-sided dining space were back-packers and one older American ex-pat who goes to this place for meals every day. The chickens wandering across the tiled floor were no deterrent, and we ordered a big plate of deliciously cooked, fresh vegetables and noodles, with some Schweppes soda water to accompany it (and it only cost $2 – such a bargain!).
We visited Marble Mountains, travelling to the top via the relatively recent lift, rather than the 300 steps – climbing uneven, slippery marble steps in the rain contravenes our safety rules! These mountains are considered the border between Da Nang and Hoi An – a very dominant marker that also supplies the area with all its gorgeous stone.
Our visit to the Marble Mountains may have been a longer excursion in fine weather, but we still made a decent go of it by visiting nearly all of the caves at the top, filled with various shrines and temples to Buddhas. At the first cave we visited, a very insistent old woman latched onto my arm and ensured that we didn’t miss any crevice or Buddha hidey-hole in the cave next to the pagoda she tended. She was equally insistent on a donation after her tour, which was fair enough – it really doesn’t take much of a donation to keep the devoted shrine keepers happy.
Leaving the Marble Mountains and their gorgeous caves, we began the drive along the 35km stretch of beach between Da Nang and Hoi An, that most of the western world knows as ‘China Beach’ (where the US troops took their R&R during the war). This, of course, is not the name that the Vietnamese call this long beautiful piece of white sand – to them, it is not one beach but rather several sections of beaches of different names.
Upon arrival in Hoi An, our driver dropped us at a tailor shop (even before going to our hotel), where he waited till we made our extensive, ever increasing, selection of items of clothing we wanted made. We had no idea that we even wanted a whole wardrobe of clothes until the women opened the books in front of us and we started marking out our wish list. The lovely women at the tailor shop, Blue, took excellent care of us – and their sales techniques were outstanding! Our made to measure extravaganza was completed in 2 days and we arranged for it to be shipped home. It was only at the end of the process that we realised how much more we could’ve ordered if only we’d prepared ourselves with a list or something!
We had dinner at Red Bridge Restaurant (and cooking school). Our original thoughts for dinner this evening was to have something simple and close to the hotel, as time was ticking on, but since this restaurant didn’t have any availability for tomorrow evening, we jumped at the chance to grab a cab and head the short distance out of town to this little gem. We shared a small amount of food (which was still ample for a light meal): starter of crispy Hoi An pancake with shrimp, herbs, bean sprouts and peanut sauce, and a main of Red Bridge aubergine sautéed in claypot with sweet and sour sauce. This was complimented by a spot of wine from nearer to home – a Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough.
We are staying at the Life Heritage Resort, right on the river (which hopefully we will see more of tomorrow). The rooms are very stylish, the bed appears comfortable and the whole place looks lovely. Will be able to report on the hotel in more detail after we have spent more than 30 minutes in it, and have had (hopefully) a good night’s sleep! Our first impression of Hoi An, however, is that we love, love, LOVE it! And since we have only experienced it in the dark and rain, I can only imagine how much we will love it when the rain stops and it’s daylight!!