Hello again! It’s been a few days since our first update, and we’re only a few days from returning, but we wanted to let you know about what we did in central Vietnam as soon as we had the opportunity.
Our time in central Vietnam began on Wednesday the 20th after we arrived in Da Nang following a rather lengthy delay of our northbound flight out of Saigon. However, our late arrival did not stop us from thoroughly enjoying an early dinner of local Da Nang style noodles. We then drove south past China Beach, the site where the first American combat troops landed in Vietnam, to the City of Hoi An, a historic port city with heavy Japanese and Chinese cultural influence which is obvious in the local architecture.
We began our first full day in Hoi An with a bike tour through the surrounding area and observing local life. After lunch we walked through the historic district of Hoi An, seeing the Japanese Covered Bridge and exploring the history of the city and the divide between the two halves of the old city, the Japanese merchants on one side of the river and the Chinese merchants on the other. We finished the day wandering through the local market, continuing to improve our bargaining skills.
After another restful night we got on the bus and began our day visiting local marble sculptors before visiting the Marble Mountain, home to beautiful pagodas and caves full of breathtaking statues of the Buddha. It was quite the climb up the long flights of steep, stairs, often hand carved into the mountainside, but it was certainly worth it. Once we had all made it back down the mountain we got back on the bus reluctantly and drove out to the Ba Na Hills, where we took a 15-minute cable car ride up to the peaks for lunch and marveled at the gorgeous views of the jungle below. After lunch and a stroll along the Golden Hands Bridge, we headed back down the mountain for the drive back to Hoi An, where we ate dinner before spending some more time in the night market.
This was our last night in Hoi An, and after an early breakfast the next morning we drove up through the Hai Van Pass, home of amazing views “where the clouds meet the sea”. We stopped briefly at the summit and enjoyed the cool mountain air before the trip down the other side into Hue, the capital of Vietnam under the Nguyen Dynasty. We visited the expansive and majestic tomb and palace of the 4th emperor, as well as the beautiful tomb of the 12th emperor, the last Nguyen emperor to be buried in Hue. His son, the 13th emperor, abdicated soon after he took the throne, giving complete control of Vietnam to the French colonial rulers who had already been Vietnam’s true rulers in all but name for some time.
Our hotel in Hue is a part of Vietnam’s Tourism college, and serves as a practical training ground for future hotel managers, and is just a block from Hue’s “walking streets,” which are closed to traffic in the evenings for the night market. Our second day in Hue began by visiting the imperial citadel. The traditional Vietnamese architecture was gorgeous, but there were obvious holes and missing buildings that had been damaged by the American bombing of the city during the Vietnam War. We also visited the Thien Mu Pagoda, home of Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk who self-immolated in Saigon in protest of the Diem regime’s persecution of Buddhists. Finally, after a trip down the Perfume River on a dragon boat and a late lunch, we relaxed in our hotel before enjoying our last evening in central Vietnam strolling through Hue’s walking streets.
The next day we flew north to Hanoi, and began exploring northern Vietnam, but that is a story for another day that you’ll get to hear once we get back…just as soon as we get over our jetlag.