After visiting cold Hanoi, scenic Halong Bay and wet Hue, we decided to get back on the southbound train to look for the sun further down the coast. The Scenic train ride from Hue to Danang along the coast lasted about 4 hours and was beautiful. We went over mountains and looked down on the beautiful coastline with green vegetation and beautiful empty beaches. We were offered a meal on plastic trays like the once you see in Hollywood prison movies, with rice and some soup. We respectfully declined, again. We had a taxi booked through the hotel as we were going to the next city HoiAn first.
We stopped by Marble mountain on the way to Hoian. The chain of marble mountains also called five element mountains is a cluster of five marble and limestone mountains situated between the cities of Danang and HoiAn. To our surprise, we could take a regular Otis lift, normally found inside buildings, up to the first pagoda on the mountain.
It was hot, and being Norwegians used to hike and climb mountains, we never tried a freestanding building lift to get up a mountain before. The Mountain was a beautiful surprise with both Buddhist and Hindu grottos, old gates and carvings, temples and pagodas, and a fantastic view from the Heavens gate at the top. The grottos were also used as a hiding place for the Vietcong during the Vietnamese war.
We arrived HoiAn the day before the Vietnamese Tet holiday. The streets were packed with people organizing flowers on the pavements, burning fake money for prosperity in the gutters, and crowds of locals coming home to visit their friends and families for the holidays. Tet Holliday is like our Christmas and new year celebration for the Vietnamese. Marigolds and chrysanthemum are decorating stores, homes, gardens, shops and streets. Flowers are displayed in vases near the entrances for prosperity and to keep evil away. A light is placed by the entrance of the house for prosperity and good luck. Houses are cleaned and gates are painted, old clothes are burned and new clothes is bought. The Tet holiday starts with a ceremony sending the kitchen god to heaven to let the Jade emperor know what the household has been up to the past year. Food offerings, burning incense and fake money for prosperity and clothes for the kitchen god to wear on his journey is part of the ceremony.
The Old city is a well-preserved old trading port and a beautiful example of a mixed world architecture from the 16th to 18th century. The architecture is a blend of east meets west. Danang took over as a trade port in the late 18th century, and the old trade port city stopped developing and is presented as if time stood still. Luckily it wasn’t bombed during the world wars or the Vietnamese war, and it is a Unesco world heritage city today. Walk around to see this ancient beauty, cross over the covered Japanese bridge from the 16th century, it is the only one of its kind. Visit the stores selling local merchandise, stop by the museums and let yourself be talked into a 30-minute boat trip on the river.
The city has a great coffee shop scenery, and restaurant offers with both western and Vietnamese food. Detoxing my cappuccino addiction was not an option, as the brown gold in lovely locations, with great Wi-Fi, made scenic working places. Find a table facing the street and the river and watch village life go by. You will see cyclos bicycling tourists around, boat people selling boat trips, mini local restaurants popping up with their plastic chairs on the pavements, mobile kitchens moving around, selling Mi Bas sandwiches, dried frogs, fish, and squid. At sunset, little old lady`s and young girls are selling tiny candlelight boats that you can light and send on their way on the river to remember your deceased relatives. This is a beautiful display of lights on the river and an emotional exercise of quiet understanding between locals and tourists
A 20-minute bicycle ride from the old town, along scenic rice fields, you will find the white sandy beaches going on for miles in both directions. They locals will stop you to park your bike for the day. They give you a ticket for the bike and you have to pay 10-20 thousand Dong/ 50 cent – 1 US dollar. The wind and waves is a great break from the heat on warm days. The restaurants along the beach have sun chairs, so make sure you read their menus before you decide where to do sunbathing for the day. The deal is that you use the sunbeds for free, but you eat lunch at the restaurant that owns them.
New year’s eve was a chaotic but nice experience in Hoi An. The light show by the Japanese bridge after dark was an amazing technological performance of ancient buildings being used as the canvas for hi-tech storytelling. Hundreds of lights lit for the ancestors floating on the river, fireworks with no sound was a new experience, and families setting up a shrine of flowers, fresh fruit, and incense on a table in their doorways whilst burning the rest of last year’s paper in the gutter outside their homes late at night to keep the spirits happy as they welcome a new prosperous year.