Travel: Da Nang, Vietnam (Part 2)

Following on from my blog post last Thursday, this is the next instalment to my trip to Vietnam. It should be noted that travelling at the end of June to Vietnam means that you have to battle with intense heat and humidity; the second day of the tour we were in 40 Celcius Degree heat! I recommend sunscreen, a hat and a lot of water…or just don’t visit in summer; According to the locals, the best weather is in October/November.

Cham Museum

I actually visited the Cham Museum on Day 1 of the tour as it is located in Hải Châu District, Đà Nẵng, central Vietnam, near the Han River. This building was first built under French Rule in 1919, since then it has been expanded and now holds the world’s largest collection of Cham Sculpture. Champa was an Indian civilisation between the period 500 to 1000 AD that built and flourished in Central and South Vietnam. I was unaware that Vietnam had such a rich history, and there are many archaeological sites throughout this region. Their legacy remains through brick temples and intricate sculptures carved from sandstone, mainly of the god Shiva and Asian animals. The museum is worth visiting for those who are interested in the history of the Champa people and worth going to add further colour when visiting sites such as Mỹ Sơn (see below). Though note to all visitors, there is no air conditioning in the building so I would advise bringing a fan in the summer months to cool yourself.

Mỹ Sơn

Mỹ Sơn is located near the village of Duy Phú, in the administrative district of Duy Xuyên in Quảng Nam Province in Central Vietnam, 69 km southwest of Da Nang. It is a cluster of Hindu Temples in Vietnam and was considered the most sacred in the Champa culture. Located in the mountains and surrounded by lush forest, it is one of the most picturesque places I have visited. I recommend starting your visit here early in the morning before larger tour groups start their tours.

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The first excavations were conducted by Henri Parmentier and Charles Carpeaux (1903-04) and each cluster of buildings were artistically labelled Cluster A, B and so on. Evidence suggests that the first buildings were constructed between the 4th and 5th Century, however, currently, the oldest that remains is from the 7th Century, with the newest built in the 13th Century. Unfortunately, a lot of the buildings have been lost during the American War from bombing. Whilst you are there look out for the discarded bombshells and craters on the site.

Despite the destruction, temples, meditation rooms and even the library remain intact for visitors to observe and admire. It is a wonderful place to visit and I recommend it to be on anyone’s Vietnam itinerary.

Hội An

This beautifully preserved Southeast Asian trading port dating from the 15th to 19th Century and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999. The streets are lined trees and hanging from them a kaleidoscope of lanterns. We visited during the day before the hustle and bustle of the night time markets. The main street was quiet and peaceful. In the heat of the afternoon sun, the residents sheltered in the shade playing card games and ignored us as we walked past. This allowed us time to admire the colourful historical buildings undisturbed.

The town reflects a fusion of indigenous and foreign cultures (principally Chinese and Japanese with later European influences). The Chinese influences were clear as a lot of the streets within the town reminded me of Chinese period dramas which I use to watch with my grandmother, the heavy wooden doors and intricately tiled roofs. One stop on the tour was the Old House of Tan Ky and this brought back memories of my grandmother sister’s home in China in the 90s before the growth of China reached the town. It was surprisingly nostalgic even though I was in Vietnam. The family still resides in the building and is an example of 18th merchant’s home.  Note the beautifully carved chairs as you walk into the building.

A great example of Japanese influences in Hoi An is the infamous Japanese Covered Bridge dating also back to the 18th Century. The bridge features two monkey sculptures at the entrance of the bridge, and as you cross, the other end stands two dog sculptures representing the start and beginning of when the bridge was completed. There is a Taoist temple in the middle the bridge and as you walk on the left, note the markings of the heights of the floods over the decades.

Hội An is ultimately designed for tourists, with many restaurants and shops, I would recommend shopping at the Central market but note you will have to bargain. Rule of thumb is you should deduct two-thirds of the asking price. Though note that you are supporting the local economy and people, don’t be like my mother where she was arguing £2 with the shopkeeper and making him very upset and told us to go away (I went back with the negotiated price + the disputed £2)… Located with the Central market are food stalls and juice stands. On the outer edges, towards the river, there are a lot of fresh fruit stalls and you can see the locals buying their food shopping, on the sides, there are souvenir stalls and baskets.

Whilst we were there, our tour guide was kind enough to ask his wife to wait in line for what he says is the best Banh Mi in Vietnam – Bánh Mì Phượng. I later found out is the one that Anthony Bourdain tried. Honestly, it is AMAZING (we ate it so quickly I didn’t get a chance to take a photo of it). It is not very large, so don’t do what I did and shared it with my sister – it is worth having one for yourself!

I wished that I was able to stay later to experience the night markets even though it has been noted it is a bit of a tourist trap. Hội An is beautiful and worth any diversion for a visit.

That is what I wanted to share with you on my trip to Vietnam, I hope you enjoyed the blog post. Have you been to Vietnam, if I go back what would you recommend? As always, I look forward to your comments!

With Sweet & Sour Love,

Pineapple Chicken x

 

 

Travel: Da Nang, Vietnam (Part 1)

As promised, I am going to share my summer holiday trip to Da Nang, Vietnam. It is my first time visiting the country and I would have loved to do a long trip but because of other commitments, I was unable to and settled for just a short stay in Da Nang. However, from my first impression, the history, culture, nature and food is worth another visit! This post has been split into two parts just so I could give each place enough attention 🙂 so here goes Part 1!

Where we stayed

Da Nang is located in central Vietnam and the main reason we ended up there was because I wanted to stay at a Banyan Tree resort. Probably not a criterion that one would consider when deciding a family holiday but I wanted a bit of luxury and a place I knew I would be able to relax. My parents had visited the region previously and spoke highly of it. Asking other friends and colleagues who have visited Vietnam before, I was comforted that many said it was one of the prettiest regions in the country. With that in mind, we went ahead with our stay at Banyan Tree Lăng Cô; which is part of the Laguna Lăng Cô resort.

Honestly, it is one of the best resorts I have ever stayed at. I am a big fan of the Banyan Tree group, and as usual, the service was impeccable and we had a “villa host” take care of us and all our needs throughout our the stay. I mean we had her Whatapp number so we could ping her a message!

From Da Nang airport, the hotel provides a complimentary shuttle service from the airport (at scheduled times) and it is c. 60-90 minute drive to the hotel. Originally we had booked a two bedroom villa for the 4 of us but was upgraded to the three bedroom villa with the best view of the resort. It was HUGE (260 sq meters) and with our own private infinity pool. It was paradise and, quite frankly, there was no reason to leave the room! Unlike me, my dad left the villa to play golf in the late afternoon sun; so for those who are keen golfers, you can play an 18-hole, par-71 championship course designed by Sir Nick Faldo. He said it was amazing and a really well maintained and designed course (if you take his word for it).

I really recommend this wonderful resort for those who are looking for something special and luxurious. I would go back again to take advantage of the many activities that are available at the resort and because it is conveniently located in central Vietnam with various UNESCO World Heritage Sites, there is no excuse not to go back!

Where we visited

As you are aware now, I am not one to just sit by the pool all day (much to the dismay of my parents and sister). I can’t truly say that I have been to a country if I have not at least learnt and seen a bit of history and culture. Given that I love Vietnamese cuisine, I couldn’t wait to get out and try some street food as well (more in Part 2).

Marble Mountains

Unfortunately, given the relatively remote location of the resort, for ease of planning, I used the tour service organised the hotel for our day trips. They ended up being a private tour which is always special as I could ask as many questions I wanted! Our first stop was the infamous Marble Mountains which are a group of the five limestone and marble hills in Ngu Hanh Son District, each representing a basic element: Kim (metal), Thuy (water), Moc (wood), Hoa (fire) and Tho (earth).

At the foot of the hills is the Non Nuoc village where generations of family skillfully carve statues from marble (now imported from other places in the country as it is not possible to mine in the area). Though I found the shops more of a tourist trap, the temple at the top of the Thuy Son (the water mountain) is worth the elevator up and the very long climb down. For those who have bad knees, I would not recommend the climb down, my sister (who had knee surgery a year ago) and mother really struggled. I believe it is possible to take the elevator down but it is a large circle round; so do let your tour guide know if you have difficulties or if you are organising the walk yourself, you have been warned!

Thuy Son is a popular destination with many visitors, and it is not surprising. At the top of the mountain, you are greeted with this spectacular view of the valley.

What is most surprising and unexpected were the peaceful temples located in the caves and crevasses of the mountain. It is not something that I had experienced before, wandering around the caves whilst bats rested above our heads. Remember to bring your camera as every turn was a surprise. The caves were also a respite from the scorching summer heat!

Linh Ung Pagoda

Our next stop on the tour was another Buddist temple, the Linh Ung Pagoda which is considered as one of the largest in Da Nang City located in the Son Tra Peninsula on the top of a mountain. This meant it provided one of the best views of Da Nang City. The most striking feature of the temple is the tallest Lady Buddha statue in Vietnam overlooking the peninsula. Even for those who are not religious, the architecture and gardens of the temple are worth a visit.

Da Nang City

We arrived back into Da Nang City in the late afternoon, to stop at Da Nang Cathedral. Coming from Europe, I would consider it more of a small church than a majestic Cathedral, however, it is on the map for tourists because it is pink and very Wes Anderson-esque. To the locals, it is warmingly known as the “Rooster” because of the weathervane that sits on top of the church. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, we were unable to go inside as it was time for Mass. It is worth stopping by to admire the French architecture and a reminder of the colonial past of Vietnam.

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I hope you enjoyed this instalment on the Pineapple Chicken Blog, can’t wait to share more on my trip to Da Nang!

With Sweet & Sour Love,

Pineapple Chicken x