I knew little of Vietnam when I came, only the divisions of north and south. What history lies in the central coast though! I was all proud of myself because this is probably the most I’ve learned of a new language on this trip. Then I learned that the north, central and south all have their own dialects. Well the good news is the Hanoi dialect I started learning is the one “the people on TV use”, so at least everyone’s heard it. Now if they could just decipher my butchered accent. If you thought Mandarin Chinese’s four ways of saying words was tough, they have six here!
This is where real fusion happens. Where so many invading forces and different people living can only become a mix of cultures. I come from Los Angeles, where fusion both happens and is forced as a trend. I definitely prefer the former. Here it is interesting to see the mix of Cham, Chinese, French and even Muslim influences as they passed through these lands. It is all mixed with Vietnamese ingenuity and resourcefulness.
The last Vietnamese dynasty was based here too, so a lot of Vietnamese food was created from this mix of flavors as well. The architectures and statues reflect this odd mix in a beautiful way. It is an understated way, much like Laos, that I have trouble capturing in pictures. It is an atmosphere that must be felt and I do recommend a trip here.
I didn’t remember to take a picture of the specialty of Da Nang known as mi quang. It’s tumeric spiced yellow rice noodles mixed with pork, herbs and vegetables. Another one I have no pictures of in Hoi An is called cao lau, made of rice noodles with water from a special well in town. They were delightfully extra chewy. My one disappointment were Hoi An white rose dumplings and fried wontons, from the one restuarant in town where you can see unhappy women in Vietnamese traditional garb making them. They were ok but highly overpriced and not worth going out of your way to eat. I’ve also started spotting banh xeo, the yellow crepes stuffed full of delicious pork and shrimp.
The downside to such a beautiful area is the high tourism and therefore strongest negative feelings I have had in Vietnam as well. Just try to ignore all the Vietnamese people screaming “Madame” and “Cyclo ride? One dollar!” They’re really nice once you get past that, it’s just particularly strong in this region. It is oft said that ripping off foreigners is the national sport of Vietnam, and it certainly is in practice here. Tourism has taken too strong of a root in places like Hoi An and I’m not much of the real culture remains beyond the buildings. I keep wishing UNESCO world heritage sites managed to save the people as well as the buildings.
However don’t come to Vietnam only expecting the worst. The people are really nice and you barely need to get off the path, often in the same town, to experience how nice the Vietnamese really are. They are only what tourists have allowed them to be.