Thus far, our travels have taken us from the chaotic bustle of Saigon, through the rural charm of the Mekong Delta, and now have landed us in the central cities of Da Nang and Hoi An. After a week of hard traveling filled with exciting, but sometimes challenging new experiences, I think we can speak for most of the group in saying that these past few days have been a welcome change of pace.
After landing in Da Nang, we took a short bus ride down the coast of the South China Sea to the city of Hoi An. Our first day afforded us a good amount of free time to explore the city, which holds an electric blend of the modern and ancient feel. Some of us walked leisurely around the old city of Hoi An, which has taken some influence from the presence of Chinese and Japanese cultures. Others bargained in tailor shops around the city in order to get the best price on a custom suit or jacket. While some of us simply relaxed on the beach for a couple of hours to enjoy the serenity found in the sun, sand, and surf (the swells are quite large and perfect for body surfing).
After catching our collective breaths with these activities during the day, we bussed back to Da Nang in the evening in order to hear a presentation about Da Nang economic and social development from recent graduate students shared their excitement about Da Nang's seemingly bright future.
The next morning, we took a walking tour through the old city as the sky flirted with rain that never fully came. We explored Chinese and Japanese influenced pagodas and houses, listened to a band made up of traditional instrumentation, and got to see the process of silk making.
That night we went to the Red Bridge Cooking School where we learned how to make traditional Vietnamese dishes such as Vietnamese pancakes, spring rolls, and a new, but interesting take on chicken noodle soup. Aside from the fact that we had one professor cut themselves with a knife, and one student burn their finger, it was an awesome experience and the food we made was delicious. Compliments to the chefs!
The next morning we took a thirty minute bus ride back to Da Nang, where we visited and hiked the Marble Mountains. These mountains are a series of five limestone structures made of limestone and marble each with a pagoda at the top. We explored one of the mountains, which contains many paths and tunnels that lead to different temples, caves, and lookouts. After spending a lot of time in the city, we all enjoyed experiencing the outdoors and some of the natural beauty that Vietnam has to offer.
It has been interesting to talk to locals about the influx of tourism here over the last decade. It seems that opinions are split somewhere down the middle. Some have shown a sense of disappointment in the change over time, particularly at the loss of the cities quiet charm. Still, others have expressed a thankfulness for the work opportunities, economic growth, and diversity that the tourism industry has brought to the region.
Another brief but important note: most of us are becoming accustomed to the new food at this point in the trip and our digestive systems are very thankful.