Hoi An was the third stop on our trip. This coastal city is considered central Vietnam, located about midway between Hanoi in the north and HCMC in the south. Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The old quarter is full of winding streets lined with old colonial buildings, most painted a cheerful shade of yellow. It was extremely hot on both days that we toured the city. Many of the small streets had low-hanging trees offering shade. It was also easy to pop into cafes for a quick break and re-hydration.
The ruined temples of the Khmer Empire are probably the most unique and most impressive human-made sites I have ever seen. I knew the temples would be big, beautiful, and full of interesting sculptures and carvings. I was not expecting to be quite so awed by their size, the details, or the overall atmosphere of the ruins.
The first stop on my trip across Cambodia and Vietnam (Cambonam) was Ho Chi Minh City. I flew into the city solo, after a complicated series of layovers. It was a bright, sunny, and hot morning when I arrived. After wandering around the taxi stands outside of the airport, I finally decided to accept the extra cost and bought a taxi ticket from a counter inside the terminal. The man at the desk wrote my destination on the ticket and said the fare covered everything, including the toll at the airport gate. Of course, the taxi driver tried to make me pay at the toll gate. Expecting it, I pretended to be clueless, insisting that I had already paid. There was a short standoff and then he begrudgingly paid the toll and we drove into the city.
It was a short drive into HCMC. The streets were busy. Mopeds and motorcycles far outnumbered the cars and wove between lines of standing traffic without a care. I saw bikes weighted with giant baskets or boxes, balanced precariously on the small vehicles. The sounds of motors, people talking, horns honking and the general noise of the city was loud and demanding. The taxi man did not drop me in front of the correct hostel (whether this was intentional or an honest mistake I don’t know) and I had to walk a bit and ask for directions. Thankfully I wasn’t far from my destination. The hostel was on a street crowded with hotels overlooking a large park that ran the length of the street. Palm trees sprouted from the sidewalks and dust covered every surface. The sun was bright and hot. It was a new place; I was excited.
For our final day trip from Taipei we visited the tiny mountain village of Maokong. Maokong was originally a religious retreat destination and the mountain is dotted with many temples. Recently, Maokong has evolved into a popular escape from the busy city for tourists and locals alike. To assist the flow of travelers, Taipei’s tourism agency built a giant suspended gondola track that carries people high above the hills to the mountain’s summit.
Jiufen is a tiny mountain town located to the east of Taipei across a set of steep hills. In the early 1900s, Jiufen became the center of Taiwan’s gold rush. Mines opened up beneath the mountains and workers flocked into the tunnels to mine the precious metal. Some workers came voluntarily, others were part of forced labor networks. During WWII, a Chinese POW camp was located in the village, and soldiers were forced to work in the mines. Today, Jiufen is a popular tourist escape from the city. Its sweeping views of the mountains and the coastline along with it’s bustling market street and traditional Chinese tea houses offer a calming, rural experience of Taiwan’s culture.