Traditional Dances and Fourth Sleeper

We sleep in because we can. We’ve got a whole day ahead of us before our bus to Nha Trang leaves, or at least claims it will leave, at 5pm.
Check out is at 11 so we gather our things and are downstairs at the last minute before we have to leave. They offer to hold on to our luggage for us until we have to catch the bus.

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We walk down the road to the same restaurant that we are dinner at last night. Their food was just too good! And super cheap, which makes it even more impossible to justify going anywhere else. We forego the 3,000 dong beers and have an iced green tea today instead, for the same price.
I order something called “chicken in clay pot” which I’ve seen listed on other menus, but have yet to try. I don’t have any expectations, I just hope I won’t end up regretting that I didn’t order the same delicious chicken curry as last night.
The presentation and taste of my chicken in clay pot are both on point. A sizzling black bowl of chicken and vegetables in a light broth are placed in front of me, topped with some sesame seeds and a couple hot peppers. It’s delicious!

After a satisfying meal we walk down the ancient town to do some sightseeing. Because it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and there was a ticket booth beside a sign that said “ticket requested area” I assumed that meant we had to pay an entry fee. Call me crazy. As we biked over the bridge and passed the ticket office on our first day in Hoi An, I was confused when no one stopped us. Then it occurred to me that they might not be checking for tickets now, but that they could catch us at any moment beyond that point and demand a fee much higher than that of the ticket. God knows. To avoid any sort of trouble, we fork out 120,000 dong for a ticket so that we can enjoy meals and strolls through the ancient town. Along with the ticket comes our choice of 5 cultural “attractions” out of 27. Some sound pretty interesting, like a pottery smashing demonstration. Who doesn’t like smashing stuff?

We set out with a map to find our top three most interesting attractions, and figure we will stumble upon an extra two along the way. First up is the pottery smashing, but when we arrive at what looks like the correct location on the map, there’s nothing but a big stone statue. No one is around, I don’t hear anything being shattered into tiny clay fragments. Maybe we’ll come back to this one.
We walk over to the Japanese covered bridge, which we’ve already seen from the outside but figure, hey, why not actually cross it? This can be a stumbled upon attraction. I see a ticket collection booth, but it’s unmanned, so we get by without using up one of our tickets. Gettin’ the best bang for our buck!

Another attraction is just next to the bridge, and is an old Japanese house that now doubles as a gift shop. The house used to belong to someone named Phung Hung, and I’m still unsure of why there is so much Japanese influence in this little Vietnamese town, but the architecture is cool. We are encouraged to buy souvenirs the entire time we walk through the old house, so we make a point of breezing through quickly.

We then cross back over the bridge, where the ticket checking station is still empty, and go in search of the museum of folk culture. That should be a good one right?
Again, we manage to enter without showing a ticket, and wander around an old house that displays old silk weaving machines, fishing nets, and others. It’s pretty interesting to see where silk comes from and to read the description of how people figured that out. I’ve always wondered how one would casually stumble upon a bug and said to themselves, “yes, I think I shall harvest this and turn it into a beautiful dress”.

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There’s less pressure to buy stuff here, but they still have a gift shop. We leave through the back door, where we see yet another “ticket collection booth” without any collector to be seen. We should have never wasted 120,000 dong on these tickets and we still could have seen just as much stuff. I’ve seen three attractions and have only had one ticket taken.

We’ve still got a few hours before the bus so Tamara and I sit down next to the river and enjoy a coconut. I love coconut water, and really enjoy watching a tiny old lady take a machete and smashing a coconut on the ground to open it up for me to eat the inside with a spoon.
We’ve realized that this day of sightseeing is not going to take us as long as we had originally thought, so we make a point of sitting by the river as long as possible. Tamara even does my hair! She’s got some serious braiding skills and is always happy to try new hairstyles on me. I’m always happy to oblige! Otherwise, my hair is either down and loose or in a boring ponytail. I never learned how to do much else with it besides a simple side braid.

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At 3:15 there is one of two daily performances in the ancient town that focuses on culture. We make sure to be there, in hopes that it’ll be worth seeing if they save it for just two shows a day.
It starts off with an instrumental performance by a 6 piece band, all wearing what I assume are traditional costumes and all playing instruments I’ve never seen before. They sound pretty great, even though I’m not a Vietnamese music savant, and am not really sure how it’s supposed to sound. After one song, a dance team comes out and performs a traditional theatre dance, with a young man wearing a fake wig and white beard and two young ladies with water jugs. They do a sort of animated story-dance about fishing. A woman comes out and gives a short solo singing performance.
Then the best part comes, where a crazy girl in an elaborate outfit performs something I’m not sure I can describe. I believe they called it an opera performance, but her singing is minimal and her over acted interpretative dance moves are quite a laugh. I don’t actually think I’m supposed to find it funny, so I keep a straight face, but on the inside I’m dying.
The last act is a group of three women dancing with water jugs on their heads, which is the most impressive part of the whole performance. Their dance focuses on small and beautiful hand movements, which is interesting too. It’s clear that this culture show is geared towards foreigns tourists and foreign tourists alone, I’m sure if someone from Sapa came to visit and watched this folk culture show… they wouldn’t be too impressed. Nonetheless it’s cool to get a taste of some cultural art. I’m disappointed when no one asks me for my ticket. We never should have bought them in the first place!! I hate wasted money.

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After a day of mediocre site seeing it’s finally time to catch our sleeper bus to Nha Trang. This will be the fourth time in 2 weeks that we’ve taken a sleeper bus.
Upon arriving at the bus station there’s already a group of other backpackers and locals waiting in line. As the bus doors open, it’s a free for all, everyone starts crowding around the entrance in hopes of getting the best seats. We do the same. Tamara grabs our big backpacks, and I fight through the crowd of eager passengers to get on as soon as possible. I do a pretty good job, and as soon as I’m on the bus I see the back row of 5 seats completely vacant. Score! I rush back and secure two seats, but no one else claims the other three. It’s a win-win situation, because there’s no on-board toilet on this bus, which means having the back seats to ourselves also comes without the hassle of smelly bathroom traffic. I can’t believe our good fortune. The bus starts to roll away and still, no one has come to claim the other seats. For the first time in all my…three?….days of sleeper bus experience, I’ve never seen one that wasn’t full. We are living the life of luxury back here! I use the extra blankets as a pillow and sprawl out across two chairs, just ’cause I can.
The only downside to this bus ride is the small baby sitting two seats ahead. That’s a ticking time bomb of tears just waiting to happen on a 12 hour ride.

We make one stop around 11pm for a dinner/washroom break. I’m pretty hungry, so I order vermicelli noodles with beef. A bunch of people who ordered long after me, including Tamara, get their food first so I start to wonder if I’ll get it at all. When I flag down a server to ask about my food, he puts down a plate of shrimp ramen that he had been carrying. He reads my little ticket that clearly says vermicelli with beef, IN Vietnamese, and leaves me the shrimp dish anyway. Not vermicelli. Not beef. I don’t mind though and I eat it anyway. I wonder if whoever ordered the shrimp enjoys red meat.

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Does this look like beef vermicelli?

In the middle of the night I wake up and three old Vietnamese men have taken up our three extra back seats. Some people are sleeping in the aisles, too. I knew our good fortune couldn’t last. In her sleep Tam has dropped her iPod touch down between our seats. Our hands can’t reach it, but I have a pair of chopsticks in my backpack so we try to use those. It’s a dangerous game, because we could easily push it the wrong way and lose it even further beneath the chairs. We give up, and I tell her we’ll ask our driver to remove the seats when we get to Nha Trang.

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