When venturing out of Hoi An most visitors head north towards the attractions of Da Nang – Monkey Mountain and Marble Mountain – or south-west towards the ruins of My Son. But what happens if one heads south towards the provincial capital; if one takes the road to Tam Ky? Tam Thanh, the new Painted Village is a highlight of this trip. It has already begun to attract regular ‘pilgrims’ yet there are many other points of interest close at hand.
The road to Tam Ky is itself fascinating. Dropping down from the heights of the new Cua Dai bridge – built we are told to cater for the anticipated traffic that will visit the casino and resorts being constructed along this stretch of coast – the fairly flat sand dune country appears endless.
But wait. What are these hundreds of ornate structures that dot the landscape among the emergent waterways and soon to be resort gardens? Graves and highly decorated headstones! They extend for kilometers on both sides of this fast, as yet unfinished, dual highway. Seemingly the road-making company was able to obtain permission to move any graves that were in the way.
Why are they all here? Is this an historic region, are there religious or cultural reasons? Mystifying. The version we were given is that the zoning of this area of Quang Nam was not completed until recently so residents simply decided to ‘use’ it for this purpose. Cheaper and enabling unlimited artistic freedom. Enterprising!
After traveling slightly less than an hour there is a T-junction – left to the Painted Village and right to Tam Ky, the capital of Quang Nam province, along with some other surprises. Let’s savor what Tam Ky has to offer. Tam Ky was a village until a bunch of planners and architects moved in a few years ago to transform it into the province’s capital. So un-Vietnamese and out of character with its surrounding villages, housing styles and terrain this moderately sized, very Russian-influenced town with matching architecture is the outcome. An outstanding example of the style is the state administration building, a marvel not be missed.
Returning to the coast,we take in the Vietnamese Heroic Mother monument that commemorates Nguyen Thi Thu from the area. She, like many, lost her entire family in the American War. The sculpture was hewn by sculptor Dinh Gia Than from granite that was clearly imported and dropped in place on purpose-built concrete foundations. It is massive, nearly 20 by 120 meters and is fronted by a formed lake and surrounded by 15 hectares of gardens, eight statues, telling the stories of other heroic mothers and child soldiers, along with a small museum and meeting room (why?), all appropriately themed. Regardless of how you might feel about its overall look and feel, this site is a must. It is still a work in progress and the cost has been and is enormous– approximately 410 billion VND. Why, when the functions of the administration are being steadily moved to Hoi An, was this out of the way place chosen for the provincial capital and such an overwhelming monument?
Off to the Painted Village on the road we chose not to take earlier. The Lang Chai Tam Thanh project was a joint South Korean-Vietnamese enterprise though recent additions show that the locals are contributing their artistic skills as well. It is easier to understand why this tourism project was initiated. The beach is a stunning, unbroken sweep of golden sand with many fishing boats drawn up above the high tide mark and the rivers are peaceful and tree-lined. The main river runs quite close to and parallel with the beach hence the village and its surrounds are referred to locally as the ‘island’.
This project involved inviting artists and painters to decorate most of the houses with striking murals reflecting the village and the people who live and work there. At the same time the color palette of the whole village was altered by repainting the houses in pastel greens, yellows and blues, in complete contrast to their traditional Vietnamese primary colors. Fences have been unified with permanent ceramic tiles that tell stories of the village.
Wandering around the village is rewarding with every angle revealing a novel item or three. It is a photographic treasure trove. Visitors, both children and adults are drawn to interact with the murals in very amusing ways.
Seafood is abundant and fresh from the ocean–choose your own lunch which will be prepared for you on the spot. Delicious: crab, squid, prawns and fish, served with fresh vegetables and noodles or rice.
Journeying back on the coastal road is a rustic and picturesque way of completing the trip to Tam Ky.
What a grand excursion. Tours are available. Getting there is easy by motorbike, private car/minibus or coach. The total outward trip can be accomplished in a little over an hour. This area demands more infrastructure and will benefit from some much-needed homestays. I’ve been twice and will be returning to this alluring region.
I have been accompanied on ‘The Road to Tam Ky’ by my friend Le Vinh from Hoi An Explore who arranges tours on demand. Contact him at [email protected] or on his phone 093486717.
Photo Cua Dai Bridge: Austin Trevitt
Other photos: Ken Shearman
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