March 23, 24 Hoi An
Travelling here is smooth as long as you relax and trust people. That's easy if you're not on a tight budget like many of the 'real' backpackers are. (We met a young man from Ontario in MuiNe who told us he had $100 left and he was going to work at a disco to pay his way.)
The second we walked out of the train station in Danang a man approached us to ask if we wanted a taxi. "Yes, to Hoi An." "Ten dolla in ten minute. sir. You wai hia." We told him we would wait at the coffee joint across the street. "Oh sir, too esspensih coffee. Go otta cona."
The other corner sidewalk was thronged with young men sitting on low plastic stools drinking tea and smoking cigarettes. VN pop music was blasting from the many speakers. We had ice coffee and in minutes a driver pulled up and whisked us away from the smoke and din.
We went to the An Huy Hotel where we had made a booking. No booking. "Maybe An Hui Hotel, sir?" We went there. No booking but they took us anyway.
I've made no effort whatsoever to learn Vietnamese, with the exception of 'thank you'. I know it's jingoistic or racist or whatever but it seems to me that there are too few words in the language.
Reading the signs everything looks the same to me! Huy, Hui, Hu, Hi. I guess if every word can have five tones and five meanings it's an economical language.
I have a new appreciation of how difficult it must be for VN to learn English with its hard consonants. "Fre mi" (fresh milk); "Co bia" (cold beer); "Toe" (toast); "Massa" (massage).
Hoi An is charming - lanterns, small shops, ancient temples, old wooden houses and a lovely river. It also has more tailoring shops than Kellogg's has corn flakes! Nancy and I had fun getting stuff made only to be disappointed with the stuff at home.
I'd been wearing the same wrap-around skirt for weeks so decided to have another made. (The weather was so hot in Cambodia, Saigon, Muine and Nha Trang that I couldn't wear some of the things I have with me.) Ian ordered two shirts. That afternoon the temperature dropped by many degrees and it started to rain. I guess I didn't need the skirt!
An ATM kept Ian's card. There were three phone numbers listed to contact. At the first number a man told him to phone another number. At that number Ian got a live person who hung up on him twice. It was Friday about 11:55 a.m. and being the pessimistic alarmists we are we figured we'd have to stay in Hoi An until Monday.
We decided to go to a real bank to talk to someone in person. The bank was about three meters wide (not just the entrance, the whole bank) and had a metal accordion grill across the entrance with a small opening to enter the bank. Inside, the lights were out. Two young men were at a desk near the entrance. One was lying on the desk and the other sat staring at us with a glum face (the phone hanger upper?)
Ian launched into his sad tale with the ATM ID#, the address, the time of the loss etc. The young man continued to stare. Finally, "Luntye. Come ba laita." (In my mind I was thinking, Monday?) He said "One o'clock."
And sure enough, at one o'clock there he was with Ian's card in his hand smiling, polite, almost chatty!! I guess the customer service mode is reserved for business hours.
March 25, 26 Hue
|Me on the right in my new jacket and plastic poncho... brrrr|
Be careful what you wish for - you may get it! I have been so hot. I didn't intentionally wish for cooler weather but it must have been in the back of my mind. We took a car to Hue through cold drizzle and fog.
South to North the towns are: Hoi An, Danang, over the mountain to Hue. In 2008 the strip of beach from Hoi An to Danang (China Beach of Vietnam war and American TV fame) was pretty much undeveloped. Now there are big resorts and casinos and a lot of construction of more. The driver told us that some of the development is Chinese. Meridien, Sheraton and the like.
It was Friday afternoon around 2:30 when we drove through Danang. It felt like early Sunday morning. The traffic was almost non-existent and we hardly saw a soul. Eerie.
Internet booking is not all it's cracked up to be in this neck of the world. We got to 'our' hotel and "No booky." It seems that one VN company might have several hotels but use one internet booking service, one address, one phone number. The hotel we booked was actually across the street but the guy said "You tay hea, I gi you sa pry." Why not?
|Hue Palace - looking into an ancient urn|
Hue was so cold and wet we decided to go to Hanoi the next evening. We had to pay cash for our tix at the travel agent. I said "The ATM will only give us 2,000,000 Dong ($100)." The agent said (more or less) "Do 2,000,000 then 2,000,000 then 2,000,000 etc" Doh! Why didn't we think of that?! The service charges might be big but ya gotta do what ya gotta do.
We took cyclos over to the market to buy jackets - genuine knock-off The North Face for $25 each - and socks for me. Then we were off to the Imperial Palace of the Nguyen dynasty. It's shabby but dignified. It's been bombed and restored many times.
There were many school children on outings. Some children were posing for a group shot for their teacher. I overheard a French tourist who was taking advantage of the pose say to them "Souriez pour la France!" I winced. It was France who bombed the palace in '47.
We went to La Residence Hotel (VN/Swiss) for lunch - sort of a birthday treat. The best part was that the hotel had heat!
March 27, 28 Hanoi
'Same Same but Different' is a common saying here. (I think it might refer to all the knock-offs that SE Asia is known for. Rolex anyone?) We had that experience with our hotel booking in Hanoi. The driver who picked us up said he was taking us to Hanoi View Hotel. We said we booked Prince Hanoi Hotel. "Same, same." ???
|A traffic officer - a thankless job|
The driver did not seem to be drunk (the driver in Hue smelled like Dean Martin on New Year's eve) but he drove on the white line between the lanes. Eventually he chose a lane and then accelerated to 110 kph. That doesn't sound very fast by Cdn standards but here!? I asked him to slow down. Within minutes we passed the first accident we've seen here. A motor scooter was crumpled in the middle of the lane. The driver looked at me like I had ESP!]
It turns out Hanoi View and Prince Hanoi are side by side and owned by the same company. They didn't have a room for us at the Prince so put us in the View for the night then moved us in the a.m. Egad!
We walked around the Old Quarter and went to the fancy-shmancy part of town. I found the IHT at the Metropole (paid for it this time!). Better luck with the puzzle, too. We had coffee and a sweet in a shop that made me think of Sweet Obsession - up-market with lots of women with their children.
All the old French colonial buildings - elegant, yellow with white trim, tall green shutters - have been taken over by the VN government. They are still yellow and white but now have utilitarian red signage with yellow writing and huge VN flags - red with a yellow star.
|Ian negotiating a crowded sidewalk|
The French Quarter is only a small enclave serviced by wide boulevards. The rest of downtown is a maze of narrow streets with motorbikes crowding both the road and sidewalks.
Look up and signs of an elegant past peek through the shabby storefronts and snake-pits of electrical wiring.