Mon 17th Jan – Hoi-An
Now that the tour part was over and we had a week up our sleeve, we decided to explore a bit more of Vietnam. We had booked a flight from HCMC to Da Nang, with the plan to stay in Hoi An for a few days and then head north across the mountains to Hue (pronounced Hu-Way). John, who was also staying in Vietnam an extra a week or so, was already there. As we were preparing to leave the Duc, a text message arrives from John: “Just arrived in Hoi An. Bloody Cold – bring a jumper”. Luckily, despite much derision from other family members, I had packed one. Kayla had a jacket with her, and Karen loves the cold, so we were all set. The hotel car takes us to HCMC domestic airport and we make our way to the Jetstar terminal. It’s quite amazing to see that the major two airlines in Vietnam are Vietnam Airways and Jetstar. Our little Jetstar!! As at home, Jetstar is the budget airline with less frills, more cramped seating and lower fares. We’d booked Jetstar all the way for this trip (Adelaide to Darwin, Darwin to HCMC and back) and so figure the saving is worth it for a two hour trip.
Lining up to get our tickets was an experience. I guess it’s a cultural thing; we learn from school that if there is a line, you join the end of it and wait your turn. Unless you’re one of the tough kids, you don’t push in unless you want to get beaten up. There doesn’t seem to be the same reluctance in Vietnam domestic air terminals. People who think they’re more important just walk up to the counter (despite there being 20 or 30 people already waiting), wait for the person currently being served to finish, and then thrust their passport over the counter as if they’ve been there the whole time. This happened a couple of times and the nice young Vietnamese lady at the counter cheerfully told them to get at the end of the queue. It also happens part way throughout the queue as well. We were standing there with our suitcases about 4 from the front, and this guy with a couple of boxes just comes up and stands next to the people in front. We don’t know what to do; we don’t speak the language and so can’t have an argument with this guy, so we’re just looking at each other. Then this army guy comes over to him, shakes his head, waves his baton and tells him to get in line behind us (There were about 5 people behind us already, so he still gets to push in!). Later on, the same army guy cheerfully took this guys place while the pusher-inner-er went and sat down for a nice rest. Obviously this guy was kinda important – maybe we should feel privileged that he was deemed less important than us? Bizarre.
Two or so hours later, we arrive in DaNang where a minivan meets us for the half hour ride ($8 for a car, $12 for a minivan) to Hoi An. We went up to the room and Kayla was a bit tired and not hungry, so we left her there and went across to the “Light Candle” to get something to eat. It was at this point that we were exposed to a whole new level of hawking as a young cock-eyed lady (she was lookin’ at you but she was talkin’ to me!) rides up to us on a bike and starts the pitch… “hello, where you from?”. Now I figure she’s warming up to sell us something, but I don’t want to be rude and so I chat with her until she tries to usher us into ‘my sisters tailor shop’. Hoi-An is famous for its tailors, although it’s becoming more popular as a summer beach resort lately.
We shake the young lady and sit down for something to eat, only to be harassed several more times by similarly minded people. So the difference between here and HCMC is that in HCMC they’ll walk along with samples of what they want to sell. In Hoi-An, they either try to entice you to visit their shop or will wait for you to walk past and call out ‘scuse me sahhhh, where u from??? U like to see my shopppp? U want massage?”
So far, I wasn’t that impressed with Hoi An. It was certainly cleaner than HCMC, but had nothing really going for it, and those damn hawkers were getting on my wick. Add to that I inadvertently ordered a steamed pork rib dish that was distinctly truck-stop. This all changed that night when Kayla and I walked up to Ancient Town to meet up with Karen at a restaurant called “Good Morning Vietnam”. The town at night is spellbinding.
It has a medieval Japanese feel to it and it just so happened that this night was the full moon; they have a festival each full moon and the streets are foot traffic only. To top it off, “Good Morning Vietnam” is an amazingly good restaurant serving authentic Italian food.
Despite the ambience of Hoi-An at night, there wasn’t a lot else to do. We went on a day trip to the My Son ruins, a moastery (I think) that’ been around since the 8th century which was bombed during the war. That was quite moving, and as we walked back from the ruins to the bus, I was struck by how hard it must have been for the foot soldiers. I was so moved I even put up a comment on Facebook…“Just did a tour of the “My Son” ruins near Hoi An. The ruins have been around since the 8th century and were bombed during the Vietnam war. Walking down the jungle track I tried to imagine how difficult conditions must have been. To the soldiers on both sides, you have my undying admiration and respect. To the power-mongers behind the invasion and bombing, however, you have my undying contempt. How many died and suffered for your personal agendas?”
And as a bizarre touch of Synchronicity, we had a suicidal bus driver on the return to Hoi An. Seriously, this guy was a maniac, leaning on the horn and barrelling through the villages without a thought for being able to stop in an emergency. Lucky I fell asleep 🙂