Hoi An

We caught the morning train to Da Nang.

It was foggy and rainy so we failed to take advantage of what is meant to be a very scenic rail trip. We did, however, get invited to share a mini bus to Hoi An by this big, jovial Swiss chap, who had the biggest, heaviest suitcase I had seen so far. He  was travelling with a mother and daughter team from the Netherlands.

The recent floods had subsided, leaving a large quantity of mud and rubbish, which the locals were rapidly cleaning up so as not to loose too much of the tourist dollar. We booked into our little homestay over the bridge on a small river island. The water had come up to their chest in this area.

A wander around the township revealed a quaint little, historic village full of old shophouses. Lots of wooden doors, shutters and floors, with an open roof courtyard in the middle behind the main area and private family rooms. All of them are now converted into shops for the tourists. Either souvenir shops, restaurants, art galleries or museums. The streets were strung with the most gorgeous lanterns of all different shapes, colours and designs, which looked lovely in the daytime and stunning at night.

The night markets consist of about 50 stalls, each selling almost exactly identical souviners. They are pleasant enough and there is a sign, in English, that says, “Buy something from me and you are helping a local.” How do you decide which local to help, as you walk down the line, they say to you, “Buy from me, mine is better, cheap price, happy hour.” Which family will I help? I bought some chopsticks off one fellow in Stall 39, because I had a conversation with him the previous night about gongs and he recognised me. As if I need more chopsticks!

I took myself off on a tour to see My Son Sanctuary as Jeremy needed a day off from walking and it looked like raining all day. Which it did! My Son is a cluster of abandoned and partially ruined Hindu temples built by the kings of Champa between 4 and 14 CE. I had no idea what to expect and thought I was just getting a shuttle bus to the temples. It turns out I have joined a big tour, complete with tour guide! Eeekkk!

Our guide, who’s name I can’t recall so I shall call him Luan, turned out to be quite the entertainer. On the bus, he was telling us about the sanctuary and how most of it was destroyed by American bombs. He repeated this a few times to make sure we understood. Opposite me was sitting a nice, young American chap who was looking pretty embarrassed. On about the third time Luan mentioned the Americans, the young lad looked at him shamefaced and said, “Sorry!” Luan said, “Oh, no not you. It not you fault. You way too young!” Then after a lengthy pause, he says, “It was probably your father!”

We were the blue team and we had to follow Luan around, but people kept going the wrong way and losing him. So he’s going around the whole Sanctuary with a thousand other visitors, calling, “Blue team, blue team!” I remember nothing about what he told us of the temple but it was an enjoyable and hilarious visit with some great fellow tourists. One of whom I sat and chatted with on the bus trip back to Hoi An. Smiriti is from Amsterdam and we had a lot in common.

I went on a two hour bike trip by myself on the last morning. I just kept riding, following the river, avoiding the bigger roads. It was pleasant and impossible to get lost now with mobile phones, I downloaded this section of google maps, so a quick check and even without Wifi, the GPS finds me. I headed back to town for a final one of the famous and spectacularly good Mrs Phuong’s Banh mi thit nuong and a ca pha sua.

Time to head off to catch the train from Da Nang to Saigon. A very buff, blinged up young hoon who drove as if he were doing the Grand Prix did the normal hour trip in 40 minutes! Once at the station, I managed to follow correct procedure and swap our boarding pass for proper tickets. Then, feeling a little pleased with ourselves, we settling back to await our trains arrival.

An announcement came on, everyone in the waiting room stood up to board the train. The timing was right so up we get to follow suit. We find our carriage, the woman checks our ticket and waves us aboard. Finding our room we are greeted by a Vietnamese man sitting on our bunk. Jeremy tells him he is in the wrong room and shows him our ticket. The man indicates, “No, you are wrong. This is train SE 2 not SE 3.” Jeremy says, “No, you are on the wrong train!” I say, ” Maybe we are on the wrong train!” Jeremy goes and checks and sure enough we have boarded the train to Hanoi not Saigon. We make a hasty retreat.

Eventually, our train arrives…and we settle down for a long, bumpy, hard 14 hours to Saigon.

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