Published: July 2nd 2011July 2nd 2011
Size matters. There is no discussion about that. It can be an avantage and also a big disadvantage, as I discovered today, but for sure it does matter.
In this special case we are speaking about the size of my feet, number 45 European standard. Nothing really special back home in Italy but for Vietnam its far above the limits. In Hue, where I currently am based, the maximum number reaches a lousy 43. What to do? Join the fleet of locals running south to Da Nang, the capital of Central Vietnam on the shopping trail. Now, in my special case things were even more complicated and this has to do with the happenings of the last days.
A couple of days ago I got an invitation from a friend to play Basketball in a near court. There is to say that Basket had been a great passion of mine for a long time but since several years I did not think about or practice anything related to this sport. Anyway, being a nostalgic man in his late 20's I accepted the invitation and I was surprised that I actually still could keep up with the pace of other
(in much better shape) players. As most of the times in life the bill was delivered later, in this case the bill for the cheap fake Converse All Stars I bought during my stay in Beijing. The price was that my feet were hurting to a point that I actually had to walk like a grandfather for a couple of days. Now that I have rediscovered my passion I had to look for some Basketball shoes and it is here that my spontaneous travel to Da Nang came to life.
So today I left with an Italian friend of mine, direction south, by motorbike. First of all there is to say that Da Nang lies around 100 km distance from Hue. Not that much you might say. 1 hour by car in Europe might do the trick. Well, here in Vietnam things work slightly different.
Armed with facemasks against the dust we left at around 11 am from Hue in the direction of the 'highway'. Yes the brackets were intentional. The highways is actually nothing else but a normal street (crossing villages and ricefields), crowded with honking, crazy bike and truck drivers as most of the other roads
Street along one of the nice beaches
in Vietnam. The only difference to a normal road is the speedlimit (official and not official), which seems to be set much higher than on the normal streets around Vietnamese towns. What this means are several life-threatening situations and exhaustion induced 'ca-phe' breaks along the way.
After passing the flat ricefields of the Hue province we had to climb a couple of mountain passes in order to cross to Da Nang. Increased risks for survival aside, the run from the mountains gave us an amazing view on the seemingly endless and unspoiled coastline of Vietnam, where steep rocks fall directly in the sea, surrounded by breathtaking white sand beaches. Now, a thing that is fundamental to know about the Vietnamese is that they despise the sun and therefore do not appreciate their beaches too much. Some of them get a little crowded after sunset but miles of the beautiful white sand stays completely untouched.
As a person directly involved into tourism development I look at this with a smile and tears in my eyes at the same time. The lack of interest from domestic tourists in the local beaches keeps the nature relatively intact and the coastline unspoiled
Sculptures in the center
but on the other hand, what would be give in Europe for having only a tenth of this paradise.
Enough of this, I originally started this blog for speaking about Da Nang, because somebody has to. Yes that's right. Da Nang, besides being Vietnam's third biggest city, seems also to be Vietnam's most ignored one. While the northern capital Hanoi and the southern capital Saigon get all the attention (also from the tourist trail), Da Nang's name can be found only on maps rather than on travel guides. Even the backpacker bible Lonely Planet mentions the city only for a couple of pages. History books make reference to it as the center of American presence during the Vietnam war, which gave it its reputation for prostitution and sleeze.
Our first view on Da Nang, coming from the moutains, gave us a totally different view of the city. Situated on a peninsula, surrounded by white sand beaches and green, wild mountains the place seemed all other than unattractive. When I think about unattractive I think about certain grey cities in Europe, buried in mist and rainy clouds rather than about a tropical paradise.
On thing that we immediately
noticed was anyway the total lack of high buildings, no skyscrapers and only a few high-rise architecture could be seen from afar. By coming closer to the place this was confirmed. Being used to Hue, which is a medium-small city, Da Nang did not seem to that different after all. The feeling when we drove to it was that of a.. well.. I would say small town with a large extension, or better a large number of villages, one attached to the other.
Speaking about quality of life this is surely not a bad thing, but tourists looking for a lot of things to do and to see might get disappointed. The center of the city lies along the riverside which is directly connected to the Chinese Sea. Arriving around 2pm (the Vietnamese nap hour), totally empty streets did not help much in increasing the urban feeling of the place. On the other side of the several large bridges lies what the Americans called 'China Beach', a truly beautiful but also relatively deserted (remember the sun issue) beach, running all the way south to Hoi An and bordered by 'Monkey Moutain' on the north.
The museum of Cham
Rooster church, French style
Culture with its 4 rooms of statues could not really contribute in giving a great feeling about the place. Don't get me wrong, Da Nang is not a bad place and not an ugly one either but it just seemed that something was missing from a touristic point of view. Someting that Hue has, Saigon has and Hanoi has for sure. Infact Da Nang might be the economic capital of the center, but the tourists still run off to Hue and Hoi An instead.
Coming back to the question of my shoes, I could make a short story long but at the end I found one pair ( and I mean there was only ONE pair) of 45 sport shoes. Fake and Chinese like the ones that hurt my feet the other day. But if there is no choice you have to take what you get. The next game will show if it was worth the sunburn after the long ride...
There are more photos below