Published: April 27th 2010
April 27th 2010
Had a bit of a dash up the coast, something like 750 miles in 5 days, 2 spent on buses! The first was fine, I slept most of the way. The second, after a cock-up by the ticket office ended up being a sitting-up bus with no toilet, full of Vietnamese people. It could, I suppose, have been worse; the film, an ersatz Jackie Chan affair, was played at a considerate volume, people didn't play music and there was one other English-speaker (an Austrian) for me to talk to. I even managed to sleep and to top it all, it was a mere 14 hours, rather than the advertised 19 so not so bad.
Perhaps more interesting than the minutae of my bus journeys, my destinations are a touch more interesting. The main sites in Central Vietnam are Hoi An and Hue and both are exactly as 'The Orient' ought to be. Firstly, Hoi An is a beautiful little town, which still looks much as it did 100 years ago; quaint wooden houses, little alleys, ornate Chinese temples and wealthy townhouses for the former merchant elite. It is also home to possibly the greatest concentration of tailors in the world! Something like 400 in a town about the size of Guildford. I had a 3-piece suit and a load of shirts made and sent home but am kicking myself very hard that I didn't get a coat, I may yet have one made elsewhere. It was because the excellent suit shop ('Peace' for anyone who's going) didn't inspire my confidence about coats and at one other shop I tried ought I didn't much like the cut of the woman's gib, suggesting, to me at least, that I wouldn't much care for the cut of her coats. I posted it all home, which should take three months- the woman took my Uncle Len's line on wrapping, not so much to wrap, as to mummify in masking tape, not that I'm complaining! I've invested a lot of faith in international post!
Though very cute and home to some truly delicious food (which I made the most of) there isn't an awful lot to do there once you've wandered aimlessly a few times and gone on a bike ride, so I didn't stay very long.
Bike rides are a really nice way of seeing places, it only takes 10 minutes out of town and you're probably the only Westerners there. I'm pretty sure there are some rogue 'parking ticket' sellers but the 7p you have to pay, even by my Shylock-standard tightness is not worth the bother of seeing if they're genuine. China Beach, near Hoi An is beautiful but it was VERY windy so I didn't feel like having the skin scraped off of my body by sand and there were about 150 children on a school trip making an alimghty racket so I headed inland to some little villages after that.
Hue, again, is very nice. A larger, much more 'real' city than Hoi An. Hoi An is a bit of a Venice; to preserve itself it's had to sell its soul to tourism a bit, which isn't so bad as all the old houses are neat, well kept shops, but in Hue there are many more Vietnamese people getting on with their ordinary lives. Set on the exotically named 'Perfume River' there is an old Imperial Citadel and Forbidden City, like Beijing in miniature. There are some spectacular palaces (and tombs outside the city), but unfortunately most of it was destroyed when the Americans cleverly Napalmed it, although it is gradually being restored. After a day there and having been in Hoi An I was pretty bored of temples and stuff so only spent one night before getting the bus. It's a national holiday this weekend and it was last weekend (Independence Day followed by May Day) so all the buses are absolutely rammed and lots of travellers, used to booking with an hour to spare, are getting stuck.
Off to Halong Bay in about 10 minutes with a big group of various people, including some girls I've bumped into in every single stop in Vietnam. We decided, instead of my continued 'stalking' we should just to Halong Bay together, to spare me the effort. We are currently in Hanoi, the capital, which is much like the other big cities I've been to, but we went to a very cool cafe, where the canopy of the roof garden was made of umbrellas and vines and then to a coffee shop, which sells 'Weasel Coffee'- coffee beans that have passed through a weasel (the coffee tastes AMAZING) and had a rather surreal conversation "So has 'man-made weasel' actually passed through a weasel?" "So Perfect Special is a different bean and has definitely been excreted?" "What's the difference between 'Weasel No 1 and No 5?" "SO no weasels involved at all?- what sort of coffee is that?"
Must dash, bus to catch (a mere 3 hours to the bay, then 3 days on a boat then an island). Love to all etc.