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Published: November 29th 2011
Danang, Hoi-an and Hue: three places which could not be more different, yet each both ugly and beautiful in their own fascinating ways.
After Dalat, a truly spiritual and enriching experience, Danang was a shock. The pictures on google look stunning yet when you get there, there is no seaside as per the photos suggests and yet this is Danang’s saving grace, or at least it should be. The streets are spilling with incredibly beautiful material shops offering locals a multitude of choices for their traditional dresses, the buildings are tall but not so tall to be intimidating and dark. Life is very traditional and goes about regardless of the tourist passing through. I was not bothered by moto’s or taxi’s like I have been in other towns, instead I was very much left alone and I liked this.On the first day, I decided to find the seaside, the pictures were truly mesmerising and I wanted to take some of my own. Alas, there is no sea side and this is the sad tale of Danang. The entire stretch of coast line was hidden behind tall juts of corrugated metal fences, the sea we could smell, but unobtainable yet knowingly
so close. We walked past repetitive corrugated structure after another and got no closer to the surf the other side. We could hear it, smell it, just could not touch it. We gave up eventually and headed for home.
The tale of Danang gets sadder on the Way to Hoi-an. Our taxi driver explained to us how the beach has been bought by private companies and is being developed into holiday complexes. Huge expensive villas with private swimming pools adorn the coast line, along with famous golf courses designed by famous golfers; whatever. I have never seen anything so pathetic, so embarrassing and so sad. The people of Danang are able to approach the sea side at specially cordoned off areas which must total only a 100metres at best. Their beautiful coastline gone to the fat foreigner who will come to their city, stay at the resorts, play golf in the famous grassy planes but will not spend money locally because there will be no need to...instead they will stay in their expansive resorts eating imported western food and wine and never experience the incredible culture of Vietnam.I find it difficult to see just how the local people of
Danang will prosper through this development. Yes there will be jobs, yes some industries may be developed but very little of that money will filter through to the Vietnamese in the town.
If in ten years I am proven wrong then I will eat this laptop* (*please note that in ten years this laptop will probably be binned due to our throw away culture and the lack of financial viability to create anything that will last any length of time).
Hoi-an however, is stunning. I loved it. You will love it. Fact. It is so French and quaint.The streets are narrow, the paint is peeling, the walls are rustic, and bicycles are the main mode of transport down these slender winding streets. The vendors are hidden behind proper shop walls, although in true Vietnamese fashion they seep on to the pavements and roads in places but predominantly stay behind solid walls (a novelty in Vietnam).Most shops are material shops or tailors and are found in their hundreds.They are everywhere.But then, this is what Hoi-an is known for....
I spent the days with Sarah pacing the streets looking for that deal, that great tailor who is going to
change our lives and our wardrobe. We spent our time in Danang researching clothes and websites and google images for examples of what we wanted made. I must have had at least fifteen images of different things I had intended to have created for me. However, the prices were a bit of a shock. For shorts, they wanted $20! I envisaged cheap prices for good quality workmanship, how naive was I?
In the end I settled on a pair of linen trousers and a coat designed by moi. I don’t know why I got a coat made, I don’t need one and I won’t be able to wear it for another ten months as it will be summer when I go home to England but I guess I did it because I could. I once saw a coat in Topshop a few years ago and I loved the design but could not justify spending £150 at the time. One of those things I wished I had bought because I have never seen anything so extraordinary since. So, I thought I would re-create it, design it myself and add a few features I knew would be better for me. It
cost me £35, for lovely thick material for those cold winter months and a quirky design that I imagined would have all the girls swooning over it.
The trousers were great, the coat was OK. First fitting, the front of the coat was cut too short and the back was shaped all wrong. When I told the girls in the shop they got angry. There were raised voices, from them. Taken aback, I tried to explain that although it’s not what I had wanted, we can fix it...with few minor adjustments and a little fabric taken off, we could save this. Eventually, we managed to bring them round to our way of thinking....and the third fitting required a little more fabric removal and then it was perfect. Well, almost. It wasn’t what I had envisioned and it certainly didn’t change my life but it was OK, and I definitely wasn’t going to get anything like that in the UK for less than a few hundred pounds. It’s currently bulking out my bag as we speak; I need to get that sent home.
Sarah however had an experience of her own, one which we were warned about by an
expat we met that same evening. He called the tailor makers “those evil cretins” which I was horrified by and most offended. How can some westerner live in a country and then call its inhabitants evil cretins? I wanted to tell him to bugger off back to where he came from (America) but I didn’t have the guts. So I said it in my head instead. Sadly he was right in the sense that we would get ripped off somewhere along the lines and we were; Sarah’s shoes. She had this beautiful Vietnamese/Chinese style dress made with beautiful embroidery and then found shoes to match in a shop further along up the road. They were incredible shoes and they almost fitted but were a little too narrow so needed them to be made with a wider sole. The fee was bargained down to $35, they were huge heels in a deep royal purple and Sarah felt worth every cent if they were made to fit the dimensions of her feet...which of course is what we were told would happen but did not. We went for the fitting and the shoes were still not wide enough, the sole was still very
narrow but the material did seem bigger. We asked to see the shoes she tried on to compare how they fit...but of course, as luck would have it they had been sold! Well, would you believe it? No, of course we didn’t. They had been blocking the shoe and stretching the material rather than making the shoe from scratch with a wider sole as promised. We asked her to fix it, and she reluctantly agreed to do so. We went back later for the third fitting knowing we were in for a fight. Sarah had paid a deposit of ten dollars and wanted it back, or wanted the shoes to be made the way as per promised and she would pay the full price agreed. With a glass of wine/courage down our necks we faced the lady. Sure to be sure, they were the same. No change, no difference. What a dispute, even with limited English on her part and complete lack of Vietnamese on ours, there was no ‘lost in translation’ going on here. However the lady insisted we should pay more even if we didn’t buy the shoes because she had already paid the man and would make
no profit out of the entire debacle. After a long, drawn out debate about either giving us the shoes for ten dollars (Sarah felt they had worked on the shoes so would pay for what she thought the work was for but knew the shoes were useless to her) or give us the ten dollars back, I decided to take matters in to my own hands. I picked up the shoes and said, “I am going to leave now with the shoes OR give us the deposit” and without an answer I started to walk off. Suddenly, the lady decided the shoes were worth more to her than ten dollars and gave us back the deposit.We celebrated with a carafe of French wine and pesto pasta, yum.
Oh yes, there was one more incident that I must tell you about. It’s rather silly really, a bit awkward and I can’t believe I actually did it.So, I am woken for the third night in a row at 6:30am by thumping music. On my first night I thought there was a club and could not believe my watch when it read 7am. After a little investigation I realised the music originated
across the road from the hotel in this very narrow street from a man who had a few friends round in the morning for coffee. By the third morning I had had enough. I marched out of the room in my pyjamas, small blue sleeping shorts and my ‘angry birds’ t-shirt. My hair dishevelled, probably mascara down my face as I had forgotten to take it off the night before and demanded to the man at the hotel reception desk that he do something about this. He told me how it happens every morning and sometimes it’s worse than others but the man across the road is a mean man and a drunk and drinks early in the morning until late and blasts the music out. He explained how he had tried everything he could but everything he did only worsened the noise.My friends and family will probably have already guessed what I did next.... I strode across the road (in small electric blue shorts, angry bird tee shirt, dishevelled big hair, panda eyes and angry face), and said “please turn the music down” I repeated it and repeated it. The man looked at me with his mean screwed up
face and shook his head. His friends looked rather embarrassed and would not look me in the eye, probably because I looked like a big blonde monster. They were sitting on small stalls and I was standing, so I crossed my arms and demanded “turn it down”. I stared at the man in the eyes and refused to look away, I won and he turned his head first. The angry birds said it all. His friend gave in, he turned the music down and when I didn’t move, he turned it down a little more. I smiled at him with my sweetest smile and said “Gamm ern” which means Thank You. I walked back to the hotel with my head held high and my stomach all a flutter with nerves and adrenaline. The man at the reception desk stared at me open mouthed and later sent a bowl of fresh fruit up to the room.
Although a town of awkward incidents, it did not mar the experience of Hoi-an as it is just too beautiful here. It is sadly very touristy but it is a gem and so easy to understand why, plus it would be silly of any
traveller in Vietnam to miss this little town.Due to it’s touristy nature you are pestered by taxi’s, fruit sellers, tailors and along the river by boatmen but oddly the beauty of this town outweighed the constant harassment and I left Hoi-an with pleasant memories.
Hue, pronounced Huay. A peaceful little town and an old empire full of royal tombs and emperor palatial ruins.Not as beautiful or as quaint as Hoi-an but it is not fair to compare the two places which are so different. It was beautiful in its own historic way. The tombs and palaces stand tall in very good condition, remarkably so considering the wars this country has seen which have ravaged other towns right off the map. I guess they escaped most of the madness as each of them retain a special quality the other places I have seen in Vietnam have not managed to hold on to. Buildings are intact, sometimes almost pristine and for all the tourists who burden these landscapes they do not seem bullish which can be quite unappealing when you are looking for culture or history. Places like Hanoi and Saigon have a different appeal and it is not
necessarily cultural or historical.
I stayed only for a few days in each place, but wish I could have stayed longer to explore the streets and the hubbub of Vietnamese life in the quieter corners. I was passing through as part of the typical throng of tourists, but out of all the places I have been to, these little towns are ones to spend a little more time in. As it is, I fly to Hanoi and have decided to set aside a few weeks to explore the north as I have heard so many wonderful responses from others.
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