I took the train to Da Nang, arriving there just before 11:00. All the guide books indicated there was a bus to my next stop, Hoi An, and, after several queries, I
found it, lost and anonymous in a street of empty shops and offices. The next bus was not for a couple of hours, the sun was burning, and my pack seemed inexplicably heavy. I needed a refreshing cold drink, somewhere to sit, and, above all, something to do for the next couple of hours. I should point out, by the way, that many streets in the centre of Da Nang were closed, because the ASEAN summit was being held there and due to start in a couple of days. This accounted, hindsight tells me, for the emptiness of the town.
I could have walked down to the main shoping area, but, instead, I saw the bright red exterior of a shop with a portrait of a kindly southern gentleman above the doorway welcoming all those who approached. More importantly, it was both open, had wifi and was air conditioned. The restaurant was empty, having just opened, so I dumped my backpack, and went to the counter. Not being hungry, and not being a regular meat eater, I ordered a salad, a coffee and the largest and coldest bottle of water they sold. I’m not a regular visitor to American fast food chains, but KFC did me proud that day. I surfed the net, read guide books, drank water and generally restored my well-being. People came and went, the restaurant filled, but no-one seemed concerned by the man who had set up camp in the corner table. Refreshed, I left a couple of hours later, and wandered down to the bus stop.
If I have a quibble about travel guides, it is that, because of their nature, much of the information comes from the various tourist or other offices, and the writers have not necessarily experiences what they describe. I came across this on the bus to Hoi An. All the guides agreed on the price, where you could catch it, and the fact it took you to the bus station in Hoi An, which indeed it did. What they failed to mention was that the bus station is on the fringes of Hua Hin, a few kilometers away from the centre of town. One mentioned taxis, but, during the short time I was there, they did not seem in ready supply. So, given an impatience I was born with, I began the long walk into town.
I didn’t finish it. My GPS gave the distance to the homestay I’d booked as 7km, and it began to feel like a long 7 km after the first. I kept looking behind in hope,
and, some 5 minutes later, saw a taxi. I’m glad I did. It took me to the homestay but, even more importantly, found it, which proved subsequently to be not that easy. Anyway, I arrived, was welcomed, settled into my room and given a bike to use. Charming family who were helpful and well-organized, plus the rooms were neat and clean.
It was getting late, so I headed into town for a quick look and a bite to eat. There couldn’t have been a bigger conrast with the town I’d left in the morning. In Quoc Trang, I was the lone tourist. Here, people from all countries of the world were thronging. The old colonial buildings, the Chinese and Vietnamese shops and houses, even the temples were thronging, and the famous bridge I left for the next day, so busy was it.
In many ways Hoi An, thanks to its discovery by all the tourist guides on the
planet, has become a resort town in the way that Ubud in Bali or Hua Hin in Thailand have. There are lots of activities for those who tire of wandering around the markets and drinking in the culture, most of it involving the river, coracles and learning how to cook. The market acts as the centre not only for produce but for these activities. I wandered around, not really attracted by the combined coracle and cooking tours, until my eye was caught by tour that involved bicycles and cooking. Thinking a tour round the rice fields would be interesting, as would the cooking, of course, I signed up for the afternoon of the next day.
It was already dark, and, though not especially hungry, food and a local beer seemed a good option. The only trouble was that the cafés were full, and the street food (a common problem in Vietnam) featured mostly meat and seafood. There were the vegetarian nems, rice and noodles, but somehow on this night they failed to excite. The only other option seemed to be overpriced western-style food, so I headed back in the direction of the homestay. I remembered seeing some cafés on the way out.
The cafés were there, as was the beer, but there were also lots of locals, at least as far as could be seen in the near-Stygian gloom. As in many countries, public lighting falls off sharply when you move away from the town centre. I did not feel capable of coping with ordering whatever it was they sold, but without the meat, plus the bass-laden music coming from the speakers did not attract. There were, however, two small general purpose stores, and a shop selling strange medecines and wine. Fortunately one of the stores had cold beer, so I bought a couple of bottles, a bag of chips and and odd-looking chocolate roll, and returned to the homestay and feasted in my room.