Nice One, My Son
Trip Start Oct 29, 2003
117Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
Leisurely morning at the Stop & Go Cafe drinking Vietnamese tea with Mr Do and chatting to fellow tourists (including my first Americans!). I uploaded some spiffing pictures onto TP and waited for the train south to Danang. Both my guidebook (I'm using Footprint, not Lonely Planet but I'll get to the Battle of the Guidebooks at a later stage) and the Vietnamese Railway website said the last train south from Hue left about 3pm, so for 25p Mr Do took me on his motorbike to the station at 2pm. I bade him farewell and went to get my ticket, only to be told that the last train had left at 1pm.
Stupid Stranded Tourist Man had to make a decision: spend another day in Hue and get the first train tomorrow, or get the bus
Reluctantly I went to nearby tourist office (there's one on every street corner which gives you an idea on how touristy this place is becoming) and discovered that the next bus left for the town of Hoi An in 15 minutes. I forked over the $3 for the 3.5 hour journey and waited. 45 minutes later an empty air-conditioned bus showed up and I was on my way from Hue. Picking up 4 locals en route I was the only westerner travelling, which means I was extraordinarily lucky: not only was the bus empty but it didn't stop every half hour at shops or food stands. (Other people I've met did the same journey but it took twice as long and they had to sit in fold-up chairs in the aisle.)
A hotel in Hoi An was recommended to me by the Hanoi Chester girls so I'd thought I'd check it out. I'm glad I did! The An Phu Hotel is only 2 months old and subsequently hasn't made it into any guidebooks - particularly the Planet that is Lonely variety. I had aircon, satellite tv and even toiletries to nick
All this for only $12 for the first night and $10 for the subsequent two! The staff were so helpful and friendly I didn't even bother to haggle, and at 7 quid a night it didn't seem right. To cap it off, they were showing Arsenal live against Spurs, which was a perfect end to the day.
Sunday November 9th
A very sporty day today: I went running, cycling, swimming and played pool (all true except for the running, cycling and swimming - however I was destroyed at pool by a 10 year old). I did, however, get to see England beat the Welsh in the rugby World Cup, and also Liverpool vs ManU. Marvellous things satellites - except they couldn't keep ManU from winning.
When I wasn't doing exactly the same as I would have been doing if I had been back home (apart from the pool debacle) I went for a walk around the town. If this were some poncy article in the travel section of the Sunday paper then Hoi An would probably be described thus: "A delightful little gem of a town, a rich fusion of Chinese, Japanese as well as Vietnamese culture clinging onto the bank of the Thu Bon river blah blah blah." But this ain't a Sunday newspaper. Yet.
Before the boats became too big for the river, Hoi An was a successful trading port with China and Japan in the 1800s. Now it's a tourist hotspot of tailors and art galleries (and tailors in art galleries).
The women in the tailor shops - and they are nearly all women - are not shy to ask you into their shop. Western clothing catalogues are thrust upon you as you walk in. Point to something you like, and they'll measure you up and have it ready by 9am the next day (all this while simultaneously trying to sell you a winter coat and a couple of suits). The constant hard selling and beckoning into shops does get a bit much and I did get tired of saying no, but once you punch them in the face a couple of times - and kick their mother in the teeth who is invariably peeling strange vegetables or cooking on the doorstep - they soon get the message.
If you're not into violence, then it's best not to make eye contact and never ever start a conversation! Having said that, I was suckered into a made-to-measure shirt and a pair or trousers for 7 quid. Silly not to, really.
Like all Vietnamese towns, there's a bustling marketplace in its centre. Fresh veggies from the fields, fresh fish from the river, and fresh meat from some unfortunate animal fill the narrow alleyways, but that doesn't stop the beeping motorbikes riding through covering everything with exhaust fumes. Maybe that's why everything tastes so good.
Monday November 10th
I had a dream last night that everyone I saw came up to me and started shouting.
Where you from?
Come into my shop!
Where you go now?
Look at my menu!
I like you but you need new suit!
As it turned out it was just my walk into town.
Punching and kicking my way through the crowd I made it to a tourist shop. I booked a trip into the jungle to the historical site of My Son, yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Home of the Cham (not to be confused with Chav) civilisation from the 8th century, My Son is a very important historical and archaeological monument, apparently. With strong religious influences from India, My Son was a royal temple complex hidden deep in a valley and protected by the jungle until 1898 when it was rediscovered fairly intact by the French. To this day nobody knows how they built what they did, and scientists from all over the world have been trying to discover how they made their bricks and cement. They still don't know.
Unfortunately, most of the 70 buildings were destroyed during the 'American War' in 1969. The Viet Cong used My Son as a base and so it became a target for heavy US bombing. Some of them hit. Despite the humidity and treacherous pathways in the rain it was well worth a visit. It was one of those days that definitely made me go 'Hmmmm...'
Tuesday November 11th
Tonight I leave on the overnight bus to the beach resort of Nha Trang. I could have spent the day visiting the war memorial at My Lai but didn't feel up to it. (Feel free to do a Google on My Lai - but for those Americans amongst you be warned that it wasn't your proudest day in the war). Instead I'd thought I'd hang out at the pool and update this TP.
Today is the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Armistice Day in England and Veteran's Day in the US so it seems rather appropriate to write a little something about the Vietnam War.
Here's what most people in England know about it:
1. Lots and lots of people died, but we don't know why.
2. The photograph of the little Vietnamese girl running down the road burned by napalm.
3. There was a DJ that shouted 'Good Morning' alot.
4. The weirdo in Apocalypse Now who liked the smell of napalm when he woke up.
5. America lost.
As you can see, Hollywood has played an important part.
I'm not really sure what Americans think as it's not often talked about, probably because it's too recent and too painful. If you ever get the chance, be sure to visit the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. It's a very simple but powerful monument: a black granite wall inscribed with the names of the 57,000 US soldiers who died.
By contrast, the equivalent Vietnamese wall would have 3 million names.
Apart from the damage to the historical sites at Hue and My Son, I haven't seen much physical effects of the war in the cities. According to my Footprint, the countryside is 'pocked with millions of bomb craters' which the farmers use today as either lakes for fish farms or for irrigating their crops.
Maybe I'll see more evidence as I make my way south.