This post will have spelling errors.
I just did a bit of travel. Here are my means of transportation. I’m only listing conveyances that I took when I was actually carrying all of my stuff and thus “moving.”
So, since I left my apartment in Seoul, I took a bus to Incheon Airport, a 777 to Detroit, a rock star killer to Kansas City, and my brother’s car to his house in the burbs in February.
I rode in the Old Man’s car to Lawrence, Dylan’s truck to KCI, another rockstar killer to DTW, another 777 to ICN, and a bus to Nowon, Seoul in March.
In April, I took a bus back to ICN, an Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur, a bus to KL Sentral, a subway to my hostel, a subway to the bus station, a bus to Mersing, a boat to Tioman, a boat to Mersing, a bus to Melaka, a bus to Tapah, a bus to Tana Rata, a bus to Penang, a city bus to Georgetown, a minivan to Hat Yai, a minibus to Trang, a van to Ko Lanta, and a van to Krabi.
In May, I took a minibus to the Krabi jetty, a ferry to Ko Phi Phi, a ferry to Phuket, a bus to Takua Pa, a bus to Surat Thani, a minibus to Don Sok, a Ferry to Samui, a songthew to Mae Nam, a walk to the pier, a catamaran to Ko Pha Gnan, a van to Haad Rin, a songthew to Thong Sala, a boat to Ko Tao, a walk to Sairee Beach, a moto to Mae Haad, a catamaran to Chumphon, a bus to Khao San Road, a walk to a Bangkok canal, a canal boat to Chit Lom, a Sky Train to Asok Station, a subway to the Bangkok train station, a train to Chiang Mai, a van downtown, a songthaew to the bus station, a van to Pai, a motorbike around Pai, a van to Chiang Mai, a van to the bus, and a bus back to Khao San Road.
In June, I took a walk to the canal, a canal boat to National Stadium, a Sky Train to Victory Monument, a van to Ban Phe, a boat to Ko Samet, a walk to beach, a walk to the port, a boat to Ban Phe, a van to Victory Monument, a taxi to KSR, a taxi to Phya Thai, a train to the Bangkok airport, a flight to Yangon, a taxi into town, a taxi to the bus station, a bus to Kalaw, a van to the trek starting point, a walk to an Inle Lake inlet, a boat to Nyaungshwe, a taxi to the junction, a bus to Bagan, a trishaw to the Winner Guesthouse, a walk to the bus station, a bus to Mandalay, a cab to the east side of town, a moto taxi downtown, a walk to ET Guesthouse, a moto taxi to the bus station, a bus to Yangon, a bus to Sule Pagoda, a cab to the airport, a flight to BKK, a train to Soi 101, a moto taxi to Jon and Dana’s, a walk to a cab, a cab to BKK airport, a flight to Clark, an aircon jeepney to Dau Bus Terminal, a bus to Cubao, the MRT to Malate, Manila, a cab to Manila Airport, a flight to Dumaguete, a tricycle to Harold’s Mansion, a walk to the port, a boat to Siquijor, a motorbike to the hotel, a motorbike to the port, a boat to Duma, and a walk to Harold’s.
In July, I took a Trike to airport in Dumaguete, a flight on Cebu Pacific to Manila, a cab to Malate, a train to Cubao, a walk to the bus, a bus to Dau, a trike to a hotel, a walk to another hotel, a cab to Clark, a flight to BKK, a train to Phya Thai, a cab to Khao San Road, a cab to the Bangkok train station, a train to Ayutthaya, a walk to the ferry, a ferry across the river, a walk to Tony’s Guesthouse, a walk to to ferry, a ferry across the river, a walk to the train station, a train to Lopburi, a train to Lampang, a cab to the bus station, a bus to Chiang Rai, a bus to Chiang Khong, a tuk tuk to the port, a boat across the Mekong, a tuk tuk to the bus station, a bus to Luang Prabang, a tuk tuk into town, a tuk tuk to the bus, a bus to Phonsavan, a van to the hotel, a van to the bus station. a bus to Vang Vieng, a walk into town, a pickup to the bus station, a bus to Vientiane, a minibus into town, a pickup to the bus station, a sleeper bus to Pakse, a walk into town, a van to the 4,000 islands port, a boat to Don Det, a boat to the port, a bus to Kratie, a van to Phnom Penh, a tuk tuk to the hotel, a bus to Siem Reap, and a car into town.
In August, I took a minibus to the Siem Reap bus station, a bus to Phnom Penh, a walk to the hotel, a walk to my other hotel, a walk to the port, a boat to Chau Doc, a bus to Saigon, a city bus to town, a bus to Dalat, a van to town, a van to the bus station, a bus to Nha Trang, a van to town, a moto to my hotel, a van to the bus, a sleeper bus to Hoi An, a walk to the hotel, a walk to the local bus, a local bus to Danang, a moto to the train station, a train to Hue, a van to town, a moto to the train station, a night train to Ninh Binh, a train to Hanoi, a walk into town, a van to Halong Bay, a boat on the bay, a van back to Hanoi, a cab to the airport, a plane to Manila, a plane to Dumaguete, and a tricycle to town.
Since then, I generally walk or take a tricycle cab for a quarter. It’s been nearly two weeks since I’ve been on any conveyance for longer than five minutes.
Way back in April, I wrote a post called “Bag Packed,” in which I went through the contents of my bag early in the trip. At the time I took those pictures, I was on Tioman Island, only the second stop of the trip. At that point, I was carrying everything with me that I brought from America and Korea other than an iPad stylus and a pen that I had already lost. I may have even been carrying clean clothes that had yet to be washed on the road.
Much has changed in the last 150 days or so. Plenty of things have been lost, trashed, sent off, and acquired since early April. It’s safe to assume that my current bag is a little smarter and a whole lot lighter.
My shirts on my last day in Hanoi. I bought two more that day, but one of them ripped the first time I ever wore it. Of my original shirts, I think I trashed 3, lost one, and sent one back to Korea. I also bought three as gifts and no longer have them, bought one that I lost, and bought four in this pic that I still have.
All of my pants. The gym shorts and board shorts have been with me all along, the cargos are the third pair I’ve had. I sent all my long pants back to Korea since I never wear them. I figure after not working for six months, there is really no longer any reason to own a pair of long pants. I also took a picture of my two pairs of socks, my two quick-dry towels, and my draws, but I decided not to post it since I own a rather embarrassing lack of draws.
The stuff in that bag, plus my jungle hat. Both hats are, as expected, in far worse condition than they were in my original post. My jacket sleeves are here, which I only used in Dalat, Kalaw, and the Cameron Highlands. I used the inflatable cushion on the beach quite a bit. In fact, the cushion combined with my yellow quick-dry towel and my daypack made for a decent impromptu beach lounge so that I could avoid carrying a large beach towel or paying to rent a chair. This was really useful in May when I was at the beach pretty much every day, but I probably should have thrown it away after I left Ko Samet because I only spent five or six more days at the beach over the following three months. The trekking pillowcase was really only useful on overnight plane rides with my own row, and most of the time I forgot to use it and just used my jacket as a pillow.
My awesome travel vest (thanks Mom!) and the stuff currently in it. As the trip progressed, I realized it was simply too hot to wear this bad boy while walking along the beach in Ko Samui or the back alleys of Yangon, so I took to just wearing it when I was on the bus/train/boat/plane to the next town. Thus, when I was “situated” somewhere (Hanoi in this case) the vest was pretty empty. Here I just had a wet nap, my backup sunglasses, my student ID and license, my camera bag, and my smaller sunscreen. The deeper pockets also contained camera SD cards and a flash drive. By this point, I hadn’t used the headphone system in months since it was, again, too hot to wear this puppy day to day.
Here’s the stuff that I usually carried around in my day bag (visible in the opening picture). In this case, I’ve got sun screen, bug spray, my iPad, a Vietnam Lonely Planet that I bought on the street in Phnom Penh, the book that I’m currently reading (at 950 pages, “Lonesome Dove” will hold that role for the foreseeable future,) my wallet, my primary sunglasses, a map of Vietnam, my carabiner key chain, and my headphones. I went through tons of headphones on this trip, but I’ve had these since Chiang Rai in early July. I think these were better because I finally realized I shouldn’t buy the cheapest pair anymore. Thus in Chiang Rai I wised up and bought the second-cheapest kind. I also have my ghetto phone, which I bought in Trang back in April. I’ve purchased SIM cards in several countries since, and I threw away my ghetto Korean phone when I bought this. I also bought the switchblade in Trang, but gave it away to the taxi driver who took me to the airport in Hanoi. Fortunately, the only person I stabbed in the four months I had it was myself by mistake. Finally, my horrible rain poncho is here, which has certainly seen better days.
Souvenirs from Myanmar, which turned out to be the only place that I ended up buying souvenirs for myself other than useful things like t-shirts or sunglasses. By the way, maybe the most amazing statistic of this trip is the fact that I only lost or broke three pairs of shades the whole time.
Stuff that lives in the easily accessible side pouches of my big bag. My bluetooth keyboard, my bluetooth speakers, emergency TP, and chargers for my phone and camera. My iPad charger was in use so it wasn’t pictured, but I’m sure you could envision it. I also have my external hard drive, which my buddy Martin brought from Korea, just in case I end up buying a new laptop before returning there. The white thing connects my camera card to my iPad so I can load pictures directly to it. That little piece of metal and plastic that I bought in a dirt mall in Phuket has been absolutely crucial to this blog since I lost my iPhone back in Ko Phi Phi.
The contents of my main stuff bag. I traded a book to Kris for the Twain, though I doubt I’ll ever actually read it. I bought the “tubing” dry bag in Vang Vieng, and it’s been pretty useful on kayak trips since. Never did use the beer coozy, prolly could have left it behind. Maps of southern Thailand that I forgot to throw away in southern Thailand, so I guess they are souvenirs now. I only used the headlamp a few times, but it was well worth having for those times. I never did use the sleeping mask though, it was buried in my bag any time it may have been useful. The earplugs came in handy in my noisy Khao San Road room, and on overnight buses. I got guilted into buying the postcards from a kid in Yangon, before I got hardened toward beggars. Other semi-useful things in this, my traveling junk drawer, include electrical tape, a key chain, a lighter, trinkets, SIM cards, a lens cleaner, and good old Carmex.
Toiletry bag. I ran out of deodorant in Vientiane, Laos and the only kind they sold in the store I visited there was Axe. Yep, Axe in Laos. The douchebags have truly won. And yes, I’m a bit upset that the best joke of this post is so deep in that nobody will actually read it.
My shoes. That’s it. That’s all the shoes I got. I sent my hiking boots off with Kris and Martin, and I lost my flip-flops in a blurry incident on Ko Phi Phi that may or may not have involved buckets.
Finally, we end with the silent narrator of this blog since Chiang Mai. Camera Number Six is far superior to its predecessors, despite its stupid color.
In many ways, Hanoi was it. Last stop on the Megatrip. End of the line not only for my train into town, but for me as well. Though I will continue to be “on the road” by virtue of the fact that I’m not “home” (wherever the hell that is), I’m no longer going to be doing what I’ve done over the last five months. No more running all over a town to see its brightest lights in two or three days. No more changing hotels more often than I change my shirt. No more nights spent on trains, boats, buses, or planes. It’s been a hell of a ride and one of the best experiences of my life, but all good things must end, but I guess my lazy use of cliches will continue. This blog will likely be drawing to a close soon as well, although I have several wrap-up pieces and other gimmicks in the hopper to post before that happens.
Hanoi did make for a fine last stop. Despite my temptation to just run out the clock on the trip and spend four days at the bar, I feel I did what I do and saw what needed to be seen in Hanoi, taking it one play at a time… wait, now I’m on to NFL cliches.
After I got off the train into town, I walked to the Old Quarter and tried to find a restaurant with wifi, as I hadn’t actually researched Hanoi hotels yet. Strangely, I visited no less than 6 restaurants before I found one with wifi. Keep in mind, I wasn’t checking at hole in the wall noodle shops, I was going to traveler-type cafes, the likes of which always have wifi, even in backwoods towns. After finally finding an expensive joint with a great view of Hoan Kiem Lake, I spent an hour online researching places before ultimately going to the Thuy Nga Hotel, a place that I had already passed on the street and read about in my hard copy of Lonely Planet Vietnam. I could have saved an hour and a half just checking into Thuy Nga when I first saw it, but then things wouldn’t have been difficult enough for my tastes.
The Thuy Nga was a fine joint when its wifi worked, which wasn’t all the time. I had air conditioning, a balcony, a fridge, and a lockbox in the room all for $12 a night, plus I was located a literal stone’s throw from Bia Hoi Corner, the center of Hanoi nightlife.
My first stop after checking in was the Hoa Lu Prison Museum, better known as the Hanoi Hilton. Only a small fraction of the original prison complex still stands, most was demolished to make way for a high rise development. As with all museums in Vietnam, the point of view was quite different than the conventional wisdom back home. Most of the museum was dedicated to the terrible conditions that Vietnamese prisoners endured during the French occupation. While this was interesting, as an American I came to learn about the prison’s use during the Vietnam War, rather than how the French used it 100 years ago. I’ll elaborate more on this museum in the picture section, but the main theme in the small portion of the museum dedicated to its “Hanoi Hilton” period mainly focused on how well American pilots were treated, and how all POWs were returned after the U.S. withdrew from the war.
Following the prison visit, I followed the Lonely Planet walking tour around the Old Quarter of Hanoi. Say what you will about Lonely Planet, every walking tour of theirs that I’ve ever done have been spot on, and this was no exception. I walked through metal working streets and blacksmith street, where actual blacksmiths still ply their trade. Further down the line, I also visited Temple 102, a place I would have never discovered on my own. This is an elaborate Chinese temple that is tucked onto the upper floor of a residential building, and I had it all to myself. I ended the tour at Hoan Kiem Lake itself, visiting the temple on the small island in the lake.
I hit the tourists sights again the next day, which I’ll cover a bit more in the pictures. It was pretty easy to wake up early to get to the sights, because Hanoi doesn’t stay open very late. I spent the evening hanging out with some other travelers who had recently become Hanoi expats. I had considered staying in Hanoi longer term to teach English as well, but I think it’s a bit too isolated for my tastes. Hanoi is a very nice city, but it takes forever to get anywhere else in Southeast Asia overland. For such a large capital city, the airport is too substandard to be a home base as well. Saigon holds the main air hub for the nation.
After my second night in Hanoi, I headed to Halong Bay on a tour, then returned to town the following evening. Sadly, my hotel was sold out upon my return, so I moved to a place down the street. It was far less charming, although they did let me get a super-late check out at 8 p.m. for a couple extra dollars, so it worked. I played some bar trivia and met some more expats, but my team lost to some 23 year old English kids. Of course, I blame the fact that the quizmaster was also English, so a lot of the questions were things no American would know. For example, which actors that played James Bond were English? Y’know, verses Scottish or Welsh or whatever else the limeys consider to be separate nationalities.
My final day in Hanoi was a fairly low key affair. I had seen most everything that I wanted to see, so I headed to the History Museum and the Revolution Museum, the last two spots that I really wanted to check out. After touring these worthwhile institutions, it was time to sit around at bars and cafes until my late night flight.
I arranged an airport taxi through my hotel. As a literal tip, I gave the cabbie my trusty switchblade that I’d had since Trang, as I clearly couldn’t bring it on the plane.
Hanoi was a lovely city that I enjoyed a great deal, but in typical Vietnam fashion, it was tainted by slimy shysters working at legitimate jobs on my way out.
I had a one way ticket to the Philippines. I knew that Manila customs would theoretically want proof of onward travel, but the same could be said for Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam – all of which I’ve entered without onward travel booked. I’ve also flown into the Philippines many times before, and though I always had onward travel plans when I arrived in the past, I never had to show my onward flight documents to immigration.
This being Vietnam, the gate agents refused to issue me a boarding pass unless I bought another ticket. They strongly encouraged me to go to the Vietnam Air desk to buy a refundable ticket, but I was sure this was just another scheme. I was flying Cebu Pacific, but the gate agents for my flight were all Vietnam Air representatives. I bought a random flight out of Manila on the cheapest airline I could find. For a while, this still wasn’t enough. They said I’d need a visa, they said I’d need a hard copy of my itinerary, both of which are total lies. Once I got my boarding pass, I just walked away mid-argument and headed straight for airside.
I guess Vietnam loves tourists so much, they don’t want them to leave.
Four hours later in Manila, things proceeded exactly as I told the Hanoi gate agents they would:
Immigration Officer: Good morning sir. Welcome to the Philippines.
Me: Good morning. (hands officer my passport)
Officer: (looks through my passport for 14 seconds, stamps it, hands it back) Here you are.
Me: Thank you.
There is a lot to love about Vietnam. The cities are exciting, the food won me over, the beaches and mountains are beautiful, and every local that I talked to in a non-commerce setting was very nice. However, the degrees that ordinary work-a-day people like bus drivers, airline officials, and barbers go to rip off tourists is unconscionable. Plenty of countries have multi-level pricing, shady taxi drivers, and scams galore, but Vietnam is a whole other animal. I will not be looking for work there. I’d much prefer dealing with Korea’s terrible weather, high cost of living, and comical jingoism. The Hanoi Airport incident was the last straw for me.
This is not to say that Hanoi isn’t a beautiful and fascinating city, as you will see here. On to the pics!
Here’s a display at the prison museum that annoyed me. Around 80% of the museum is concerned with how horrible the French were. However, in the American War section, the first thing I saw was a big collage of French protests against the war. It was as if whoever designed this section had never visited the rest of the museum.
Plenty of wrap-up stuff coming up!
Everybody goes to Halong Bay, and for good reason. It’s one of those places, like the Grand Canyon or Soi Cowboy that really need to be seen to get a hold on them, pictures just don’t cut it. Halong Bay is a UNESCO site, and also one of the “Seven Natural Wonders” of the world, according to New Seven Wonders. Of course, so is Jeju Island, which, ahem, works just fine in photographs.
The problem with Halong Bay, of course, is that it is hard to see on one’s own. Seeing it the right way, from the water, essentially requires one to book a cruise. Dealing directly with the Vietnamese tourist industry clearly means that getting ripped off is part of the process. I overpaid for my cruise, more than anyone else aboard the boat. Plus, to maximize profit, my tour cut corners at every opportunity. The minibus from Hanoi to Halong town was cramped to the brim with people sitting in the aisle. The rest stops on the way to and from the port were not at the usual roadside joints, but at grossly overpriced tourist traps. On the boat itself, the “welcome drink” promised in the brochure was a half glass of orange juice. No drinks are free after that. Beer costs 40,000 dong, or four times the price on land. Water is 30,000, or six times the normal price. Air conditioning is only turned on from around 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. Everyone expects tips, even though this is not a tipping culture. We were allowed to bring water on board, and in my case I also smuggled some vodka.
That said, other than these expected nuisances, the cruise was quite nice. The tour guide was kind and funny, and managed to pull off his jokes like they were fresh when we all knew he said the same thing to a new group of people every other day. The food, while hardly gourmet, was decent and plentiful. The rooms were clean and comfortable. The cave we visited, Surprise Cave, was truly astounding. Kayaking was included as well, which was a definite highlight of the trip. There are a lot of horror stories online about Halong Bay cruises, but my boat (Dugong Cruises by the way) did not fall pray to any of the really shady stuff mentioned online.
At the beginning of the cruise, we all sat down to lunch. There were around 24 tourists on the boat. I sat down at one of the tables, and then ended up sitting in the same seat for every other meal, as did everyone else. The other five people at my table ended up being pretty much the only other people I talked to for the rest of the trip.
As I was a solo traveler, I was given a roommate, the only other solo traveler on the boat. Luckily, he was a cool American who lived in Korea before going on a megatrip, so we had much to discuss. The other people at our table were a Dutch couple and a French couple. I spent a lot of time with the Dutch couple as well. Later at night, the four of us sat around on the deck pretending to fish and listening to Splitlip Rayfield, Girls Generation, and Weird Al.
I wasn’t sure if I would go to Halong Bay. Vietnam has been exhausting, visiting 10 places in three weeks. I considered just being lazy and staying in Hanoi for five days. I’m glad I went though, it would have been a shame to miss it. However, I was also equally glad I took the two day one night cruise rather than the longer one. That way, I could spend more time in Hanoi and be reunited with the travel amenities that I hold most dear – good food, wifi, and cheap beer.
Well, Ninh Binh made me like Vietnam again. Not that I didn’t, but it was a welcome change to spend 24 hours without being schemed, ripped off, hassled, yelled at, or grifted.
Ninh Binh provides a similar landscape to Vang Vieng nature-wise, but without the legions of drunken, born-in-the-Clinton-era Eurotrash.
After arriving on the night train, I checked into a joint by the train station and rented a motorbike. I started at Mua Cave, south of town, which is really more of a small mountain/limestone karst with a brutal staircase than it is a cave. After the hike up, I grabbed lunch – goat spring rolls of course, the main dish in these parts.
After towering views of the river I would soon be floating on, I rode down to Tam Coc. The main thing to do here is to take a ride down the river in a rowboat. It costs 110,000 dong, but this includes the rower. I was on my own of course, but I met a couple of Taiwanese tourists on the river and our boats generally stayed nearby throughout. Tam Coc was known for being a nasty gauntlet of pushy sales people on boats, but fortunately they’ve cleaned this up quite a bit.
Next, I rode my bike up toward Hoa Lu, an ancient capital of Vietnam, although as always on Vietnamese roads I got lost and sidetracked, and ended up following the signs to Bai Dhin Pagoda. This pagoda is obviously brand new, as much of the construction is still ongoing. This temple was one of the largest I’d ever seen. The main building was the size of a blimp hanger, and other buildings stretched down the hill for probably a mile. This temple didn’t just have a big seated Buddha inside, it had three.
After getting lost a couple times, I made it safely back to town running on fumes. Once in town, I did everything there is to do in Ninh Binh proper, which is nothing. I packed up and went to sleep early to catch the first train to Hanoi.
I think I’m starting to get road fatigue. I’ve been out here for nearly five months, and it’s been just short of six months since I had a home. Hue is a nice town, and everyone on the circuit visits it, but I’m having a hard time caring at this point.
Hue is the former imperial capital of Vietnam, where the emperor lived in the 19th and early 20th century. Thus, there are a lot of palaces and tombs and temples related to the royal family around here. Of course, the thing is the French were firmly in control throughout the entire historic “reign” of Hue. The royal family lived the high life and the kings had hundreds of wives and concubines and all that good stuff, but really they weren’t any more legitimately in control of the country than today’s Vietnamese tourists who put on rented royal garb in the palace to make a new Facebook profile picture.
I rode a bicycle around The Citadel on my first full day in town. In the actual palace area, I walked around to the various palaces and monuments. I actually rode my bike to the gate, but a guy immediately yelled at me and said that I had to park it in a lot RIGHT NOW!, or he would call the police. I said that I just wanted to buy my ticket as long as I was at the ticket booth, and then I would park. However, the ticket booth I was at was the wrong one – it was the booth for Vietnamese people. Foreigners had to use a different booth to buy a ticket at a higher price to see the exact same thing. I’ll let Laos and Cambodia get away with this sort of thing since they are so poor, but Vietnam should have stopped this kind of thing years ago.
Anyway, the Citadel and the palace and all were nice, and it was fun riding around, but I was definitely a bit checked out. I guess Angkor is a tough act to follow temple-wise as well.
Later on, I rode down to Thien Mu Pagoda, which was quite interesting. Friendly little kid monks walked around giving thumbs ups, so that was cool in a Fonzie kinda way. Perhaps most interesting was the fact that this pagoda was where Thich Quang Duc lived. He was the monk who set himself on fire in Saigon in 1963. The car in which he was driven to Saigon and that appears in the famous photograph is at this temple as well.
The next day, I rented a motorbike and set out to find some of the imperial tombs, which was a more difficult endeavor than I presumed it to be. I was dealing with three maps between the iPad, Lonely Planet, and a hotel map, and none remotely matched the other. It turned out to be a maze of roads south of town, and decent signs are basically non-existent in Vietnam other than street names. I stumbled upon the largely ruined tomb of Thieu Tri and chatted with a Lao national who had been a marine in the war, stationed near the DMZ. From there, I headed to the tomb of Tu Doc, which was right next to the other tomb in the LP map, yet took an hour or so to find. This was a grander, more kept-up tomb. Tu Doc himself had designed it, and it was finished 10 years before he died. He used to come hang out here.
After a couple hours at Tu Doc’s place, I figured I was good on tombs, even though there are a few others scattered around the countryside. I headed back into town for a hair cut, long overdue. The chick who cut my hair also gave me a straight razor shave, which I was none-too-comfortable with when the blade was on my jugular. Afterward, in a classic Vietnam move, this seemingly sweet lady attempted to charge me $15. The price was listed on the wall of course, 70,000 dong ($3.50). I didn’t have anything smaller on me than a 100,000 note and I knew I wouldn’t get change, which meant I had to argue with her for ten minutes for the right to be overcharged by a little bit rather than a lot. This is the number one complaint I here amongst fellow tourists here. Most locals I’ve met here have been fantastic people, but there is rampant dishonesty and grey-area theft like this all over the place. I’ve been short-changed, overcharged, lied to, or just plain old stolen from more times in my two weeks and counting in Vietnam than I was in the four months prior in six other countries combined.
I suppose I should be fair and praise the Gem Cafe in Hue for being honest and hassle free. They sell water and bottled juices and whatnot for supermarket prices, and it only cost me $3 to rent a motorbike from them.
Anyway, on to the pics!
Behold, the Vietnamese ajuma. Only in Vietnam, this uniform isn’t restricted to middle aged ladies, young women do this too. When the sun is out, Vietnamese women cover up head to toe, and even wear hoods, masks, and huge sunglasses. Most of these jackets are specially designed so that the top half of the cuffs are longer than the bottom to keep these women’s hands covered. If not, they just where gloves. Is it modesty? Nope, total vanity. Korean women and Thai women fear the sun because they want to be as pale as possible, but Vietnamese put them to shame, wearing hoods and masks and gloves when it’s 5,000 degrees outside.
I really wanted to do a DMZ tour, but it sounded kinda awful – it starts at the crack of dawn, it takes 14 hours, and the vast majority of time is spent in the bus traveling the long distances between sights. Thus, the DMZ bar was about the closest I got. I suppose I did cross the former border on my night train from Hue to Ninh Binh.
My day in Danang was not one of my best on this trip, but this wasn’t Danang’s fault. The odds were kind of stacked against it from the start.
For one thing, I knew I would only stay one night. I try to stay in every town at least two, but now and then time constraints come into play. Even on a trip of this magnitude, it’s hard to linger in places like Takua Pa, Kratie, Pakse, Ayutthaya, or Angeles for more than a night since there were brighter lights down the road. On the other hand, the places I liked best were the places I stayed at least four nights, such as Cameron Highlands, Ko Tao, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Dumaguete, Luang Prabang, and Phnom Penh. Did I stay because I liked them, or did I like them because I stayed? A town is always more enjoyable when I get a little more settled in and when I have time to sit around and do nothing. Then again, I was in Tioman for five nights but never really warmed up to it, and I was in Vang Vieng for four and never particularly liked it at all.
A second factor stacked against Danang – after my rollicking night out in Hoi An, I was pretty damn hungover most of the day.
Strike three was the evening weather. It was this annoying rain, the kind that just keeps coming. It wasn’t pouring, so it wasn’t rain that would coax me inside immediately or cause me to use rain gear, but it also wasn’t sprinkling. I was out walking in the rain, and it just wouldn’t stop, and I eventually got soaked, but I was too far from my hotel to turn back and thus had to press on to the train station where I knew I could get a taxi.
Finally, I had a bitter taste in my mouth after the bus ride. Danang is only 45 minutes from Hoi An, so I took a local bus. The lady on the bus charged me 50,000 dong, which seemed like a really high price for a non-aircon bus going 30 kilometers. By comparison, the 15 km city bus I took in Saigon cost 4,000 dong. I paid it without really thinking on account of the hangover, but then looked at my Lonely Planet. It said that this particular bus route was notorious for overcharging foreigners, and it should run 10,000 dong. Sure, prices may have raised since the book was printed, but not by a factor of five in 18 months. I tried to watch what other people paid, but the bus lady shuffled every new passenger into the back, out of my line of sight. Suddenly, I realized why she insisted that I sit in the very front seat when I got on the bus – so I couldn’t see the other passengers pay. I called the lady over and asked her for my change, but she insisted everyone was paying 50,000, and she had other passengers confirm this (although she was obviously telling them to agree with her in Vietnamese). The two guys across from me backed her story. Later, I asked the two girls behind me, and they sheepishly admitted that they had paid 15,000 dong, but they seemed scared of the bus lady. I wonder if she split her profits with the random dudes that she convinced to lie on her behalf.
Once I made it into town and had a hotel, I took a motorbike taxi off to China Beach. It was an interesting ride, since the guy was one of Vietnam’s many “Easy Riders,” so I was riding on the back of a chopper rather than a moped. Like all Easy Riders, he wanted to turn a five minute trip across the bridge into a 4 hour mountain tour, but I just wanted to be hungover and sit by the ocean.
I wondered why Danang isn’t a bigger attraction than it is, since China Beach was fantastic. Much better sand and scenery than others that I’d been to in Vietnam, plus it was possible to get a beach chair and a drink for cheap, unlike in Nha Trang.
After sitting on the beach for a while, I walked into the beach part of town to get something to eat. It was unquestionably the best meal I’ve had in Vietnam. I feasted on barbecued pork and greens that came with rice paper to fashion them into spring rolls. It was amazing, and it was at a plastic table on the street. Coupled with my enjoyment of local Hoi An specialties, particularly white rose, and I was officially in on Vietnamese food. I hereby retract my earlier statement.
I planned to go out to the casino at night, but after my miserable walk to the train station I just wasn’t feeling it. A buddy of mine works there, so I was hoping to run into him, but by 10 p.m. bed and cable TV were just too inviting.
So that’s my Danang day. The next day, I got breakfast and caught the train out of town. However, unlike the other places that I just barnstormed for a night, I’m convinced that Danang is a nice place to spend a couple more days. Perhaps one day I will. Anyway, on to the the pics!
China Beach. Lonely Planet states that it will always be associated with the TV show, in which army nurses fretted about love to the tune of The Rolling Stones “Paint it Black.” C’mon, LP, get your facts straight. “Paint it Black” was the theme song to “Tour of Duty,” a different Vietnam War centered 80s TV show. “China Beach” used “Reflections” by The Supremes as its theme. You know what’s sad? I never saw a single episode of either show, but I still remember their opening credits. I did not google this, but I am 100% sure that I’m factually correct on this point. The next couple pics are also of China Beach.
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A lot of the space behind the beach is a weird mix o development and vacant lots. Danang had a real city-in-waiting kind of feel, like it’s going to be the next big thing but isn’t there yet, especially at the beach. The roads were the best that I’ve seen in Vietnam, wide and new, but thus far there’s really no traffic. Of course, I doubt my observations on Danang were too prescient, I was just some hungover idiot who had been in town for fifteen minutes.