Friday, May 9th 2014:
6:00AM. I feel good about this new schedule I’m on, all of a sudden I’m a morning person. I’m in dirty clothes picked off the floor and carelessly thrown on, downstairs for breakfast. I sit at a table by myself for a quick meal, I’m not ready for socializing. Fried potatoes, various fruits and crude oil coffee. I head back to my room for a pointless shower, the heat is here to stay, there’s no sense in getting primped for a long bus ride, but… I shove everything I have into my ever-expanding backpack and I’m in the elevator, ready to move on. This is when things start to get hazy. I stopped taking notes. I’m piecing things together through photographs for the next two days. It’s 8:00AM. It’s time to leave Hue. Let’s go to Hoi An.
I’m comfortably content on the bus. I have an entire row to myself, the air-conditioner clicks on and off and I’m constantly thumbing the vent. I’m listening to Bob Dylan as my head rocks against the window to the beat of the bumpy road. “It’s too hot to sleep, time is running away.” After two hours of nothing the ocean comes shining meth blue through the left windows and we’re all wide awake. We stop for twenty minutes at a desserted beach resort, everything is under construction. Those chinese tourists are sure to come a few years down the line, right? I walk down to the beach and kick off my shoes. I just want to feel the water on my feet. Now I’m in the shade ordering an espresso, excited about Hoi An, I’ve heard nothing but amazing things. Let’s keep going.
This bus could be a tomb. We’re weaving back and forth through the hills, slamming on the brakes for passing cars, racing higher and higher into the mountains. One misstep and we’d be tumbling down into the ocean. That would be it, at least the view would be great. Luckily the bus stops at Hai Van Pass, an overlook stretching over the Anaamite Range above the South China Sea, on the border of Da Nang and Thura Thien-Hue Province. We disembark to a crumbling village of make-shift huts and aggresive souvenir hawkers, this is a busy stop. I walk up to the highest point and I can see the ocean this way and that way and all around, it’s really incredible. Concrete gun emplacements riddled with bullet holes litter the mountanside. It’s hard to imagine the war here, it’s so beautiful, but remnants of bloodshed are everywhere you step. I take some photos and get back on the bus. We have one more photo-op on the way to Hoi-An. It’s just a quick stop to see the thousands of fishing boats clogging the harbor in the next town. The stench of rotting fish is strong. We’re getting close.
We finally roll into town in the mid-afternoon and check in to the Phu Thinh Boutique Resort & Spa. It’s a lovely, beach town hotel. It would fit in perfectly to any beach-side town in any country you placed it. I walk up three floors to my room, throw my bags down, wash my face, take a sip of water, and we’re walking down the street to the old quarter for lunch, The Mermaid Restaurant & Grill. They advertise themselves as being the first restaurant in Hoi An. I have some Vietnamese seafood hot pot and a cold local beer. I couldn’t be happier.
It’s time to get aquainted. It’s a small town, streets in a grid, a river crosses through the busiest part making it easy to find your way around. We check out a lantern shop and wait around to see a traditional music and dance performace. I position myself on a plastic stool next to the closest fan, nodding off, the music echoes through my brain as the heat echoes through my blood. (OOF. That was a poetic stretch.)
I’m trying to walk on the shadier side of the street, I can’t express to you how god damn hot it is. We stop at a Buddhist temple for 20 minutes and I take full advantage. It’s so quiet and relaxing, crazy spirals of incense create drifts of smoke that flood the hallways. Mr. Phong sits at his desk doing paperwork, even Buddhist temples have their busy work. Now it’s just a quick walk over to see the famous Japanese covered bridge, constructed in the early 1600s. Let’s meet the famous tailors of Hoi An. Everyone has been looking forward to this. We have photos, drawings, measurements and plenty of cash. It’s known that you can have anything made for cheap in Hoi An and it will be ready to pick up the following day. I packed light so I get fitted for a pair of shorts at Yaly to replace the pair currently disentegrating around my waist. Now it’s time to go back to the hotel to cool off, I’m drenched.
It’s dark. I walk to the bar at the back of the hotel to have my first glass of wine of the trip. It’s hard to find good wine in this part of the world, this one is sugary and tastes like juice, but it’s welcomed. I have an hour to kill before my friends are ready and waiting for me in the lobby. I pass the time missing and texting Marissa. We all meet up and walk back to the old quarter to Morning Glory Restaurant, street-style food in an upscale dining room. Mango salad, a pork banh mi, and two giant Biere Larues. I really liked this restaurant and I recommend it.
It was getting late so everyone paid their tabs and went back to the hotel. Kevin, Frankie and I decided to hang back and check out the other side of town. Children in conical hats sell lanterns to float on the water, motorbikes gently weave through the crowd across the bridge, Dr. Dre and A$AP Rocky blare from the tourist dives, the lantern stalls are all lit up. We wanted to try Bia Hoi, a local specialty. Fresh beer, brewed daily, about ten cents a mug. We happily chugged down our pints as an old woman tried her hardest to sell us wooden whistles. 1 for $1. 2 for 1$. 5 for 1$. 10 for 1$! Stumble back to bed.