The bus passengers from Huế to Danang and Hoi An were mostly European and of diverse ages. I now regret passing up the train, which would have taken longer but is through what must be very beautiful country. The route the bus takes is not scenic. It takes the Hai Van Tunnel through the best parts of Hai Van Pass, thus missing the parts that Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear described as “one of the best coast roads in the world.”
The bus driver was skilled in the techniques of driving in Vietnam – never give an inch, pass everything, use the horn, straddle the center line if you feel like it, etc. The problem with horn use in Vietnam is the same as the problem of vuvuzela use at the World Cup in South Africa: it is indiscriminate. Horn honking is used to express warning, fear, joy, romantic interest, panic, etc., but there is only the one tone that is available to articulate these divergent emotional states. I stopped counting after the driver went to his horn 100 times in the space of about 15 kilometers.
Hoi An is where tourists come to spend time at the beach and to have bespoke clothing made. While here I’m getting some shirts. I ripped one on the Baltimore and am ready to toss a couple others. I am making room in my bag by giving away the Australian boots I bought a couple months before the trip. I had thought it was just a matter of breaking them in but they won’t ever be broken in, they’re terrible. Blundstone #500 boots are just the ticket if you’re looking for nerve damage.
The hotel I’m at is the Green Field. It’s old and run down but the bed is fine, it is air conditioned, and offers mosquito nets over the bed. It reminds me a little of the opening sequence of Apocalypse Now, Martin Sheen going nuts in an old hotel while that Doors song plays. I share lodgings with a small gecko who has staked out the bathroom.
After an hour in my room I heard chickens outside my window. I asked at the front desk if there was a rooster next door as well and the young man brightly confirmed it, as if it were a feature rather than a bug. What time does the rooster begin crowing? Oh, usually starting at 4 am. Would you like another room? Why yes, yes I would, thanks for offering.
The beach is about 3 kilometers from the hotel, too far to walk in the heat but only a $2.40 taxi ride. The beach is sand and fringed with coconut palms trees. The surf is small. While I was there the Vietnamese beach goers were in the shade of the trees and the Europeans in the sun closer to the water. “Linda,” operating the smallest of small businesses, sold me some stuff under the palms while I waited for my cab. Again I enjoyed the bargaining, which really does have a social element to it. Linda carried the day with “That would be very good for you, but not so good for me.” That cuts right to the heart of it, both parties need to feel good about the transaction.
February 27 – After I’ve left Vietnam I discover another reason to regret taking the bus to Hoi An. I brought along a copy of Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar and in rereading it find his description of the Ashua Valley on his rail journey from Huế to Danang:
We were at the fringes of a bay that was green and sparkling in bright sunlight. Beyond the leaping jade plates of the sea was an overhang of cliffs and the sight of a valley so large it contained sun, smoke, rain, and cloud – all at once – independent quantities of color. I had been unprepared for this beauty; it surprised and humbled me in the same degree the emptiness had in rural India. Who has mentioned the simple fact that the heights of Vietnam are places of unimaginable grandeur? Though we can hardly blame a frightened draftee for not noticing this magnificence, we should have known all along that the French would not have colonized it, nor would the Americans have fought so long, if such ripeness did not invite the eye to take it.
People recommend the bus over local trains because they assume the tourist wants to get to the next town, and the next marketplace, in the shortest time with the least hassle. Yes the bus conveniently picked me up at my hotel in Huế and dropped me off at my next one in Hoi An but at the cost of missing what Theroux called the loveliest place he’d seen since beginning his travels in London.