Adventures on a Vietnamese Bus
Trip Start Jan 10, 2005
53Trip End May 10, 2005
Our bus driver en route to Hoi An started out by living up to the reputation of Vietnamese bus drivers. We were glad we weren't at the back of the bus as every time we'd take a curve all the people and luggage in the rear would shift from side to side. The driver got quite a kick out of the expletives that came out of passengers' mouths. On one corner, a door of the luggage compartment flew open and all of us had to get out and check to make sure our bags were still there
The bus bullied its way along the road, snaking by motorcyclists and smaller vehicles, sometimes forcing oncoming motorcycles into the ditch. I noted that even Martin held his breath on a couple of occasions when we went to pass and another vehicle was coming straight at us. It amazes me how nonchalant people are here about having a bus breathing down their backs - and they don't even jump when the horn bellows.
Fortunately, most of the hotels where the buses stop are quite good. You can get a clean double room with a fan, private shower and cable TV (there's usually something in English) for $8 USD per night. That's one of the reasons why budget travel is possible here. Meals generally run in the $2-$4 USD range. It's always interesting that you pay a premium for a room with a balcony. Generally these are along the front of the hotel and you're guaranteed to be woken early by traffic.
Hoi An (population 80,000) was much more to our liking than crazy cities like Hanoi. Yes, there's some horn honking and you still have to watch out for motorbikes, but it all seems much more civilized. No wonder westerners get to Hoi An, breathe a sigh of relief, and kick back for a few days. We spent three days there.
Hoi An, like Hue, is also a Unesco World Heritage Site
Vendors here have it down to a science (or is selling an art?) here. Firstly, they get you into the cloth shops, then the shoe shops, then the beautician gets ahold of you for a massage while the kids pester you to buy tiger balm. On it goes . . . .
What does the fashionably dressed Vietnamese woman wear? We have seen few women dressed in the traditional "oa dai", an ankle-length long-sleeved tunic with a mandarin collar slit from the ankle to the waist on both sides, worn over pants. (More women wear them here, however, than in the larger centres we've been in.) In Hanoi, most stylish women wore a pantsuit or pants with a long-sleeved sweater/jacket and a "Gilligan-style" hat (but not as goofy-looking, of course!). If she is driving a motorbike, her outfit is often repleat with long gloves (regardless of how hot it is.) Her hair is worn long and she may have it tied back in a ponytail
You'd have to be very enterprising and tenacious to make a living selling on the streets in Vietnam. Everyone's selling the same things. In Hoi An, children came into the restaurants to try and sell you cheap jewellry, tiger balm, postcards or newspapers. (And we discovered that the restaurant owner gets a cut if you buy anything.) There are souvenir shops and tailor shops everywhere. The competition is absolutely fierce. One little girl pursued Martin all three times we went for fittings at a particular cloth shop. She was so persistent that, in the end, he bought necklaces and several different types of tiger balm when he had no intention of buying anything at all.
There are "heaps" of Australians travelling in Vietnam as it's not that far away, plus it's currently their summer vacation. There's also quite a number of Europeans. At supper one night we met a couple of Vancouver who were taking three weeks of holidays to do some travelling with their two young daughters, ages 11 and 13. She was working in Numea, New Caledonia (a French Protectorate off the east coast of Australia) as a research librarian for the "Secretariat of the Pacific Community"
The menus here are incredibly diverse. One particular restaurant that we visit several times because the food is good no matter what you order has a menu about 20 pages long! The speciality foods in Hoi An are wontons and "white rose" (a wonton filled with shrimp). You can find most types of food here - we've had wonderful Italian-style (thin crust) pizza here, as well as great Indian food. It isn't always possible to order chicken, however, because of the bird flu.
There was news coverage re: the tsunami on BBC again today. Today the focus was on the post-tramatic stress syndrome that survivors are living with. One cab driver in Phuket kept seeing the ghosts of tourists waiting to hail his cab. He would stop to let them in and then they would disappear.