Nha Trang is another beach city, probably Vietnam’s most popular beach destination. Despite being the most popular and crowded, the beaches are beautiful with white sand and deep blue water. We had an overnight bus for Hoi An the next day in the evening so we had plenty of time to stroll around. We missed Dalat’s weather as it was another scorcher of a day! We took another go at the scooter renting thing and got one for half a day so we could go see the Cham Towers and the rest of town. Again, amazing views…Vietnam was killing us…wish we had our bike! The Cham Towers are basically old temples built by the Cham empire (which was a very Indianized) followed Hinduism, especially the worship of Shiva. The sculptures of Shiva, Hanuman, Ganesh etc are all quite different from what we’re usually used to in India. After the towers we roamed around town on the scooter and eventually ran out of gas! We could’ve sworn we had put enough…the fuel gage is never accurate on these things! Nick shook the scooter a little bit and started it again, fortunately we made it back to the hotel. These piece of shit rental scooters….unpredictable!!! Afterwards we bought a couple of Saigon beers and hung out at the beach. Every now and then a hawker lady would come up to us asking ‘where you from?’ This has to be the most used line here! Everyone tries to strike up conversation with that one question! Everytime we said we’re from the US, people would get confused I guess because we don’t look ‘American’. So for the most part we have given up saying the US and we just say India. People in Vietnam tend to really like that! Eventually it was time to get on the bus for Hoi An. I really dreaded it since it was going to be an 11 hour over-night ordeal. We decided it would be best to get a ‘sleep aid’. So we bought a bottle of Wall Street scotch whiskey (yes it was called Wall Street…some Vietnamese brand!) for $3 along with some coke and snacks. Forty minutes or so after the bus left the lights were turned off and all the other passengers headed to sleep. We could not sleep so early although it was dark out, our night was just starting! We had our own party going on as we whispered, laughed and eventually finished the aadiya (half bottle). Oops! Oh well, it made for a good sleep!
By 7:30am we made it into Hoi An. Immediately after the bus doors opened there were guys pushing and shoving and asking ‘where you from? Where you go?’ This became routine at every stop…motorcycle taxis and people hawking guest houses assault you until you have to fold both hands together and beg them to leave you alone. In the morning this was especially annoying! One guy on a motorcycle came up to us and gave us a card for a hotel and kept telling us ‘come to my hotel, come to my hotel’. He really kept touting the place as if he owned it or worked there. He rushed Nick on his friend’s motorcycle and me on his before we could really say yes or no. We got to the hotel and found that the room was a little bit more expensive than what we wanted to pay but we gave in since it seemed like a decent breakfast was included. The motorcycle guys ended up not working for the hotel, maybe on some sort of commission but started hounding us for money. We told them they should’ve asked for money straight up, eventually they left. I mean the hotel ended up being pretty decent with a good breakfast and free bicycles. As for the motorcycle dudes, maybe we were just plain naïve or the Wall Street whisky killed a few brain cells. We took the bicycles around to the Old Town which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a beautiful, charming part of town along the river made up of old Vietnamese-Chinese merchant houses painted in beautiful sunny golden-yellow colors and built with dark woods. Some families still live in the houses after so many generations. It had been a long time since I’ve been on a bike so it took an embarrassing minute to stabilize. I never had to ride a bike in traffic especially with scooters coming in every direction but it was definitely a fun alternative.
The next morning we were set to go to Danang but we read there wasn’t too much to do there so we opted to go straight to Hue. This is another advantage of the open bus tour, you can skip cities you don’t want to stay in. On the way the bus stopped at Marble Mountain (naturally a lot of touristy marble sculpting shops) and a pearl shop. I guess that’s how these buses keep their costs down a bit by getting commission. An interesting sight was the big traffic jam. The bus came to a halt and a couple of big superbikes came whizzing by. Superbikes in Vietnam? Turns out that if you somehow get a big bike you are required by the government to help out escorting for events. Sounds like jury duty! This event was a bicycle race where the bikes were escorting and sweeping the cyclists. We got to Hue and it was a cloudy, rainy day. After settling into a guest house in the super touristy area, we got some lunch and talked to a motorcycle rental guy who was catching some lunch as well. He complained about the foreigners that would come and rent scooters. Problem is that people who don’t even ride, rent this stuff in all places…Vietnam! Kinda crazy. We didn’t have time to get to the old Citadel and Hue monuments that day so we did some walking around and got dinner at a local place. Most of the time we prefer to do the local joints since they’re cheaper, have better food, and better portions! The touristy places truly rip you off and even if you order ‘local’ food, they manage to screw it up in efforts to make it according to falang (foreigner) taste! In other countries we could get by with some of the words we knew, but I have to admit…Vietnamese was tough! We resorted to our Iphone app that allowed us to translate the menu. I swear I had the most heavenly spinach I have ever had in my life. It was simply stir-fried in garlic, chili, and sesame oil. Amazing! After much haggling we were able to get Nick a really great beef dish. While we were eating a van pulled up and 5-7 girls strutted out dressed in short blue miniskirts with Biere Larue embroidered on their chests. They immediately took over the entire restaurant and chatted up male customers, poured beer, and generally looked cute. Good entertainment for Nick, I was very much involved in my spinach.
The next day we were able to visit the Citadel and the monuments. It was built in the 1800’s by the Nguyen Dynasty and was functional until the 1950’s. Again it was a cloudy day so it was a nice walk around the crumbling UNESCO complex. It gave us a good taste of Chinese influence on architecture and culture in Vietnam. We took the scooter around and found some of the old Chinese tombs that were quite impressive. That night we had a 15 hour overnight bus ride to Hanoi. We decided to get a good dinner in of Indian food. We can’t help it, we miss the masalas and kanak di roti (wheat roti) sometimes…there’s only so much rice and rice noodle one can take after a while! But ughhh 15 hours! God help us! Somehow we made it through the 15 hour hell of stuffy, restless sleep. Where’s our bike when you need it?