|Monday 1st Oct
Hue - Hoi An
Well the transport to Hoi An was not what we thought we were getting. We are picked up at 8am by a 20-seater mini bus for what we thought was a 3½ hour bus ride to Hoi An, about 140km away (we half expected this bus to take us to the bus station and transfer to a bigger bus). 7 hours later we arrive at our hotel.
Turns out we were on a tour with lots of stops on the way. Bloody brilliant. Lewis and his partner, who were on our boat trip, are also on the bus. We are running into people we have met elsewhere in Vietnam a bit more now. Many are booked with the same tour company, others are just a coincidence. Lewis isn’t travelling with Halong tours, and had specifically booked this bus as a tour. We asked the others, and all except Lewis said they expected a direct, 3½ hour bus ride. We got to see a few places that we thought we would miss.
There are a couple more pick ups from other hotels, and then we are on our way. The first indication that things were going to be different was when we turned off the main highway on to a narrow dirt track. One of the bus staff (turned out to be a guide) tells us he is going to show us one of his favourite places, which sounds weird to those of us expecting a regular bus service! Then he brings out a tour brochure, and the penny drops. We are passing rice paddy fields, then through a small village with very ornate gates and homes. The road is a bit narrower here, and a large truck ahead of us is forced to back up as close to the left side of the road as he can get, so we can pass. At Thuy Thanh village we are taken to a Japanese style roofed bridge, the Thanh Toan Bridge. Built in 1776 the wooden bridge is roughly 17m long and 5m wide, it is divided into 7 compartments, resembling 7 small rooms in a house, and the roof is tiled. The bridge is arched to allow vessels to pass underneath. There are even altars here, including one to worship the builder, Mrs. Tran Thi Dao who was the wife of a great mandarin but had no children. Its purpose was to pray and to facilitate the movement of local inhabitants.
We cross over the bridge, and walk into the village, but we are being hassled everywhere we go, so continue back across the creek, down to the bridge… where we get hassled again. There are a few scrawny chooks and chickens running around, none of which appear to be that tame. Cynthea is buying a fan, it sure is hot out here. We continue on our way, down to a single lane track, that is concreted in places if we are lucky. A huge crane truck is blocking a fair bit of the road, and our driver is forced into the dirt to get around it. We are lucky that it had not been raining, we would have got stuck in the mud.
We pass by war relics, old bunkers from both sides, side by side in the rice paddys. Our next stop is at an oyster pearl farm at Lang Co, it is huge, and a few minutes later we are taken to the factory. We go for a walk down to the beach, swimming is not allowed (dangerous rips), not that we had time for a swim. Cynthea heads back to the bus, Tony takes his time, and when gets back he is told to pop inside the factory to pay for a black pearl and silver necklace she has picked out. A cool 1.2 million dong (settle down, that’s $80 here).
We leave just before 11am and begin the steep climb to Hai Van pass, the old border between north and south Vietnam, and the site of an old French built fort occupied by the South Vietnamese and Americans during the war. The half hour drive took us through some stunning scenery, and from the top we can just see Da Nang through the hazy sea mist. We stop here for about 15 minutes to explore the old fort and take in the views, and Tony decides to use the local facilities. He is approached by a local stall holder as he leaves demanding he buy from her stall some distance away, apparently that is the fee for using the public toilet. He just pretends he doesn’t understand and carries on back to the bus…
Near Da Nang our guide asks everyone if they eat pork and beef, we all say yes. So the bus stops and he gets out, and is soon back with lunch, a lovely Bang Mi bread roll for everyone (we didn’t expect lunch to be included either!). It was so yummy, we could have eaten two!
We wind our way through Da Nang and over the Golden Dragon bridge, dropping off one of the passengers on the other side. Then we continue along the beach front. We are amazed that no one is in swimming, nor are they sunbathing, it all looks pretty deserted. Apparently it is too hot (34 degrees) for any sane person to be out in this.
Soon after 1pm we arrive at Marble Mountain. There are a number of marble carving factories here, but we don’t have time to visit them today. Our guide tells us that the factories can no longer mine marble from here (so where are they getting it from then?). We have an hour to explore the mountain itself, stunning views at the top, pagodas and lots of caves to explore on the way. We cheat by taking the escalator part way up, entry is 40,000 dong ($2.70), and another 15,000 ($1) for the ride. The ride up didn’t save a lot of time, but it certainly saved the effort in the heat, the hike was a killer in 33 degrees and 80% humidity. We are soaked through in minutes.
There are several pagodas, the first as you exit the elevator, Xa Loi is pretty, around seven stories high. But then the path takes you down steep steps to the next one, Linh Ung Pagoda, a very ornate building. Cruel bastards, we are halfway back down the hill again, and meet others that had walked up from the bottom. Now we have to back track, and it seems harder going back up than it was coming down. Cynthea struggles a bit with the steep grade, so Tony goes ahead to check on a lookout over the city (a bit over grown), and to explore a couple of caves. The first one, Van Thong, has a steep set of stairs once inside, and the stairs are made for much smaller feet. There are more caverns once you get inside, the further back you go, the steeper and narrower the stairs, these are not for bigger people. Tony found the cave quite nerve wracking at the back, the steep stairway is also very narrow, and the you would be hard pushed to call them stairs as well. Tony takes it very, very slowly, and on the return trip he has to be even more careful. There was not a lot to hold on to either.
We find the maps around the mountain a bit hard to follow, and we struggle to find our direction. Eventually got there, using the toilets as marker point, but even so there was a lot of unnecessary back tracking having taken wrong turns because there were few directional signposts when the tracks divided. We were pleased to know that others had the same problem, so it wasn’t just us. The toilets were a laugh, you had to take off your own shoes, and put on communal ones before going inside. Trouble was, they were not made for big feets!
We did get to the largest caves, Huyen Khong was massive, and contained huge statues of Buddas. It was certainly something that had us in awe of those that built it. We went to a couple of other caves, that were really not worth the effort, compared to the splendour of the main cave. Truth be told, we came across them by accident, looking for the path to the top of the mountain. Also found by accident was the path to another lookout over the city and the river, a great view, but not the one Tony was hoping for, and he nearly comes a gutser on the slippery marble steps (lethal when wet, we reckon).
Tony had left Cynthea sitting in the shade on the path back to the bus, we had to be back by quarter past, and the plan was to be back here to go down together in plenty of time. Tony eventually found the path to the top, but it was a long way up, and very steep. He gets most of the way there when his alarm goes off. Ten minutes to get to the bus. He reluctantly abandons the climb, so close, but so far. Cynthea is not at the steps where he left her, so he hopes she has already gone on. Turns out it is quite some distance back to the gate, and quite hard going. The steps are deep, and the marble is slippery, it is a mission to get down the hill. Tony arrives right on time, the last to turn up. The driver asks if he had a good swim, he is thoroughly soaked, and annoyed that he didn’t make it to the top. Only four on the bus did the climb.
In Hoi An we are staying at the Kiman Hotel, we have the same room number, 505, as in Hue. The room is a decent size, overlooks the pool, a pair of swans make a heart shape of the towels. The bed is firm, but not quite as rock hard as in other places. First stop is the pool!
We don’t venture too far tonight, there are a couple of restaurants along the road (might be one or two bars as well). We call in at an open air place, under cover, but have to move because of the smokers at the next table. Nice meals though. Tony walked 7km today, much of it vertical!
Tony walked 7km today, much of it vertical!