Well, here I am in Hoi An, Vietnam. I arrived here this morning via a very modern MD-82, much to the relief of–well, most of my body, which was not looking forward to more jouncing along awful roads.
Airports are really cool. They have these X-ray scanning things that you put your luggage into, and then take them out again on the other side; and they have these weird blank metal doorframes that you walk through. (Some long-lost portion of my mind wants to call them “metal detectors”. 😉 ) They have people who take small pieces of paper and hand you back other small pieces of paper and eventually put you on a shuttle to this big silver thing with wings, which you get into, and after some gobbledygook in Vietnamese and English about what to do in the event of an emergency, the big silver thing takes off and gets you out of Ho Chi Minh City. You breathe a vast sigh of relief.
After a brief period during which they secretly shuffle around all the background scenery (you don’t *really* think you’re traveling, do you? 😉 ), the big silver thing “lands” in a place called Danang, an industrial city almost exactly halfway up the Vietnamese coast. A taxi–$12 at the tourist stand but only $3.50 after haggling with a local driver–turns you out into Hoi An, a delightfully quiet, cool, and picturesque town utterly unlike Ho Chi Minh City. You are delighted at this, especially when your hotel turns out to feature a bathtub, REAL hot water heater, and some very nice, real wooden furniture, tile floor, A/C, etc.–all for $16/night. (Really $20/night, but by now you know that the rack rate is bargainable if you’re staying a few days. 😉 )
At any rate, I’m now in Hoi An, which is a lovely little town filled with pretty French-Vietnamese architecture, silk/paper lanterns, Chinese paintings, modern watercolors, a small but picturesque market, and a nice Japanese bridge where local fishermen unload their catch in the early mornings. In short, it’s a tourist trap, but a very nice one; more of a place to kick back and relax than a hyperaggressive Club Med. It’s a curious combination of Eastern and European, and definitely shows a lot of French influence.
(The French, if you missed the first chapter, “colonized” both Vietnam and Cambodia. There’s a rather funny section in the guidebook where they talk about the last emperor of Vietnam–he was basically a playboy who spent most of his time in Europe, and when the revolution came voluntarily stepped down (he wasn’t going to get killed for a throne, since he was busy running around with a Vietnamese mistress and some expensive French call girls). The French insisted that he resume his throne, he refused, and actually hid from the French in cinemas, cabarets, and casinos for some years before they caught him and shipped him back out to Vietnam to be emperor. He stepped down almost immediately and fled back to Europe, where he spent the rest of his life as a thoroughly dissipated playboy. A rather amusing sidelight on the whole colonial history/revolution thing.)
Incidentally, my guidebook says the French are/were trying to keep French the unofficial second language of Cambodia, providing foreign aid in exchange for having all classes, etc. taught in French. If so, they wasted their money (sorry Herve 😉 )–there are a few signs in French/English, but no one speaks it except very old people. (I am of course relieved by this, since I speak English fine but my French started out atrocious and has gotten worse.)
However, the French did thankfully leave some of their cuisine behind–you can buy excellent French bread all over both Cambodia and Vietnam, for next to nothing. (In Cambodia it was 12.5 cents per baguette; in Vietnam, I think it’s about half that.) This makes both Cambodia and Vietnam a great place to go foraging–a couple baguettes, some cheese, some fruit from the market, and you’re set for the day. Much easier than trying to carry a bag of noodles around.
(The Vietnamese reputedly have a saying: “The Americans left us Coke, but the French left us poetry.” This strikes me as *almost* a reasonable summary of America’s cultural contributions to the world, but they left out Baywatch. 😉 )
At any rate, I am thoroughly exhausted–last night’s hotel turned out to be a real rathole as well, so I haven’t gotten more than eight hours of sleep in two days & am correspondingly exhausted. (Last night’s hotel was a fan room, which looked OK, but turned out to be 90+ degrees and very stuffy–impossible to sleep.) So I’m going off to take a nap, after which I’ll walk around the town a bit more. It’s a very nice small town and much much cooler than HCMC, being 500 miles further north–subjectively, about 70 degrees and humid. (My internal thermometer has recalibrated for the tropics, so I’m not sure how warm it actually is.)
I’m going to try renting a bicycle and exploring a bit later–actually considering some distance cycling, it’s supposed to be a good way to see the area, and it’ll be a good way to find out just how horribly my quads have degenerated. I think if I can get some distance cycling in now, I might not be in such bad shape when get back the U.S. and start retraining. Besides, it’s a great excuse to wear one of those cute Vietnamese pointy hats. Gotta keep the sun off, after all. 😉
(Hmm…maybe I should glue one of those to my helmet for AIDS Lifecycle. But I think it’d clash with the go-go-girl bikini top and pink tutu…oh, decisions. 😉 )
off to fall over,
P.S. Vietnam, unlike Cambodia, is a great place to be an Asian-American solo female traveler; in fact the best place so far, since people are very clear on the idea of Asian-American (the idea doesn’t seem to exist elsewhere–you’re just a funny kind of Asian). I suspect this is because a lot of Vietnamese want to emigrate to the U.S., or have siblings who did–so they “get” the concept. Regardless, being of Asian descent here means you’re one of the family, rather than an easy mark. I am WAY relieved; Cambodia was really stressful.
Btw, dont’ take my experience with Cambodia as typical; European tourists, including solo female travelers I’ve met, have reported Cambodians to be “very friendly” and really loved the place. I don’t understand this one bit, given my experience, but apparently they don’t hassle non-Asian women. So if you aren’t one, you might well have a better time of it than I did.