I typically like cities and I usually fare pretty well in them, but Saigon is a tough place. I can’t say that I’m the least bit sad to leave there. It is just that it really didn’t have (at least in my view) a lot to offer a visitor. I’m sure if you are Vietnamese you’d find it thrilling. For a westener the traffic, noise, pollution, and general visual and audial assault is unnerving. I’m glad I went though, now I know.
I made my way to the airport this morning and flew to Da Nang (I can’t help but think “Da Plane! Da Plane” every time I say that word). From Da Nang airport I took a taxi about 40 kilometers to a small town call Hoi An. It could be on a different planet than Saigon. Oh yes, there are still the scooters going every which way to Sunday, but they don’t all seemed to be aimed directly at you. Just some of them are. I can manage a few at a time barrelling down on me. My friend, Joan, has the attitude that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. She tells me that one of her most memorable times in Saigon was actually getting on one of those things. I don’t doubt for a minute that it was memorable. Terrifying events are always memorable I suppose.
Joan is joining me in India. From what I can tell they have scooters there too. These facts are starting to concern me.
But I digress. Frankly, until this trip, I’d never even heard of Hoi An. But it turns out to be a really old small town in central Viet Nam that has retained it old-world, village character. Even though it is visited by tourists pretty heavily, they have managed to curb change to the old town center. This is much to my delight. It is simply like stepping onto a movie set when you walk around those streets. And when I say you walk around in the streets, I mean you walk in the street. The sidewalks are too valuable for street stalls to be wasted on walking.
The “American War” took quite a toll on this area, and it is not far from the famed “DMZ” that I heard so much about on TV as a child. I saw one advertisement for a tour of the My Lai Massacre site. I’ll probably pass. I’m pretty sure this is directed at Americans. Why would the Dutch find that interesting? Why would the Americans for that matter?
I am two nights here in a pleasant little hotel on the edge of town. They staff are really friendly, and it is is just cheap enough ($25/night) to have a little character, but expensive enough to be comfortable and safe. I plan to use my full day here to see the sights in the old town and perhaps take a boat ride on the river. I also need to arrange transportation to my next stop, another small town called Hue.