The title of this blog series will not become applicable for a few days. It is taken from a Dire Straits song, “Brothers in Arms” It describes the life of a soldier, living in conditions similar to what fighting men experienced in Vietnam during the Second Indochina War, although it was actually written to describe a war in South America in the early 80s. I chose it for the first line of the song, which is what I woke up to every morning once I ventured deeper into the heart of darkness; the Vietnam Jungle. You should consider yourself blessed as I almost chose the first line of a song sung by a bunch of Dwarves from Lord of The Rings.
It has been about 7 years since I first travelled to Vietnam (Blog Entry), when I first learned to ride a motorcycle. Much has changed in this communist (mostly by name only) country since my last visit. I could not believe the amount of tourists, or the smoothness one experiences today upon entering and engaging in activities of daily living. Unlike my previous arrival in Saigon, this immigration process in Da Nang was without delay, and felt no different from crossing a border from US to Canada.
This trip was another motorcycle trip, but a bit different as I would be going without a guide. I really don’t need a guide at this point when riding motorbikes in foreign countries, with the exception of engaging in mostly off-road adventures, for safety and access reasons.
The plan was to fly into Da Nang, stay for a couple days, then loop the middle of the country over the course of 10 days
The flight from Bangkok to Da Nang was uneventful, with the exception that I have still not gotten over my annual Asian version of Montezuma’s Revenge. I spent most of the time in airport/plane in the bathroom until I went to a shop to try and buy the Thai version of Imodium. I really don’t bother using Google Translate when traveling. It is very helpful, but I just feel/look like an idiot and prefer to just keep conversations short or nonexistent. In this case, I had to try and convey what I needed without speaking the language. You can imagine how you describe a need for Imodium when playing a game of Charades. They gave me a few options. I took double whatever dose they recommended and I was good for the next few days.
As mentioned, the immigration was easy and my bag, with all my motorcycle equipment, miraculously arrived on the checked luggage belt. There was no sitting for hours in metal chairs in dingy rooms waiting for an interview with an official dressed in green military uniforms with red epilates. I stepped out of the airport and was greeted with a cool 70 degree afternoon. A welcome change from the 90+ I get everyday while living in Bangkok. I stopped by an ATM and took out about 5 Million Dong of local currency and hopped into the first taxi I saw. We drove 30 minutes to the tourist town of Hoi An, where I would spend 2 nights, getting myself and the bike acclimated before venturing out beyond the safety rails.
This cab driver was nuts. His driving immediately took me back to every driver I saw on my last trip to Vietnam. You think Thailand driving is crazy? This is like a taking a Thai driver, blindfolding him and making him down a bottle of booze before turning him loose. This guy was honking his horn every 5 seconds, tailgating 12 yo girls on bikes, crossing into oncoming traffic without concern, all while jamming love songs at full blast on the radio.
Got to Hoi An Central Hotel in one piece. In a country where a room goes for $10, me paying $30/night means I get treated like K-pop royalty. Last time in Vietnam, the hotel confiscated my passport each night and would only relinquish the next morning at checkout, but now they could not be bothered with such inconveniences. They provided hot towels, welcome drinks, and even sat down with me and explained all the attractions their town had to offer.
I was not due to pick up the motorcycle until tomorrow morning so I just wandered the streets along the river and visited the cultural heritage museum where all the various tribes of the region were represented
I wont get into the history of the people of Vietnam on this blog. I did that last trip. I did spend time learning more about their culture before the arrival of the French in the 1850s, and how it contrasted with the early settlers of modern Thailand, giving me some insight into their religious beliefs and daily life.
Hoi An was a major port city in the time of the Cham people. It has been revitalized, becoming a major tourist location. I usually leave a wide berth for such places, but even with the hordes of white people, this place still retains its charm and beauty. Its claim to fame are the lanterns that illuminate the city in the evening. I strolled the streets, waiting for dark, to take in an interpretive dance performance similar to one I saw last year in Cambodia.
These hand woven trays below were humorous. I had just bought a bunch online to decorate the walls of our house in Bangkok. Now I see them everywhere here for a fraction of the price we paid. I guess this is the source. Turns out they are made with local shells.
I thought this guy was making interesting art out of the roots of bamboo trees. From recent experience In trying to dig out some bamboo trees in Michigan and breaking the shovel, I knew these would last for generations to come.
As it began to get dark I made my way toward the river where the Luna Center performance would be held
I was not allowed to take pictures in the theater, but it was incredible, and left very much in awe of what these people were able to do.
I wandered the streets at night, taking pictures of the lanterns, just like the other 500 people.
I walked down a random alley, as I am accustomed to when in a strange place, and stumbled upon a small bar, really just 2 guys drinking, smoking weed, and doing mushrooms; and talked for a while about the changes the country is seeing, their version of communism/capitalism and where things were headed.
Things close down rather early in Hoi An so I was able to get some sleep before the adventure truly begins.