Day 20: Hoi An – Da Nang – Nha Trang

This morning BeeBee was awakened by the loa phuong, the government’s public address system used at strategic times during the day to provide information to the citizens. (The rooster, totally confused, had sounded off at 1:45 am.) Farmers and townspeople use the loa phuong as an alarm clock in the morning and a dinner bell in the evening. Music was played, also.

Finally arising at 5:30 am as usual, Pati and BeeBee prepared for the day’s travel by reorganizing their luggage contents to accommodate all of their new souvenirs. Since Hoi An was their designated souvenir-buying town, they are hoping that their current luggage will be sufficient for the rest of their trip. So far, their luggage weighs less than the 20 kg (44 lbs) per person that is allowed on Vietnam Airlines domestic flights.

They were ready for their guide and driver before 10 am, the agreed pickup time. They first went into Hoi An to pick up items that they had ordered, and then headed for the airport in Da Nang for their flight to Nha Trang. Their guide went into the terminal with them and, since they were too early to check their luggage, he took them to the cafe, bought them coffee, and sat talking with them until it was check-in time. Once they were checked in, he asked an airport person to take their picture together.  Then he took them to security, which was as far as he could go, and waved goodbye. (Thank you, Mr. Ha. You will be missed.).

The flight to Nha Trang was uneventful. They were met by their new guide and driver as they walked out of the terminal. The drive to their hotel seemed long, but the guide was very informative during the drive. Their hotel is across the road (divided road, two lanes each direction, crosswalks but no traffic lights) from a lovely beach.

The hotel check-in was chaotic, but finally they were in their room, which has a balcony and very good view of the beach and Cam Ranh Bay.

Venturing out again, they had a tasty Vietnamese meal at a restaurant (recommended by the guide) about 1 km from their hotel, located on the beach with a good view of the bay.

The major group of tourists in this area are Russians, and signs for shops are given in Russian as well as Vietnamese. This is the first time that they have seen Russian in Vietnam.  Previously on this trip, they have seen groups of Australians, Japanese, Chinese, and South Korean tourists, but they have only seen English signs along with the Vietnamese ones.


Day 17 extra: the restless traveler

Pati and BeeBee had a flight from Hanoi to Da Nang today. Luckily, it was a short flight, only 1 hour 20 minutes in the air.

Their seat numbers were 18 E and F, which are a window seat and middle seat on the right side of the plane.  When they got to their seats, there was a man sitting in the window seat. They showed him their tickets; he examined them, smiled, and stayed where he was. Pati sat down in the aisle seat, with BeeBee in the middle seat beside the man.

He was tall, slender, aged somewhere in his 30s, and nicely dressed with a light brown suede jacket.

He was nervious.

As more passengers got on, he swiveled his head to inspect them. Perhaps he was expecting a traveling companion. Perhaps he expected to be sitting with someone else. Perhaps, BeeBee began to hope, someone else would come to their row and tell him that he was in the wrong seat. This did not happen.

As the plane began to taxi, he turned his attention to the view from “his” window. Leaning toward the window, he pressed his head into it. Instead of the outside, BeeBee saw only the back of his head. While his medium brown hair was nicely trimmed, it was not as interesting as the outside.

As the plane launched itself into the air, his long legs began to bounce and twitch. For the duration of the flight. Very quickly, he claimed the armrest between himself and BeeBee (in addition to the armrest on the window side), and, when his legs were not twitching, his arms and hands were. BeeBee first squeezed herself away from him, but then reclaimed the space above her seat. His arm did not yield.

(Note to the sensitive reader: This man was neither physically nor mentally impared. Just rude.)

When the cabin crew brought around bottles of water, BeeBee lowered her tray table and left it down for the rest of the flight. This seemed to deter him just a little, yet soon his sharp elbow was digging into BeeBee’s ribs. He fingered the seal that BeeBee had removed from her water bottle and laid on her tray.  (Only a short flight, she thought.) When he finished his water, he pulled out his flight magazine to read and claimed all the space between the trays. (Thank goodness for the tray, BeeBee thought.)

When the flight crew announced their imminent arrival, BeeBee reluctantly closed her tray table. He did the same and put away the magazine. He pulled the airsickness bag from the seat pocket ahead of him and examined it closely, turning it around in his long slim fingers. (Please, BeeBee thought, not that!) For a few moments, he put his arms on the seat ahead of him, as if braced for a crash landing.  Then the elbow returned to BeeBee’s ribs. (His arm was hot.)

For the final touchdown, his left arm left BeeBee’s ribs to brace itself against the back of her tray. Once on the ground, he again screwed his head tightly into the window. To BeeBee, it looked as if he intended to exit the airplane by squeezing himself through that small porthole.

As soon as it was allowed, he called someone on his cellphone and spoke rapidly but not for long. BeeBee imagined a dismayed person on the receiving end thinking “It’s you again. Already!”

When it was possible to unbuckle her seatbelt, BeeBee followed Pati into the aisle crowded with other passengers. It was a relief to have even a tiny bit of breathing room. Glancing back, she saw that the man had already scooted into the aisle seat. Pati and BeeBee did not let him out into the aisle.

When the line started moving to exit the aircraft, BeeBee courteously stood still to allow passengers to exit their seats ahead of her. After they exited the airplane, BeeBee glimpsed the man a few times but soon put him out of her mind. Until writing this blog post.

(Ladies: You have been seated next to this man or his cousin many times. Gentlemen: Take note. Ladies do not like this behavior.)

(Footnote: This story, unfortunately, is true.)




Day 17: Hanoi – Da Nang – Hoi An

Yesterday evening, Pati had arranged with the hotel staff to have a guide and driver for a short excursion this morning.  They wanted to see two places that were not included in their city tour of a few days ago: the Hanoi Hilton and the inside of Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. The “Hanoi Hilton” is the Hoa Lo Prison where prisoners of war were held  during the Vietnam War. The most fanous prisoners were John McCain, a US Senator and candidate for US President in the last general election, and Pete Peterson, who later returned to Vietnam as the first US Ambassador. Ho Chi Minh’s body lies in state in his mausoleum, even though he wanted to be cremated.

The new guide picked them up from the hotel at 7:30 am after breakfast. Their first stop was the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. Since they had already toured the complex, they queued up to enter the mausoleum. They were in a very long line with mostly Vietnamese families. The line moved slowly and quietly up the steps into the huge mausoleum and into the large chamber containing Ho Chi Minh’s crypt with Ho Chi Minh lyimg in state. The line moved along three sides of the crypt, every eye respectfully focused on Ho Chi Minh, finally exiting the room, down the stairs, and outdoors again. Pati and BeeBee’s guide was waiting for them there.

Since they did not want to revisit the rest of the complex, the guide suggested that they visit the Temple of Literature. They had been there a few days before, but with all the crush of New Year’s visitors, it had been difficult to see everything.  This time there were very few other visitors, and the guide could point out and explain objects in more detail than the earlier guide. The revisit was worthwhile.

After this, they headed to Hoa Lo Prison. While most Americans think of this prison as the “Hanoi Hilton” that held American prisoners of war between 1964 and 1973, it was originally built by the French colonialists in 1896 to hold Vietnamese political prisoners through 1954, and afterward to hold criminals. Only part of the prison remains for viewing; the rest of it was torn down to build a shopping center. In addition to the cells themselves, documents, and other exhibits, the prison contains a full-sized guillotine with accompanying pictures of some of its victims.

While in one of the cell blocks of the prison, the guide described growing up in North Vietnam during the war. She and her mother were hungry frequently. She vividly remembers her mother telling her to “stand there” so that her mother could continue to work without worrying about her. It was clear to Pati and BeeBee that their guide found it emotionally difficult to enter this prison and explain its exhibits, but she did an excellent job.

After this, they returned to their hotel to wait for the driver to take them to the airport for their flight to Da Nang. (Thank you, Ms Tam.)

Their tour coordinator had changed their pickup time to 12 noon, and so they were checked out and waiting in the hotel lobby just after 11:30 am. At 11:50, a woman from the tour coordinator’s office called to confirm the pickup time; her English was not good, but she seemed to be saying that a guide and driver would show up, which was consistent with every previous departure. A few minutes after noon, a man arrived and the hotel staff confirmed that he was the driver. The hotel staff bundled the luggage, Pati and BeeBee into the waiting van. The driver spoke almost no English and there was no tour guide. He asked if they were going to the international airport, and they replied that they were going to Da Nang (a domestic flight). When they got to the airport, he deposited them at international departures, with no explanation. They began to wonder if they were even at the right airport. The terminal’s information desk was closed. BeeBee waited in line at the Vietnam Airlines ticket counter to ask where their flight was. The attendant haughtily said that she was in the wrong terminal and should go downstairs and ask someone (a policeman) where the terminal was. Pati and BeeBeee hurried downstairs, and BeeBee asked a tour guide (who was waiting for his passengers) where the domestic terminal was. He took them outside and pointed the way. A nice man who went out of his way, while the airline they were using would not help them. Finally at the correct terminal, the remaining check-in process went smoothly.

Their flight departed Hanoi on time and arrived at Da Nang on time. Their new guide and driver were waiting.

The new guide is anxious to please, and is worried that he will say something about the Vietnam War that will offend them. They told him that they want to hear the bad as well as the good; they want to understand. Upon hearing this, he told them that his house is located on property that is poisoned by agent orange from the war. There is a big conference planned in Da Nang in 2017, and he is hopeful that this will hasten the cleanup of this poison.

Da Nang, with its beautiful beaches, was an R&R site for the American military during the Vietnam War. While driving through Da Nang, the guide pointed out military bases and equipment (fighter jets and tanks) from the Vietnam War. Adjacent to one base, still with barracks, is a pair of hills that was a Vietcong base at the same time. It is riddled with tunnels and caves, one of which served as their hospital. Even knowing that the Vietcong were there, the Americans were unable to drive them out. After the Americans left, the Vietcong took over the American base.

Pati and BeeBee checked into their new hotel, which is beautiful, on the outskirts of Hoi An. Since they had missed lunch, they walked into Hoi An and had dinner (a pizza) at the Three Dragons, situated with a good river view. After this, they walked back to their hotel to rest up for the next day’s adventures.