To Hoi An in half a coffin where Nel buys some shoes and gets gripped hard in China Town

Vietnamese people suffer badly with motion sickness it seems.
I bring this up, because we’d been on the sleeper bus for about twenty minutes when the man in the bunk next to mine began to honk into a plastic bag.
There are three rows of bunks on the sleeper, two high, and we were on the top. You get a sort of a pod, which it goes without saying was too short for me.
Oh well, I thought, it’s only fourteen hours eh. I’ll be fine. I can put up with it for fourteen hours.
There’s a seat and a kind of half coffin roof rack box which your feet go into.
We’d already established that my feet are bigger than the average Vietnamese foot when I’d tried to buy a pair of trainers in Dalat and the shop owner chuckled, shaking his head as I tried to push my feet into the biggest shoes he had, so this roof rack box thing was too small for my feet as well as being too short for my legs. It was quite uncomfortable. And then the bloke next to me started honking into a sick bag.
On the way from Saigon to Mui Ne a woman in front of us had started chucking too. I reckon they’re not used to being inside vehicles, they’re usually riding bikes.

We had about two and a half hours of light before sunset, and the bus climbed and climbed into the highlands, snaking around twisty bendy roads past farms and through forest with a huge drop one side.
We stopped by the side of the road, men found a space for a pee and the women walked down to some bushes. I’d been surprised and unnerved that there was no toilet on the bus. This was the solution. Periodic piss stops.
Darkness was a relief when the sun went down, to not be able to see the perilous chasm we were threading our way around the top of, along a narrow road that followed the contours. Well it would follow the contours wouldn’t it?
And cocooned into your little half coffin roof top box you are severely restricted, I could barely move my feet and you do feel worse. As if, were you to plunge into the chasm below, flailing your legs about might help in some way. Nah, can’t imagine it would.
So that was it. Dark, too dark to read, cramped and with another eleven and a half hours to go, next to a man throwing up into a plastic bag.
There was a lady with a restless child of about two below the sick man. I couldn’t blame him, it’s maddening not being able to move and he was grizzling and crying, and the lady would point at me and say something to him that obviously frightened him into quiet for a few minutes, which was a bit disconcerting. I mean, what was she saying when she quite blatantly and unembarrassed used the big white man as some kind of bogeyman? Probably that the blue eyed devil eats naughty children. I tried my best to smile at him. Vietnamese children probably taste of vegetables.
I think I slept. For a while I read by the light of my phone until the battery died. I think I slept for a while, I’m not sure.
There was a stop at about two in the morning at a roadside coach stop place where we didn’t bother buying a meal, just some fruit, and availed ourselves of the opportunity to use the toilet. When you’re on a bus for fourteen hours it’s best to squeeze out a few drops if you can whenever you get the chance.
Half way.
I think I might have slept, Nel did.
The next piss stop was some time after the next four hours had gone by, at the side of the road again. Women down the bank by some bushes, men by the side of the road smoking a quick cigarette while you urinate.
I might have slept a bit, I don’t know but daybreak came and the driver was leaning on his horn again soon as the opportunity to bully other road users arose.
Vietnamese roads are more terrifying that the Cambodian roads and often I’d see a bike with two adults and two small children just inches from the coach headlights with the driver blasting the horn loud enough to scare the gods.
We’ve not seen any  accidents yet, surprisingly.
The bus must have been slow because the journey was actually fifteen hours by the time we arrived at Danang bus station. We hadn’t realised it wasn’t going to take us all the way to Hoi An.
I hadn’t thought about it before but I was hoping the bus driver had changed at the coach stop half way.  Who knows?
We were directed to a bus stop for Hoi An. Just what we didn’t need after fifteen hours. Another knackered, rickety old Hyundai bus that was well beyond the seen better days ten years ago.
We’d been told it was another ten km further to Hoi An by the hostess boy on the bus.


Something for the weekend sir? If you pay a little bit extra you can get your nose blown by a professional


Hoi An market place

The conductor asked for fifty thousand dongs each, I misheard him  and gave him thirty thousand for the two of us. He made my mistake clear and chuckled, and I was sure we’d been done but as it transpired, the journey was about another hour or so. Maybe we didn’t get done, perhaps it was the right fare, its hard to know.
Our bags were thrown into a space at the back of the bus and soon disappeared under a mound of shopping and a couple of huge wire baskets with a bamboo stick that women sell things from as the bus filled up.
A kindly looking old man smiled at us in a friendly way but mostly younger people look at us and then ignore us. I’ve no idea what their attitude towards westerners is except for how the Easy Riders are, and they have an interest in business with us.
Vietnam has only been open for twenty years and on the bus journeys there were only four white people, us and two Canadian girls.
We’re probably half way up country now and fighting was intense here during the war. And there’s another piece of modern history I wonder about. How many of the old men fought, and how many families lost loved ones. I don’t know where north Vietnam starts, but it’s weird that you can buy a motorcycle hat made to look like a GI’s helmet.
Anyway, after an hour or so we arrived at the bus station in Hoi An with no idea where we were or where the guesthouses are but there were many many men with motorcycles happy to take us there.
We told them we wanted to go where the cheaper guesthouses are and gave them an address we’d got online and they charged us a dollar and a half each and dropped us in the wrong part of town, where the expensive hotels are. Not that we knew of course.
And that was a scary trip too, with my rucksack pulling me backwards and the day pack with the camera and passports in round my neck swinging about determined to have me off. Keeping balanced was a bit tricky with the rider moving through the traffic. I was sure I would be bouncing down the tarmac any moment, shedding skin and bones.
The helmets never fit either, soon as you hit twenty km it blows off the back of your head and hangs around your neck like a motorcycle helmet scarf. 
I had an overpowering, all consuming  need for hot tea by, after about seventeen hours of travelling and sn we sat in a cafe for a while,tame found, from looking at the map, that  we were about half a mile from where we needed to be.
It was still only about ten in the morning but it was warm and my rucksack is heavy with books and toiletries. But I am stoic and steadfast, uncomplaining as I stagger bent and trembling.
There was a very kind young bloke standing on a street corner who asked us if we were looking for a hotel. We said we were and he made a call, I suspect to his cousin, or a relative of some kind and told us there were rooms for fifteen dollars. Hoi An is quite expensive and the first hotel had been twenty five.
Again we have two double beds, but that’s ok, we can pile the clothes on one of them seeing as how there’s no hangers in the closet.
The bloke who’d made the call for us took us to his clothes shop and used the opportunity to try to sell us bespoke suits, explaining that he would send them on, should we not want to carry them with us, and that he could make shoes for us too, and then he took Nel down to the guesthouse on the back of his moto while I waited, idly speculating how I’d look dressed like James Bond, and concluding that I’d still look scruffy. I can’t help it. Put me in the finest suit cut by the finest tailor. I just have a scruffy head.
Then he came back for me. Cool, and nice to know Nel hadn’t been kidnapped and sold into white slavery
The room was ok, quite good really, and all the bathroom fittings are securely screwed to the walls.
I notice these things now and this was plainly a place of quality.
A few weeks ago I’d have been a lot more cautious of taking the word of a bloke at the roadside who offered us a lift to a cheap hotel he knows.

After all those hours on busses, breakfast was a joyful occasion with many many cups of hot Lipton tea, it’s everywhere, Lipton tea, nobody sells anything else.


The Japanese bridge was built in the early 1600’s, about ten past four in the afternoon.

Hoi An, we found out today, was where Top Gear bought their silk suits when they rode bikes through Vietnam.
There are many many tailors shops and in the old centre traffic is not allowed. It’s a beautiful old town with old Chinese buildings.
The Japanese bridge was built in the early 1600s and it’s quite beautiful. Apparently you’re supposed to pay to cross it but nobody asked us for money. There is a pig statue one end, and a dog the other, guarding it.
There are also many many cafes for tourists but there’s also an old market where ladies sell all manner of strange and exotic vegetables and fruit, and approach you, saying hello, and where you from? Which is always a prelude to showing you to their shop where they proceed to take all manner of necklaces and all kinds of things down and put them around Nel’s neck, no matter how much she protests and says that we have spent too much money on clothes today. But they’re good natured, generally. Unlike the woman who was selling fruit on the path who called to us for a picture.
She came across and grabbed Nel, saying photo, photo, take photo, and sat Nel down next to her, put her hat on her and grabbed her arm tightly. She then said one dollar. I told her that was sneaky and bad and she refused to let Nel’s arm go.
She really had a hold of her, like a crocodile, so I said she could keep her for a dollar and walked away. She still wouldn’t let her go though.
What do you do? I’m ok about paying over the odds, being a white man in their town, I expect that and many people obviously don’t have much and we really don’t care too much but that is just nasty, and we were in a part of town where there weren’t many tourists.
I took my wallet out and said I didn’t have a dollar, taking out a ten dollar. The lady let go of Nel saying she has change, Nel leapt away and we walked off.
Bloody hell, she was furious, really really furious and raving after us.
I did think about going back to take a picture of her shouting like an Asian Satan but then I thought that it was probably best not to. She was really very angry.
Maybe she’ll think about trying to bully the tourists like that, or maybe she’ll keep a tighter grip on the next one.
A lady standing next to her obviously didn’t approve of her behaviour and mostly the people have been really sweet.


A noodle factory, l think

Nel broke her shoe last night, we’d gone out in the hope of finding a bar. Everything in Dalat had shut at ten, everything, except for the woolly jumper and quilted jacket shops and we were thinkin that maybe  a couple of beers would be lovely.
As it happens, Hoi An shuts down early too, except for the bars over the over side of the bridge which are full of European kids, and American kids, and the beer is very expensive. 2500 dongs for a small bottle, where we’re sat now it’s 1500 and there’s a really sweet waitress who’s told us all about what it’s like in the village where she’s from, in the English she’s learned from tourists.
Most Vietnamese words start with Ng, it seems. How can she learn our language? She must be very bright.


One thought on “To Hoi An in half a coffin where Nel buys some shoes and gets gripped hard in China Town

  1. Oh my god – I couldn’t think of anything worse than being stuck on a bus for 14 hours with people vomiting. The mere sound of people throwing up or slightest whiff off sick and I am gipping big time. Every time someone would be sick, I would have replied with the same urghhhhhhhhhhh.
    Shoes…I had a friend who’s family lived over there and he had the same problem. 6ft 8″ scotsman with size 15 feet I seem to recall. Had to have them made especially all the time.
    Glad to hear Nell escaped the clutches of the scary lady.
    No news from The Barge, think theyt must be doing okay. Hoping for better weather I reckon. The snow is still all about as the temp hasn’t risen enough to melt it off the fields, it does look so pretty though. Not that you have to worry eh with your nice hot sunshine…don’t frazzle!!!!
    Love to you both and go safe. Mark says hello.
    Emma xx

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