Saturday, March 11, 2017

Riding from Da Nang to Hoi An

I woke up early in the morning in Da Nang, and packed my stuff to take off.  I went downstairs, turned in my key, and packed up my bike.  Then I took off to eat breakfast and have coffee at a little restaurant I had eaten at the day before.  After that, I headed south out of town.  On the map, it looked like I was taking the road that ran along the ocean.  But I didn't see the ocean at all, it was blocked all the way down by a line of buildings, or the road ran inland farther.  On the way down, a woman pulled aside me on her motorbike and engaged me in conversation while we were both riding down the road.  It seemed like she wanted to practice her English some, so we bantered back and forth for a while as we continued down the road.  She wanted to show me a mountain that she said she lived near, but I wanted to keep going to Hoi An, so I thanked her and kept going on my way, while she turned off the road to go wherever she was going.  Actually, the mountain looked pretty cool, maybe I should have checked it out, but I had a plan, I guess.

I arrived in Hoi An about eleven in the morning, and started looking for a place to stay.  I headed for the Old City to see if I could find a place to stay that was close to the center of the action, so I wouldn't have to ride my bike, and could just step out and walk around.  But I tried a few guesthouses and hotels, and they were full.  Then I tried, but couldn't find anything in the area there either, except for a couple of hostels, but I wanted to try to get a private room.  A hostel would have worked if I couldn't find anything, but I finally found and booked a couple of nights at a homestay online that was several kilometers away from the center of the city.  That would work; I could just find a place to park my bike near the center and then wander from there.  And it would be a peaceful place to stay where I could get away from the hubbub when I needed to.

I showed up at the place, it was called Portulaca Homestay.  There was no sign at all signifying it as a place for people to stay; it just looked like a big private residence.  I wandered in, and there was nobody around on the ground floor at all, so I just sat down and waited for a while.  After a few minutes, a friendly Vietnamese guy came from downstairs and said he had just seen my booking online.  He spoke English really well so we did not have any communication difficulties.  He told me, though, that check-in time was not until two in the afternoon, and that the room would not be ready until at least one.  I told him that was fine, I would just leave my bags there and return when it was check-in time.  He sat down with me for a bit and showed me some sights in the area that I marked on Google Maps so I could check out some of them later.  Then I headed off to the Old City to wander around for a while.

The Old City kind of reminded me of a Vietnamese version of Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The buildings were all very short and stylized, and almost all of them had a storefront on the bottom floor and then one more story that looked like a residence, or a more subdued business.  For some reason, there were a lot of optical stores that offered eye exams and glasses.  I was curious about what it would cost, since I hadn't had a new glasses prescription in quite a while, and probably need one.  A guy in one shop quoted me a figure of about $135 in US dollars for multi-focal glasses in designer (or faux-designer fake) frames.  Not too bad, cheaper than most storefronts in the US, but probably a little more expensive than it would be for me to buy glasses online from the US.  So I decided to pass for now.

Then I went by the clothing market, because I wanted to buy some cargo pants or shorts.  I need pants with lots of pockets, and hopefully fairly secure pockets.  But most of the stores there made stuff custom, and it was tailored, rather than off-the-shelf as I'm used to buying.  A woman in one of the shops called me over, “Mistah,” she said, “Come visit my store.  I no have good luck today, maybe you buy something.”  OK, sure, I'll check it out.

She offered to make some pants for me, and told me she could put pockets and zippers wherever I wanted, and she'd give me a discount if I bought two pairs.  She quoted me sixty pounds for two pair; I said that was a little expensive, so we went back and forth until we settled on forty-five dollars for two pair.  That was about what I would pay back home, maybe, at a discount store, but she did all my measurements and would do it custom fitted.  I asked her if she could make them into convertible shorts, and she said sure.  So I paid her the money, and she gave me a receipt and told me to come back tomorrow to pick them up.  It seems a little bit strange to have cargo pants custom tailored, but I guess that is the way things are done here.

After paying for the pants, I headed back to the homestay to check in and take a shower, as I felt pretty grungy from riding in the heat from Da Nang to Hoi An.  I checked in and my room was pretty nice.  I took a shower and also washed the shirt and underwear I was wearing in the bathroom sink.  I then lay down on the bed for a bit to relax.  When I went back out, I put on the wet shirt, and figured it would dry out riding around in the heat on my bike, which it did.

I went back to the Old City of Hoi An after eating dinner, and parked my motorbike in one of the many parking lots for motorbikes in the area.  Then I wandered around for a while, and a woman on a boat beckoned me over to take a boat ride on the river.  She asked for 150,000 dong, but I thought that was a little high, so I told her maybe I would come back later.  She then offered 100,000 dong, and I figured, sure, might as well.  I paid her the money and got on the boat.  It was a pretty enjoyable boat ride, and it was just starting to get dark on a night with a full moon.  But about halfway through the ride, I started thinking that the ride would sure be nicer if I had someone to share it with.  Especially since most of the other boats had couples on them.  Oh, well, such is the life of the solo traveler.  You get to do what you want whenever you want, but the tradeoff is that you usually do it by yourself, unless you meet a person or group of people who want to do stuff with you.

After returning from the boat ride, it had gotten completely dark, and I wandered up and down the area of the river.  There were more and more people arriving, and after a while it was starting to get to the point where many areas I was passing through were just major pedestrian traffic jams. It was cool being down by the river, but it didn't look like the flow of humanity was going to abate anytime soon, so I decided to go get my motorbike and skedaddle out of that area.  Little did I realize that I didn't just put my motorbike in a normal parking lot; it was one where they just jammed bikes in there wherever they would fit, without regard for whether there were any channels out of the lot or not.  So when I got there, I found that my bike was way in the back of a sea of motorbikes, and it was crammed in there about fifteen levels deep.  Great.  Getting out of here was not going to be easy. I tried to show the ticket they had given me to one of the lot attendants, but it looked like he had bigger fish to fry and was not interested in paying attention to me.  For one thing, hordes of bikers were lined up outside the gate of the lot in a huge mass trying to get in, and they were trying to cram bikes in closer to each other to make room for all the people waiting.  I managed to somehow squeeze past the crammed-in bikes to get to where my bike was, but there was absolutely no way to get out of that sea of bikes.  I did, with some effort, and just inching it back and forth and nudging other bikes over a bit, manage to get my bike turned around, so now it was facing outward instead of inward.  But there was no way I was going to get it out past all the other bikes.  I just started inching bikes over a bit, centimeter by centimeter.  Then one of the parking attendants started doing that too from the outer side of the bike blob.  After about a half hour of this, with me and the parking attendant working toward each other, we finally met, and I was able to pass my bike through a narrow channel barely big enough to squeeze through.  But the ordeal was just beginning.  I had to force my way past all of the motorbikes trying to get into the lot, and then once I crept my way into the street, there was a total gridlock traffic jam there.  It took about another fifteen minutes to get through the two blocks outside the parking lot, and then about another fifteen minutes to get through the next six blocks or so.  Then, for a few blocks, there was steady but slow movement, and finally I broke free into relatively unencumbered movement to be able to make my way back to the homestay where I was staying.  Fuck.  I definitely was not going to try to head back toward the Old City any more for the night.  I figured I would just head back to the homestay and call it a night, even though it was only about nine at night.

When I got back to the homestay, I found some leftover Mekong River weed (no, not marijuana, but an edible weed that grows in the river that they dry out into sheets) that I had bought in Laos, and started munching on it.  I love that stuff.  It's sort of like sheets of nori, only it has more of a cotton-y texture, and it is dried along with tomatoes, sesame seeds, and other spices, so it has this rich, complex, spicy taste that squeezes out of it when you chew it.  Not much of it left, have to savor it while I can.

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