Central Vietnam: Huế and Hoî An

The scooter menace continues unabated. It was nice to get away from the sweltering heat in the south, but the scooters followed us here. They aren’t trying to hit us, but they certainly won’t make any effort to avoid hitting us either. We have divided our time among four cities to give the area a fair evaluation, but it’s not looking good.

We started in the former capital of Huế and the Imperial City. It sounds ancient, but it was built in the early 1800s. I have not been to China, but this walled citadel evokes the same mystique as China’s forbidden city.

We had to navigate this city based on which intersections are crossable on foot. We booked onward transportation before nightfall, but then at night the streets were blockaded from scooters and it became an awesome place to stroll. Cute balcony bars popped up everywhere and there was live music in the streets. It turned into a lovely evening.

We took a bus the next day to Hoî An. The 60 mile drive took four hours, and instead of bus seats we had bunk bed sleeping pods. The bus had three aisles of single-size bunk beds with a group bed in the backrow. We were the last to board and the operator pointed at a bunk for Aaron and then the group bed in the back for me. There were already three guys in the bed and I didn’t feel much like cuddling up with strangers. I refused, then argued until I got my own bunk.

We spent three days in the lakeside district of Hoî An to have some peace away from the busy roads. We both had colds and it was nice to spend a few days reading on the covered porch and watching the rain fall. We borrowed bicycles one misty afternoon and rode out to the beach.

At this point I had lost my voice entirely and I couldn’t call out navigations to Aaron when we needed to turn or stop. We managed despite aggressive salesmen running into our path and the typical kamikaze scooters.

New Year’s Eve we walked three miles into town to see the colorful lanterns and ring in the new year. We braved the rain and crowds (the nation of China was visiting) for several hours, but by 8pm it was still raining and we decided to go home and read until midnight instead. I think we now qualify for our old person card, but it was a very pleasant evening.

After three days in the countryside we spent two in old town Hoî An. It is charming and yellow and undamaged by the war. In the evenings the town lights up with colorful lanterns strung between the buildings. Cinque Terre could take some decorating pointers from Hoî An in that matter. A river runs through town and the rain has raised the river levels so that it looks like an infinity pool where it gently laps over the sidewalk. Floating paper lanterns and wooden boats brighten the river.

The main thing I wanted in the dreary weather was a cosy coffee shop where we could spend an afternoon sipping hot coffee and reading. I couldn’t find a single one! Most of the restaurants are open air with a roof to keep out the rain, but no walls to keep out the breeze or the noisy fog horns that the busses use for sonar. As for coffee, espresso is all they have. A latte here is a shot of espresso with a tablespoon of condensed milk.

Good things about Vietnam: the people are incredibly sweet. Such sincere friendliness and hospitality helped us stay calm on frustrating days. Also, the bahn mí sandwiches are delicious. A few days we ate them for all three meals. We will definitely be adding these to our meal rotation back home. Another good thing is that the doors here are taller than past countries, and the bumps on Aaron’s forhead are finally getting a chance to go down.