Open Bus to Hoi An
Open Buses run the length of Vietnam providing a cheap shuttle service from one location to another. They collect travellers from their hotels - I'm not sure if they do this in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi; the hotels are too widespread. After a circuit of the local hotels to pick up passengers our pink vehicle heads south towards DaNang and Hoi An. The journey is uneventful except for a bit of delicate manoeuvering around a broken-down lorry high up on the Hai Van pass. The lorry was parked in the middle of a hair-pin bend with a steady stream of heavy-duty traffic coming in the other direction. Vietnamese bus drivers certainly earn their money. I reassure Monica that for once we will not be stopping at a factory outlet selling pearls and jade. We stop for a half-hour's comfort break at the modern Langco Bay Resort, right outside its own VietPearl store. The beach resort is near the town of Nam O on Danang Bay, and the beach itself deserted.
We pass through Danang and drop off our Vietnamese passengers. It is Sunday, the day for wedding receptions. Every hotel we pass in Danang has a large photograph of a happy couple at its entrance which is festooned with balloons and other colourful decorations. There are guests everywhere. Wedding photographers must make a good living here. On the road out of Danang we see dozens of huge anonomous modern beach resorts, either newly built or in an advanced state of development. This must be good for local employment but it comes at a price.
Hoi An is famous for two things: its beautiful old buildings and its tailors. People come here to to get clothes handmade: suits, jackets, dresses, skirts. You can be measured, fitted, and provided with the final product all within twenty-four hours. This means nothing to me: I have all the clothes I need. However, it is good news for Monica. She needs a summer dress. We will be visiting tailors later but first we explore the historic town - like Bath and Venice, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Also like Venice, the town is regularly flooded to heights of one to two meters. Given notice, the shopkeepers move everything upstairs. Then, when the floods subside, business resumes. This happens four or five times a year. Amazingly, there is no evidence of flood damage.
Starting in the covered market, we search for somewhere to eat. We settle on a small venue with a few tables, facing the river. There is a scooter parked in the rear. Certainly unpretentious.
The old Hoi An buildings are lovely but virtually all of them have been converted to shops or restaurants. The core of the old town bans (virtually) all scooter traffic. Cars are not allowed. Tourists feel safe enough to ride bikes. At night, only pedestrians and the odd cyclist is seen, the streets lit up with hundreds of coloured Chinese lanterns. This is bliss after Hanoi. We 'tick off' various óf the must-sees in Hoi An: the Japanese Bridge - over four hundred years old; several of the Chinese Assembly rooms - there was a large community of Chinese traders in the town and these were where they met: and several merchants' houses - two we visited were still in the same family after eight or nine generations.
We take a coffee break, sitting at a table outside a restaurant called Tam Tam, and discover why we have seen no beggars in Vietnam. A young man moves from table to table attempting to sell a copy of The Vietnam News, a free paper given away in hotels. A guy on a motor bike draws up and remonstrates with the vendor, eventally wrestling the copies of the paper from him. The youth resists and attempts to retrieve the newspapers. The plain-clothes man holds him by the wrist and radios for help. In less than a minute, two more scooters appear carrying three more hard-looking men in tan jerkins and jeans - no indication they are police. They try to get their new prisoner onto the back of a scooter. He continues to resist. At one stage there are three of them on a scooter: two police, one driving, and one on the back, carrying the kicking prisoner. It won't work. Eventually, they march him off. We feel that if there wasn't a large audience of tourists watching all this things might have taken a rougher turn.
We go to Yaly which has been identified by the Footprint Guide as a reliable tailor's shop. Our assistant is a pregnant young woman called Fairy, with whom Monica instantly bonds. She is given a pile of books with pictures of dresses to study and from which to make a selection. Once decided, detailed measurements are taken. Finally, Monica is photographed - full body: front, back and side. This image, captured on computer is intended as further guidance for the tailors. The dress will be ready tomorrow at two o'clock for a first fitting.
In the evening, we eat in Morning Glory'' which is named after a ubiquitous edible Vietnamese plant (I know it has other meanings). We have some with our meal. It's not the best thing on the menu, though the rest of the food was excellent. On the way home we pass a collection of Vietnamese men seated in a restaurant garden, watching a large screen television. Manchester United are about to play West Brom. They look at me expectantly. A question hangs in the air: will I join them? Monica says, go on, but you'll have to walk me back to the hotel first. I move on. The result is a foregone conclusion and I have a heavy day at the tailor's tomorrow.