Vampires and Vietnam
Today marks one week since departure from Yokohama. This absolutely has to have been one of the most insanely random, and productive, weeks of my life. After getting back from a ridiculously fully-packed day in Hong Kong, going through an emotional departure ceremony and viewing the most beautiful nightscape in the world by boat, the next morning was filled with class preparation, recovery, and writing the previous blog entry. After lunch I joined in the highly-anticipated Boat Halloween!
Decorations, face paint, costumes; all over the boat, the space was transformed into a huge floating fairground. Around 4 o’clock, the staff were called in to help with the set-up for the party, and practice the modified Thriller dance which we later appropriately thrilled the rest of the boat with. Come 8, the place was filled with all manner of zombies, witches, vampires and other supernatural beings, along with more Japanese-styled costumes like Power Rangers and Adult Doraemon. One thing that really impressed and surprised me was the number of older passengers who participated! I think everyone expected most younger people to join in, but I don’t think anyone really anticipated the number of over-60s who put on the most garish make-up they could find, and wore special, albeit slightly more reserved, outfits to the party to join in with the young’uns. It was a really cool sight to see, and reflective of the mindset which it is slowly dawning on me seems to be infectious throughout the Boat: the desire to just Get Involved with anything and everything as part of a special voyage throughout the world with total strangers. – most people have come on alone, and are now rooming and best friends with people who one week ago they had never looked at.
After the Halloween Party wound down, people started to wander off to bed, as the next port was on the horizon, with an expected arrival time of 6am!
A few of us have decided to try and catch sunrise at every port, and as such the alarm was set for 5am as we turned off to bed at 1. An announcement at 6am woke us to the realisation that we had mis-set the alarm (for 6pm), but carried the silver lining that due to bad weather, the boat’s arrival was being delayed slightly. A quick jaunt outside confirmed that the rain was pouring down, meaning any missed sunrise-viewing was a moot point. Score.
The boat settled and we disembarked at about 7.15am, into the driving rain of Da Nang, Vietnam. All the Communication Coordinators (CCs – translators) were involved in a giant cultural exchange between the youth on the boat and the youth of Da Nang, so the team for the day was 9 GET teachers and a couple of random Japanese passengers, one being the mystery girl of the boat who takes Japanese youthfulness to an absurd level, being 21 while looking literally about 10.
Since I have been to Vietnam before, the original plan, for me at least, was to visit the beach and relax for a few hours, then check out the mountains for a while, with meals and coffees in between. The rain saw to that plan though, and I joined the other 10 in hiring a van down to Hoi An for the day – a 50 minute drive each way, for $10 US each.
As we travelled down the coast, the rain stopped and the day started to warm up. The long beachfront of Vietnam kept rolling along on our left, and the mountains and jungle area on our right made for a beautiful sight. Passing through a small rice field area, we came to Hoi An at around 8.30am.
It was a strange feeling coming back to a small random place which I had visited and loved one and a half years ago, knowing I would only be here for a very short time this time around. I wasn’t really sure how to best spend my time. We drove past the hotel I stayed at last time, where me and my friend met the Dutch sisters on our last trip, and got out in the centre of town. First stop, everyone agreed, was coffee.
Hoi An is split into two major parts: Current Hoi An and the Old Town. The Old Town is an area of the town which has been maintained in the old style, trying to retain the ancient beautiful feel of pre-internationalised Vietnam. Cars are forbidden, meaning everybody either bikes or walks around. The buildings are all in old style, and at night the streets and river are lined with paper lanterns which give the place a quiet, pleasant atmosphere. Unfortunately we weren’t able to stay for the night this time, but I remember well from last time that this was easily one of the more beautiful places I had been.
As well as being one of the most “traditional” parts of Vietnam, Hoi An has also inevitably become one of the most touristy. Most restaurants, while retaining their faded exteriors, are filled with plastic chairs and signs advertising tours and workshops. An unreasonably large number of the people around speak English. However, even with the touristy aspect of the place, it’s so beautiful and the people so nice that it remains one of my favourite places to go.
With the five hours or so that we had to wander around the tiny little town, we split off into smaller groups but all did mostly the same things, starting with the coffee. The Vietnamese like their coffee sweet. Drained coffee is added to condensed milk to make some of the most delicious coffee you have ever tasted. One of our group ended up having 5 in the few hours we had in town! The ginger tea was also delicious, as was all the food including pho noodles, fresh spring rolls, papaya salads, chicken and beef curries and soups.
There was also wandering through the small, busy markets and bargaining to be done, resulting in purchases of many things which I’m sure I don’t need but are pretty. Vietnamese lacquer and shell work is quite beautiful, and I now have a couple of wine holders and statues to remember it by. I also picked up a bookmark at a shop which sells “fair trade gifts by artisans with different abilities”. This was probably one of the most expensive things I bought during the day, but it’s providing work and support for those with special needs, so that was nice. Another thing I, and almost everyone else bought, was a coffee drainer set plus coffee and milk.
At the scheduled time, we all met up at the minivan again. Everyone had their own bags of purchases and a ton of stories to tell. The ride back to Da Nang was a loud one full of laughing and some of the highest spirits I’ve seen since getting on the boat. Everyone loves Vietnam. It’s probably my favourite place in South East Asia. The food and drink are great, the scenery is beautiful and the cities full of character, the people are lovely and always ready to joke with you, and the whole place just has such a pleasant vibe. Bargaining here doesn’t have the same warlike feel to it as in Thailand, the people are happy to joke around and you probably end up buying something just because you like the vendor. We left a tip for one of our waiters at a restaurant, and he came running back to us with the money, worried that we had paid extra. That kind of feeling may be partly because Vietnam doesn’t have the same reputation as being The Place for Backpackers as Thailand, and so tends to attract less people who don’t know what they’re doing, and more people who actually enjoy people and travel, but I don’t know.
A quick stop-off at the long, white, empty beach on the way back, and then we were back at the port in Da Nang. After giving a small tip to the driver, just because we liked him, it was time to board. At the departure ceremony, the boat’s sides were full of the people who had participated in the cultural exchange with the youth of Da Nang, and those youth on the port waving to each other and crying over leaving their new friends whom they had got so close to over the space of a day. It was a nice sight, but was slightly hampered by the fact that just as we pulled out, huge black rainclouds came sailing over the port, the wind picked up, and the sea got all good and choppy again for us as we made our way to Singapore.