Today was another early start, this time for our first experience of an Open Tour bus journey within Vietnam. The Open Tour is a series of buses geared to foreign tourists that run up and down the main Route 1 Highway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. You can choose between express buses and others that stop along the way so that you can see a few sights. It is a very packaged affair but it is a cheap way to travel.
Our bus toured around the centre of Hué stopping at various hotels to pick people up before heading out and down the main road. The bus was pretty full of western tourists, another sign that Vietnam is fast becoming a popular spot on the South East Asia back packer trail.
After about an hour we pulled in for our first stop at Lang Co beach, or rather Lang Co Beach resort. For those in need of retail therapy a small souvenir shop was on hand to relieve them of their Dong. Most people simply used the washrooms, had a drink and strolled down onto the beach which had beautiful soft sand. In season the beach must be fabulous but today the wind was up and the sea did not look inviting.
Back on the bus we continued southbound and to the Hai Van Pass, a tourist sight for the views it gives over the local area from an elevation of just under five hundred metres. The only slight snag was that as the new tunnel under the pass has now been opened our bus took this route, saving time on the overall journey. We missed the views from above but it must be the longest tunnel I have driven through ever. It took about ten minutes to get from one end to the other and I am not sure if I was reassured or disconcerted to see escape exits along the way.
From here we carried on following the coast of the South China Sea down to Danang. As we neared the city signs of its recent return to commercial success were evident. A wide road has been built along the coast with a large promenade to one side and plots of land ripe for development on the other. Old houses that had definitely seen better days were still evident and lived in but here and there a very smart, and large, new house with a walled and gated courtyard at the front had been built. No doubt the well heeled of Danang are starting to spread along the coast to enjoy the beach and the views of the sea.
We did not stop in Danang other than to let someone off the bus. As a town it looked just like many others with people going about their daily business, shops selling their wares and the usual traffic chaos that is a characteristic feature in Vietnam. Just under twenty kilometres north of HoiAn we made our next and final stop at Marble Mountain.
As the bus got near to this site the shops lining the roads changed to become almost exclusively ones selling marbles statues in all shapes and sizes. The most noticeable were pairs of huge marble lions, carved in a Chinese style and certainly big enough to make a statement, more likely than not one that the owner has dubious taste. There were statues of ladies, Buddha’s, all sorts of animals and no doubt you could have whatever you wanted made to order and shipped to anywhere in the world.
We pulled in to a small car park at the base of one of the mountains. Souvenir sellers soon were coming to greet us as we got off the bus. There was not really enough time to fully explore the mountains but we did have time to go into one of the cave entrances, for a fee! A passageway soon widened into a large chamber with natural holes in the roof letting in sunlight and fresh air. Bats were flying around in the darkness, evidenced by their screeching and the smell of their droppings. The cave network here is pretty extensive but we had time to see just a small portion. Temples inevitably have been set up in the caves and we quickly realised that there was a rabbit warren of tunnels that you could explore.
The bus finally took us into HoiAn, a town that is much larger than I had expected. It stopped outside a “preferred” hotel and there was some pressure for people to stay here but definitely no hard sell. We had already booked ahead and took a taxi out to the Hoi An Beach Resort about five kilometres out of town. Once our reservation had been tracked down the staff were all sweetness and smiles and told us that they had prepared a very nice room for us. Phoning ahead definitely paid off as we had just over a thirty percent reduction on the room rate and had a quiet room overlooking the river.
|Beach at Hoi An|
We took some time to cool down and explore around the hotel a little, checking out the two swimming pools and getting Stef a slightly dubious haircut before taking the free shuttle bus into town. It was a quick whiz in and out mainly to make sure that we had enough cash to see us through the holiday season and to start to look at options for getting down to Da Lat. Our plan is to travel on Monday but as it is the day after Tet we quickly realised that that was not going to be an option. Cash in wallet but onward travel not resolved we headed back to the hotel and hit the beach.
The hotel has a small bar (now closed as it is the off season) and some parasols with sun loungers reserved for the use of its guests. We picked our spot and settled in for an hour or two’s relaxation, watching the waves. Stef performed his usual important task of testing the waters which he reported back were cool but not too cold. Vendors plied their way up and down the beach selling fruit, sweets, tiger balm (local equivalent of Vicks VapoRub) and other odds and sods. Each time we said “no thank you” they always told us their name and asked us to buy from them if we changed our mind. Once the vendors had gone the mobile beauty parlour moved in offering manicure, pedicure and massage. You can definitely be pampered while you sunbathe here.
In the evening we stayed in the hotel, enjoying a couple of drinks in the bar before we had dinner in the riverside restaurant. At about eight o’clock a stream of candles floated down the river, a daily event organised by the hotel. They are nightlights in a flower shaped holder in various different colours and it is a relaxing and calming sight to watch as you sit and ponder how lucky you are to be sitting here enjoying the view.