Where's Noah when you need him
- Hoi An & Hue, Vietnam
Greeting from the flooded central
It was a dark and stormy night. A bad omen for what
was to come. We wanted to spend our last night in
Saigon in style, sipping cocktails atop the famous
Rex Hotel. During the war, it was the de facto home
of foreign war correspondents, and many a journalist
typed out dispatches from the rooftop overlooking
the city. We arrived, sans umbrella, drenched and
proceeded to have the worst cocktails of our lives
(a sidecar and a frothy pineapple juice-how do you
up a juice?) cowering under the small canopy of the
bar. The electricity flickered, the wind blew, and
drinks SUCKED! On that note, we left Saigon on a 24hr
journey to central Vietnam. En route, the sky changed
from blue to grey to downright black.
Vietnamese sweetie watching celebration parade in Hoi An
On a good note, we arrived in Hoi An, checked into a
great hotel, and discovered that the previous day,
the old town of Hoi An had been declared a UNESCO
world heritage site, along with the nearby Cham ruins
of My Son. In celebration, a parade was to be held
all the historical 'sites' of Hoi An were free for
day. Not one to let that slip by, we put our slickers
and tevas on and braved the increasingly worse storm to see the wonderful
sites. Hoi An is famous for being a wonderfully
preserved seaport town of the eighteenth century and
is full of incredibly intricate architecture of
pagodas, community halls, and private merchant
residences. But it rained on their parade.
Literally. An impromto parade had been organized and many of
older dignitaries of the town were driven around in
cyclos but couldn't been seen for their ponchos. And
their signs were illegible as they bled
in the rain.
The town was full of grandiose community meeting halls, well preserved
homes of wealthy merchants of yore, and temples and shrines on every
corner. And all of it free, for our good timing. The people living in
the homes today were in a chatty mood, and talked non-stop about living
in a museum.
The next day dawned dark and rainy. We had hired a
minibus to drive an hour away to the Cham ruins of
My Son. Not quite sure what we were thinking, as the skys rained
down on us, we pluged on determined not to let a little bad weather stop
us. Once there, the guards told us that the
to the ruins was washed away, and that we should
hurry back to Hoi An before those roads became
impassable as well. It was only then that the gravity of the
situation hit us and we all as a group decided to head back immediately.
Our driver, who was contentedly getting on with the task of sloshing
himself in a bar while we toured the sites, was completely
to any such danger and was surprised that we wanted
schoolgirls were trying to cross what was left of the road
It was amazing the difference an hour
made in the road conditions. What was previously
a few inches of water was now a foot and rising
steadily. Our driver just plowed through until we
reached the lake, or what was formerly the road we
needed to take. The locals were wading through,
pushing bikes and motos, but no cars were attempting
to cross. Our driver stopped and scratched his head
for awhile. Next to us, a large army vehicle was just
about to cross. They hatched a plan, and soon a tow
was rigged up. The huge truck would pull across our
small minibus. To lighten the load, we decided to
across ourselves. As we plunged in, we realized the
water was hip-deep and more difficult than it seemed.
We tried to follow the pavement below us, but through
the muddy waters, we kept falling into the uneven
terrain edging the paved road.
Half way across, we noticed
a little boy struggling as well. He was heaving a
large fishing trap and a small basket of fish.
On him, the water was up to his chest His fish were in danger of swimming away
to freedom. We gave him a hand
and he was most grateful for the help. Then we saw
the truck coming but no minibus behind it. The tow
broke and we waded back to figure out what to do.
Finally the driver decided to chance it.
He opened the hood, removed something and then drove
through the water like a crazed man. He barely
made it across. But once on the other side, he pulled
over, lifted the engine hood and proceeded to replace
the large fan that he had taken out to prevent water
from splashing the engine, at least that's what we
guessed he was doing.
Once back in town, we spent the
rest of the day relaxing in a restaurant watching the
continuing rain and making plans to get out.
We went to bed in Hoi An and woke up in Venice.
on our second floor room balcony (thankfully) we looked
out at the newly flooded canels of Hoi An. Anxious
to explore and see what this new development meant,
we headed to the riverfront and found that it was
gone. The water of the river had swallowed the first
two streets running parallel to it and was now
threatening the third street in. Cashing in on these
new canels were the locals with boats.
moving belongs to the second floor to escape the floods
We took one
to see what remained of the restaurant we ate at the
previous day. As we floated past it, the only visible
sign of it was literally it's overhead sign. The
was now about 10 feet above street level. As we
floated down some of the inner streets, we saw what
daily life in a flood zone is. Looking into one
private home, we saw a man, stooping on the top step
of his stairwell, brushing his teeth into the flood
waters. In another, people were rushing around,
items to the safety of the second floor. Outside
another home, we gave a lift to a man who needed to
flooded streets of Hoi An
We headed back to the hotel to see if any
buses were leaving. The ground floor reception area
thankfully half a flight up was a madhouse. People
were scrambling to book flights out of the nearest
airport as word leaked in about flooding throughout
all of central Vietnam. Others were just enjoying the
chaos. We discovered that a bus was attempting to
the journey to Hue, five hours away. But first, we
had to get to the bus, parked on high ground about a mile away. What a
sight: a line of tourists, evacuating through waist
deep water, our big backpacks over our heads getting
drenched anyway from the pounding rain. But I have to
compliment the service. They had dry towels waiting
for us at the bus. The journey turned out to be
rather uneventful save for stopping once while
road crews reinforced a bridge deemed precarious due
anchored to a tree root off the Perfume River in Hue
We arrived in Hue, which was flooded
as well, but not nearly as bad as Hoi An. Streets
with a foot of water were no big deal to them. You
might remember, about a month ago, Hue and the
surrounding area was swamped by record-breaking
Many people died and the area is still recovering.
The restaurant we ate at that night had just reopened
a few days earlier after rebuilding everything from
ground up. We chatted with the owner and he told us
about checking on his restaurant during the flood and
having to dive under his rooftop sign to get inside.
He said that because so much of Hue is flat, the
floods were particularly devastating as there was no
high ground to retreat to. The Perfume River just up and swallowed
everything. Many residents had to take
up shelter in the third floor rooms and above of the hotels in town.
Through this continuing deluge of rain, we tried to
visit the beautiful sites of Hue, which were
curiously devoid of tourists. Hue was previously the
imperial capital of the Nguyen dynasty of Vietnam,
prior to French colonization. We visited the ancient
citadel and royal palaces and it was actually a very
interesting experience to wander these vast
and palace grounds and see no other human beings.
But the rain did stop us from seeing other things.
A popular excursion from Hue is a visit to the barren
landscape of the DMZ just north of town and many war
sites, much of them left as they were in '75. But the
roads there were completely washed out.
met Lac Thanh, the deaf-mute owner of a small
restaurant and he, through pictures and pantomimed
sign language, arranged a moto-scooter tour of local
pagodas and Royal tombs of the emperors just outside
of town. That's different. We clung to our drivers
as they whipped through town in driving rain and
flooded streets, and saw Vietnam traffic head-on.
They took us to the beautiful Royal Tombs of the Emperors. They built
lavish monuments to themselves to cement their fame for eternity.
After that, we decided enough with the pruny toes! We
are outta here. We booked a night bus to Hanoi.
the bus is late, and when it arrives, it's too small.
So they reassure us that another one is on the way.
That's a 35 seater but only 8 can go on it. When we
asked why, they said "bad brakes" This is
NO JOKE. We camped out at the sidewalk determined to
get on the small bus instead and we finally took off.
The other bus was filled with Vietnamese. Apparently, 'bad brakes' was not a problem for them. We took off,
two hours late, with luggage filling every available
aisle space. For some reason, the company decided
that we needed four drivers and when there wasn't
enough room for four, one decided to nest in our
luggage. If that wasn't enough, he spent twenty
minutes pushing, pulling and rearranging our luggage
to fit his body's nooks and crannies.
We finally fell asleep and awakened when we realized
the bus was no longer moving. It was about one in the
morning and the land around us was dismal. We
we were stopped before the bridge crossing the
actual DMZ. Here, no plants grow, the ground still
scarred from Agent Orange and countless other
environmental horrors. We got out to see what the
was about and discovered that the bridge in front of
us was actually being rebuilt after portions washed away. After three hours, a
rag-tag patch was in its place, and we were cleared
for crossing. Our driver raced ahead, driving at top
speed for the bridge, only to slam on his
brakes as we started across the clappity-clap of the bridge. We
heard yelling and screaming and peeked out over our
luggage and saw a large semi-truck staring us down.
Seems that this new bridge was only big enough for
and they cleared both sides for crossing at the same
time. So here we sat, in the middle of the bridge as
each driver tried to outhonk the other. A shrill
women's voice rose above the clatter, screaming at
each driver. Finally our bus cried uncle and we
backed away til the other side could pass. What a
journey. It took 24hr instead of the scheduled 14hr
and we were not happy campers when we finally
arrived in communist paradise of Hanoi.
Til next time, may your journeys never be as
torturous as ours,
over and out
ann and doug
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