The plan now was to make our way back to central Vietnam, enjoy 2 weeks bouncing from central to south-central Vietnam, then hop on a flight to Laos. The staff at Sapa Scenery Hotel told us the only route from Sapa to the cave town of Phong Nha was to go to Dong Hoi. I’m pretty certain now that is false but we booked the bus ticket just the same. It was a long 18 hour stretch that included 2 buses, an awkward stop in Hanoi and a 4:30 a.m arrival time, but we made it to Dong Hoi. 4:30 am is quiet in any country. We decided to walk to the ocean to watch the sunrise. Our hotel wouldn’t open until at least 6 so we had some time to kill.
As early as it was, we were not alone. You wouldn’t believe how many people were up by 5 to get in their morning exercise. People walking in twos and threes, people biking, older women stretching on the boardwalk as the sun rose. After our short day and a half stay, this was the most people we’d see in all of Dong Hoi.
It was a fairly uneventful day. At 6 we showed up to the Gemini Hotel, got checked in and napped. I realize the term sleeper bus implies sleep but it is travel sleep. Whether it’s a car, bus, plane or train, if you’re in a seat and moving, it’s just not the same as lie down motionless sleep. Don’t get me wrong, any sleep is great and I can do it better than most and sometimes in ridiculous situations. However, the quality just isn’t there when you’re in a packed bus that is occasionally pickup up local drunks, turning on lights for seemingly no reason and giving the more than occasional blast of the horn.
The hotel had bicycles we could use so we did a two-wheeled tour of the ‘city’. The beach on the eastern peninsula was nice and the waves looked aggressive and challenging but the weather was windy and overcast. Had it not been for the ‘no swimming’ signs and the warning from the hotel worker about pollution, it would have been a nice place for a swim (and it’s a safe bet that if Vietnam admits it’s too polluted to swim, it’s way too polluted to swim). Anyhow, we saw a beach, the ocean, a couple monuments, 2 bridges and a cool gate that had been taken over by vagrants.
Maybe we’ve been spoiled but Dong Hoi didn’t do much to impress either of us. It just seemed like a sleepy fishing town with dreams of becoming, or having once been, a tourist destination. It had several nice, mostly abandoned hotels. It also had one of the longer river walkway we’ve come across but it was in disrepair and strewn with old carts and abandoned construction material. The war could’ve had something to do with the decrepitude but Dong Hoi just had a post disaster feel to it.