While this is the prime time to visit North and South Vietnam, we had been warned by several sources that central Vietnam this time of year was nasty with constant wind and rain. Thankfully, Phong Nha’s weather was great and we even had an unseasonably dry day in Hue but our luck ran out before we even left our hotel. The street outside the Jade Hotel in Hue was flooded shin high. While it was more of a drainage problem then he rain itself, we still had to ford the street stream to get to our bus in what proved to be a pretty solid foreshadowing of our next few days in Hoi An.
Again we were able to find a bus/tour guide shuttle to our next destination. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t cooperating and 2 of our stops got rained out. The Hai Van Pass was socked in with heavy, blowing rain. Marble mountain just outside of Danang cleared up enough that we had an hour to hike around. As you can imagine, Marble Mountain contained a lot of… marble. There were several temples dotting the colorful hillside that was strewn with shallow caves. Some of the caves had enormous Buddhist statues. There was also a nice view over looking the ocean to the east. We probably could’ve spent another hour wandering around this place but our shuttle was taking off so we made our way down and continued onto Hoi An.
The weather was on and off hurricane for most of our first night but we wandered around the Old District just the same. Every full moon they have a festival where they light lanterns and float them in the water. It was canceled this month due to the rain. There was a 20 minute dry spell so a few people tried to get the lanterns going. They got about 30 lanterns released before the rain picked back up. It was a sad sight as the tiny paper armada was blasted out one by one from the endless artillery assault, cursed to spend eternity at the bottom of the Mekong, unfloated and unlit.
The following morning there was a break in the weather so we took advantage of the Green Apple Hotel ($18/night) bicycle borrowing system and made our way to the coast. We had a fairly nice ride to the beach even though the closer we got, the more people started jumping out in front of us to offer bike parking. We successfully dodged three that had tried to “advertise” by using themselves as a bike fodder to get to the ‘lot’ next to the beach.
We enjoyed a nice walk on the beach but a single “no swimming” sign was enough for McKayla to be convinced I shouldn’t swim. I’m not saying she was right but I’m not saying she was wrong; those waves were a little rough, brown and slightly slanted. The ride continued south along the coast where we stopped to enjoy an overpriced coffee. The joke is on them, though. They built too close to the water and their sea wall is already being overtaken. No amount of $6 iced coffees will save your ritzy seaview hotel now – muahhh whuahhh hahaha! Anyhow, the rest of the bike ride was very pleasant as we rode through a tangled mess of single lane concrete roads raised above rural rice fields. We could see a storm approaching in the distance. We knew which direction we needed to go but not necessarily our way. With only one turn around, McKayla led us through a patchwork of bumpy, semi-constructed sidewalks just in time to reach our hotel before the heart of the storm hit Hoi An.
The next 3 and a half days are a washy blur of rain and rising flood waters. The same bridge we crossed the first night in Hoi An was now gone when we went downtown. We’d seen historic flood marks in old houses along the river but hadn’t expected to experience it. The night market across the river where McKayla bough earrings the night before was now a different kind of tourist attraction: “Boat? Boat? You want boat?” was the new promotion. Clearly this town had known floods. Everyone was treating it as more of an inconvenience rather than a threat but there were still 4blocks west of the river and 2 blocks east of the river that were now under at least a foot of water and had their electricity out.
Day 3 in Hoi An brought more wind, more rain. We braved the storm long enough to find a sandwich shop that Anthony Bordain had mentioned once on Parts Unknown. Gotta admit, spot on A.B. If you can find a better sandwich in the world for a dollar, let me know, I’m there.
Early on day three the floods receded slightly only to be matched and multiplied by evening. McKayla and I did our best to stay entertained with whiskey and cribbage. It was easy to judge the weather in our fifth story balcony hotel room. If you could hear rain hit the window (being blown across the balcony), it was nasty. On day four, I’m not sure it ever stopped hitting that window. Again, our lone venture was for sustenance, i.e. nachos and wine. Locals we met while eating informed us it wasn’t just the rain causing the flooding, it was the dams up river. Fear of overflow was giving dam operators motivation for more release, pushing more water into deep parts of Hoi An. Thankfully, our hotel was a third of a mile SE of the river. We saw several not-so-fortunate travelers carrying their suitcases in our direction as their hotels had started taking on water. I’m in no way saying the travelers had the worst of this situation. Whole markets, shops and transportation routes were shut off and out. What I am saying is that the locals take it in stride. Rather than blaming the companies controlling the dam, they hunkered down, gave each other help where they could and sold boat rides and ponchos.
In our two and a half months of travel, this is our first long stretch of bad weather. We had four days of some of the worst sideways rain I’ve ever seen. But I think now is the time to rise above it. It’s time to lift our spirits mentally and physically, time to get the fuck out of Vietnam.
Gooooooood late afternoon Laos!!!!!
**** traveler tip: if you find yourself in Hoi An, the thing to buy is a tailor fitted suit or dress.