With delays and all, the ride to Da Nang takes about 16 hours. We exit the station in blistering heat and are accosted by various cab drivers. One guy catches our attention with above average English and a suggestion about doing a tour by motorbike. Since we’re only staying the day here, our only plan was to do two sights; the Hoi An old town, which is something like 15 km outside Da Nang and the Marble Mountains which is still in Da Nang, but not very central. We weren’t even sure we’d be able to do both, but with these guys it wouldn’t be a problem. After a bit of negotiating we get a price of 400 000 dong apiece (about 125 sek) for being driven around all day on motorbikes, hitting both our planned sights and even squeezing in a dip in the ocean to boot!
First off we need a place to store our bags though, and since this rather major train station oddly enough doesn’t have any storage lockers we entrust the bags to this family owned kiosk for a modest fee. Off we go, down south to Hoi An! The landscape isn’t that interesting, the beach access is mostly closed off due to various construction projects, mostly it seems to be country clubs and resorts they’re building. Many of them seemed to have stopped half way and my driver explains that they were having trouble with their permits, I guess they didn’t pay off the right officials or something. Getting to Hoi An takes a little more than half an hour and my driver says that I will spend a lot of money there. I disagree and say we’re not there to do shopping, he only smiles.
They drop us off in the center of town, right next to a tailor shop. It’s almost lunch and since we’ve haven’t had any breakfast we decide to go for lunch before anything else. Walking up the street it seems like the café/restaurant right where we started out is our best option. During lunch I’m warming up to the idea to get a tailor-made shirt or two, so we walk over to the shop and sit down to look at models. About 15 minutes later I’m picking out fabric for the three piece suit I’m getting made. It’s unclear how it happened, but I actually need a suit, so why the hell not..? Jen decides to get three dresses and after our measurements have been taken they tell us to come back in an hour for fitting.
Hoi An is touted as an ancient town and a great tourist destination but we’re not really impressed. While it’s clean, has a fair amount of greenery and relatively nice houses it’s just plain boring. It’s very touristy, everyone is shouting after you and it actually turns out that about 50% of the shops in town are tailors! We find a very spartan café where we can escape the blistering heat and just wait for our outfits to be done. The suit actually fits perfectly on the first try and Jen’s dresses need only minor adjustment. All in all my three piece suit and two shirts cost me just over 2600 sek, not bad at all.
Going back to Da Nang we stop at the Marble Mountains, which are these two marble knolls that oddly stick up from the otherwise very flat landscape. You can go up on one of them and it’s basically covered with temples. It’s fairly small and half an hour is plenty of time to do it, even if you explore every nook and cranny. Our guide, which we didn’t ask for, is a friend of our drivers and naturally she owns one of the hundred or so marble shops at the foot of the mountain. So we dutifully go and look at her wares and as per usual with these kinds of places most of the stuff is really pretty, but also wholly impractical and not something you’d want in your home. We end up buying the smallest thing we can find just to placate her and move on back to town.
Final stop is at the beach where we pay like 1.25 sek for entry and go for a quick dip in the ocean. Mostly it’s the shower afterwards we’re after as it’s been an intensely hot day and we’re facing another night on a train before we get to Ho Chi Minh City. With plenty of time to spare before our train leaves we get dinner at this really hipstery place with nevertheless pretty good food. Of course the train is late as well, so we spend upwards two hours in the sweltering hot station house before being let out into the railway yard. I’m calling it a railway yard because that’s what it mostly is; there are no platforms at all, and no indicated places to cross either. It’s rather difficult to discern to which track you’re supposed to go, so basically we just go over to one of the trains and ask an official-looking person to point us the right way.
Our compartment this time is split with a Vietnamese family with two people sharing one of the cots and three people in the other. This leg is supposed to take around 14 h but end up taking 16, excluding the late departure. Luckily we can buy some noodles to tide us over until we pull into Ho Chi Minh City. The taxi guy is trying for a full five minutes to get us to pay a fixed price but we’re adamant and it actually ends up costing us almost half as much as he wanted us to pay. Not a great start to our Ho Chi Minh City experience.
The hostel is hidden away in a cramped alley, next to what feels like at least 20 other hostels. It has decent WiFi, clean rooms and a nice bed – all you need really. After cleaning up we quiz the staff about sights and head out on the town. We start by getting dinner at what in hindsight, seemed to be a frog restaurant. This wasn’t very clear at the time though and the menus or the staff weren’t very helpful in that respect. We ended up eating grilled whole pigeon and some kind of frog stew, both rather tasty, especially the pigeon. It’s dark by now but having rested most of the day we decide to do a walking tour of the city center. Pretty early on we decide that it’s not as likable as Hanoi, there is a lot of traffic for instance, even late into the night and there is also a much larger emphasis of car traffic. We walk all the way down to the Cathedral where a lot of younger people are hanging out, seemingly just talking. In Sweden they would all be drinking alcohol but here there is none in sight, just a lot of food sellers, including a guy pushing a cart full of dried squid (the perfect late night snack!). We also pass through the super posh quarters around city hall, packed with European luxury brand shops. When we finally make it back to the hostel we’ve probably walked upwards to 10 km.