I feel particularly sad leaving Hoi An. This was meant to be the restful part of the trip. Sunshine, beaches and a warm sea. It did provide a rest stop of sorts, but mainly it provided plenty of excitement and some difficult conditions. To say the rain was heavy would be an understatement. It rained on and off on the first day and continuously on the second. The third day, when we left it was on and off like a bathroom shower. The good news about the rain in Vietnam is that it is warm. The bad news is that it is still wet. When you combine the humidity with the rain you are constantly damp. Its difficult keeping cameras phones and the paraphernalia of modern life dry and working.
Despite the difficult conditions I cant help but be blown away by the charm of the Hoi An. The town is beautiful, especially at night. Cars are banned from early evening until about 22:00 which is late by Vietnamese standards. Down by the docks where the fishing boats wait for the next days fishing the old French Colonial buildings have been converted into restaurants, bars and shops. You can get a silk suit made overnight for a ridiculously cheap price. You can also get shoes, shirts and sleep bags, none of which are particularly appealing if you are wet and dirty. These converted buildings sit easily with medieval merchants houses and charming bridges. Lanterns are everywhere and small paper boats form a flotilla of lit candles floating down the river. Nearby a troupe of Vietnamese actors perform a short mime accompanied by musicians playing traditional instruments. It was wonderful and would have been exquisite if it had not kept hammering down every 10 minutes.
On the second day the rainfall was continuous. The hotel swimming pool flooded. The paths around the hotel flooded. The river flooded. Despite this we went into the town in the evening. It was business as usual but under very difficult conditions. The roads around the Thu Bon River had already flooded and continued to get worse as the evening wore on. The footbridge over the river became dangerous to cross. At one stage a middle aged woman fell into the swollen river and was nearly carried away by the current. It was a tense moment. There was a cry followed by 4 or 5 people grabbing out and trying to lift her out. I don’t know if you have ever tried to pull a body out of a river but it is comparative easy to lift the body up half a meter or so. The natural buoyancy of the body helps. The next bit takes a lot more effort and when combined with the water draining down from the bit of the body that is out of the water makes it feel like the river is snatching the body back. There were gasps and shouts from the people involved and more people ran to help out. Even so it took a while to get her out of the water. It was a bit too close for comfort. Later in the evening Jo was talking to one of the people who had helped drag her out. He said that she had been wading through the flooded street and her foot had gone down a hole that was hidden by the water. She had fallen badly and tipped into the river. He said “I saw her shin. The bone was broken, I know about these things. I was a boy scout”. Its odd the things people say when they are in a state of shock.
The rain continued and the flooding got worse. The local police turned up and put guide rails round where they thought the edge of the river was. In reality no one really knew where the flooded road ended and the river began. Some of the shops and bars began to collect furniture and carry it upstairs. Despite all this the mood was good and people seemed to take a degree of pride in being able to get across the flooded bridge either by walking or by motor bike. We went back to the hotel through quiet flooded streets. Even so there were many bikes by the side of the road with their drivers trying to dry them out and get them going again.
The next morning the rain had eased off so we went down to the beach before setting off for DaNang and the journey to Saigon.
On the drive to the railway station an DaNang we passed the old American Army base. Mile after mile of wall with watchtowers looking down on its slow decay. DaNang city centre was flooded but we managed to get to the station which was on higher ground in plenty of time for our 13:00 train. We would be in Saigon (and dry) by 4:30 the next morning.