Monday night. There are five days left of my trip and still a little under 1,000km to go before Saigon. A loud thick relentless rain is crashing against the pavements and buildings outside. I decided now was a good time to take stock, recall the stories from all the travellers I have met along the way, and plan the rest of my route to Saigon. In the west of course, it goes by its new official name of Ho Chi Minh, also in Hanoi – but the closer you get, the more it’s referred to as Saigon. Traipsing through Rough Guides and the Hostelworld web site, I could only find $20+ hotels in Hoi An, which aside from the 14 hour train journey, is double what I have been already paying.
Screw it, I thought – I’ll work it out when I get there. I’m not really one for planning, I feel it can ruin a perfectly good holiday of chance encounters and unexpected surprises. If today was anything to go by, I couldn’t be more right.
I left Hue and its pouring rain in the morning, after a discount of $2.50 for the terrible inconvenience of having to go to the hotel across the street for my room, because the other was full. “Would you like motorbike right to train station, sir?” “Aaaaaargh”, I screamed, throwing my bags at the womans head. “I don’t”, tossing over the chairs, “want”, kicking over some nearby plants, “a goddamned motorcycle!”. I snapped myself out of my Scrubs-inspired imagination and replied solemnly, “No. Thank you”. “It’s free. For the inconvenience of the room.” I backed slowly away and started running for the door. Well, it’s the principle of the thing.
After a short 3-hour train ride to Da Nang, I emerged out of the train station clueless about what to do next. “Motorcycle?” came a distant voice. I ignored him and made my way in the general direction of somewhere-else. Minh was standing on the corner. “Excuse me, you go to Hoi Ann? Where you from? I take you motorcycle, many people from London I take”. Minh was more conversational than pushy, a trait difficult to come by in most of the motorcycle druglords I’d come across. Most tour guides in Vietnam carry little black books around with them, filled with reviews of their services from all over the world. The cynical among you might thing there’s a counterfeit store where you can get them made with your name. I must see if I can find one for myself.
Minh came very highly recommended, and I didn’t notice that any pages had been torn out. He took me to his friend who would take me the hour trip by car to Hoi Ann, for 200,000 dong. Approx 10 pounds to you and me. The motorbike was over half the price, and came with an authentic Vietnamese experience. With my principles not as solid as I thought they were, off I went. “Why don’t you go to Saigon on back of motorbike?” Minh asked. I laughed, yeah right.
When we arrived at Hoi An, Minh pointed me towards the My Chau hotel with spacious rooms, en-suite shower and bathroom, and large double bed for $8 a night. Beats hostelworld hands down. Once I’d checked in, we sat down and talked about my travel plans for the next 2 days. “I take you place not in Lonely Planet”, they’re not in Rough Guides, either – and the idea was immensely attractive. As with all good travel plans, the itinerary I had worked out for myself back in Hue was torn up and thrown away. I now leave Hoi An at 8am with Minh, and we’re travelling to the Cham ruins at My Son, into the mountains and staying in a small local village named Hien, before returning to Da Nang and catching a night bus into Saigon on Thursday.
I’m looking forward to having a guide for the penultimate part of my trip, as well as leaving the well-travelled path a little bit, if not completely. You can address me as Mr McGregor.
But before you do… Hoi An…