It’s hard to know where to begin writing about my first 10 days in Vietnam.
I was fortunate to have kind, generous family come to see me on this part of my trip who treated me to an unbelievable break from the backpacker lifestyle. Absurdly nice hotels, spa treatments, comfortable beds, amazing food, wine and scotch – it was a perfectly timed break at 5 months in. And really the best part was seeing the familiar faces of family. I hope I was able to express to them how much their visit meant to me, but just in case I wasn’t and they read this: I can’t thank you enough Jack, Lois and Meredith, it was fantastic.
After my night in the Bangkok airport I met up with the fam in the Ho Chi Minh City airport before immediately boarding a flight to DaNang, our first Vietnam location. Meredith described DaNang as Hawaii combined with Las Vegas in Vietnam and I think it’s pretty accurate. A moderate skyline with new towers under construction juts up against a picture perfect beach that stretches for miles. As soon as we spotted the beach on the drive in we all got very excited. Unfortunately though we weren’t able to enjoy it. We had two days in DaNang, one mostly spent in nearby Hoi An and one for the beach, and on our beach day it rained all day. The most time we spent on the beach was between the hours of 11 pm and 2 am enjoying our nightcaps of scotch on the rocks. Typical family stuff.
The day in Hoi An was lovely though. It’s a charming town due to the well-preserved colonial architecture. The market is huge and a great place to find everything from clothes to souvenirs to food to a duffel bag to bring home all the clothes you bought there (yes that actually did happen). I encountered the overly polite Vietnamese selling tactic in Hoi An: instead of simply pushing their product on us, people asked about us or complimented us – where are you from? beautiful family. – initiating a short conversation before getting around to what they would like to sell us. We politely declined but it was at least a more pleasant exchange than expected.
Our favorite surprise of the day was a quiet wine bar nestled behind a jewelry store with drop dead gorgeous items. We had a lot of fun in there before relaxing in a quiet courtyard sipping on a delightful rose. This was followed by lunch, where I had the best fresh spring rolls of my life. The beginning of my love affair with Vietnamese food, as everyone told me I would have.
With so much to offer Hoi An was a great place to wander around for a day.
The rest of our time in DaNang centered around relaxation and spa time. We ventured into town for dinner one night at the Waterfront, a delicious spot overlooking the river that’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the mood for a splurge. From their second floor balcony we could watch the motorbike traffic below (and the helpful man whose sole job appeared to be helping people cross the street) and the main event on a Saturday night: the dragon bridge breathing fire for a few minutes.
It would be wrong to leave out the story of our last night in DaNang, but I’m not sure how to even describe what we unexpectedly experienced. We had dinner at the Intercontinental. After a pretty long drive out to the other side of a peninsula we arrived at the complex of small buildings nestled into a hillside; the only buildings in sight belonged to the hotel. The isolation in the darkness started the creepy impression, and the rain increased it. We had to take a funicular down to the bar, which operated at a snail’s pace. Where were all the people? The whole place seemed empty and the bar was no different. Back up the funicular to dinner, where we ate in floating orbs over water outside the main building overlooking what is the ocean during the day, but at night in the rain it was just an eerie black expanse. The decoration of the whole place was trippy, overdone, and begged the question, “What drug was the designer on?” In fact the whole place made us feel like we’d been drugged into a hallucinogenic state, a bad trip, a crazy world that we couldn’t escape. Meredith and I started talking about playing in our Grandparents’ house, reverting to the inner recesses of our childhood memories. No one could talk until we got back in the cab. Then we laughed hysterically the whole way home. Strange to the max.
It was a quick visit to DaNang, an up-and-coming coastal metropolis in Vietnam. Overshadowed by its quaint neighbor Hoi An, I don’t know if I would have made it there on my own, but it’s worth a day or two if you’re in the area. The city is an interesting history of modernization; all around the beachfront there are abandoned construction projects from past booming days. Across the road from new mid-rise buildings are fields of crops with small shacks for homes. Every once in a while a modern three-story-high one-room-wide little tower interrupts the landscape; new structures on old small plots. DaNang feels like it’s in the middle of a regeneration but hasn’t yet eliminated its past failed attempts. It would be an interesting place to return to in a few years to see how it’s progressing.