Saturday, 24 July 2010

Ahoy Hoi An

Okay so we were waiting for a mission in Saigon last time. About 8.30pm we headed to the station and found a great little tiny red plastic chair cafe just outside the station where we sat and had a couple of beers and gathered some snacks and water for the marathon ahead.

The train pulled in about 10.45pm and we shuffled aboard Coach 6 Cabin 1 and immediately I went into panic mode (WARNING: If you are Mum Carol, John Walkup, Aunty Jean or any other being suffering from claustrophobia do NOT take the top two berths in a 6 berth sleeper in Vietnam!)

The tiny cabin comprised of an ancient Vietnamese chap sporting an Uncle Ho chin-string beard, his 80 year old dauighter sporting similar chin fluff, a middle aged pair of Viet fellas sporting hacking coughs and the national nose picking habit all ensconsed in their bunk beds either side of a 3 foot floor space. Above these bunks on each side a further "bed" amounting to a crawl space with a head clearance of about 2.5 feet max. The height up to said bed was about 8 feet up.

Simon began his ascent from base camp on the bearded Ho's pillow and having made the summit rolled around on to his back and craned his neck up slightly, until it touched the ceiling and could go no further, to shout down to me "Climb when ready" The Vietnamese all sat in stunned awe, nervously chuckling and shaking their heads as yours huge and truly began to clamber up in a style much like that used for climbing chimneys- sort of a legs akimbo bridging technic.

Once up in the coffin I discovered that the bed was a hard shelf with a disgusting old carpet on it (like a hall runner) You couldn't sit up at all. I lay on my back and heard Si whisper - "Just stay calm there's nothing we can do! You just need to stay calm - take a valium (which was a gift from our dreadlocked pal Gary in Kampot-as Diazipan are freely available over the counter in Cambodia) The thought of drugging myself seemed worse because I was so afraid it would disable me in some way which would prevent escape and then I would be trapped paralysed in some sort of living burial.....

.....About 30 seconds later I was sitting near the loos in the corridor on the floor trying to breath through the cotton of my sarong to regulate my breathes. Complete panic attack: throat constricting, no air, sweats, absolute terror. The guard came by and I was terrified he would yell like the bus driver and try to force me back up there- I thought I will have to literally fight him if this happens. A nice guy standing by Si explained to the conductor in Vietnamese that I was allergic to small spaces! In the end they arranged to swap me with someone in the cheaper seats in another coach. I was happy enough to spend the whole journey on the floor though- or in the toilet- anything but that space.

So Si used all his powers to zone out and lie back in his coffin space all night whilst I sat in a seat 5 coaches away surrounded by Vietnamese people eating eggs with fertilisd feathered chicks in them before spreading themselves out and snoring, hacking, yocking. Several women didn't seem to have seats and so laid down in the dirty aisle. One women on floor next to me was sick in the night. Neither Pants nor I got any sleep.

The next morning about 7am the guard who'd helped negotiate a bed to seat swap for me - told Si that he should go fetch me and locked up the now empty sleeper cabin so that we could have it for our own use the rest of the journey (almost 8 more hours)
After the bus journey from Cambodia and then this journey almost straight away we were in a pretty exhausted state when we finally arrived in the absolutely gorgeous town of Hoi An.

Hoi An is a World Heritage site as it has remained unspoiled by the wars that ravaged and destroyed so much of the surrounding towns and villages. It is a preserved example of an old Vietnamese trading/fishing town. Cars and mopeds are forbidden to drive in the old town and by the river. The town was used in the Michael Cain film "The Quiet American" those bits set at night with the lanterns floating on the river. This lantern floating thing only happens once a month to mark the full moon. Lucky for us that's tonight!!

We pottered about yesterday taking heaps of pictures. Everwhere you see images so evocative of Vietnam: ladies in the conical hats balancing yokes across their shoulders with baskets on each side full of fruit or tea making implements. Old dears similarly dressed punting boats across the river. The shops and houses are ancient and look sort of how you imagine old Chinese houses to be- wooden or with earthern-ware tiles on the roofs, red lanterns hanging everywhere.

Today we are going to explore further and then get ready for what promises to be the visual spectacular of the full moon celebrations tonight. We have booked in here until Friday 30th July as we really need to rest after the journeys of recent times. Then we think we're heading for Hue and thence to Hanoi maybe via a little countryfied place on a river or via Ha Long Bay possibly -if we feel able to handle the touts and hassles associated with the area. (We left home 3 weeks ago - seems like an age)

As I type here- Simon is loading up some videos he's taken to help give you a feel for the experience.
Hope all are well. Will update again in a few days.

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