Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hoi An

Some new geography.

Hoi An in some ways is a paradox, I loved the part designated for tourists (the 'old town' of Hoi An is blocked off from cars and has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site), but I hated that there was nothing but tourism. No matter how far I wandered, to the beach, through the local market, across winding roads as I (naturally) got lost, everything was still catered to the tourist.

All the old yellow buildings, red flags hanging from every shop, and that rare bit of quiet I don't often find. I think Hoi An is in many respects like a Western ghost town. There weren't any people dressed up from earlier times, but between the souvenir shops, the lack of any buildings being used for their original purposes, and the constant milling about and picture taking of tourists I guess I was waiting for the Vietnam version of a cowboy to come out and stage a reenactment.

The regional cuisine was fantastic though. Shrimp steamed in rice paper, and crispy fried wontons piled with vegetables. (I promise to do a whole post of delicious things I've eaten) There were some pork noodles too, but I suppose being pescetarian means I don't experience as many aspects of food culture as I could. I like to think I just experience different aspects.

We arrived in Hoi An, spent the afternoon at a quiet and pretty beach, and spent the next day perusing old town. By nightfall we knew we wouldn't last another day and picked our bus ticket to Hue. I'm sure I could have explored Hoi An more in depth, or maybe just spent the day sipping wine and looking onto the river, but we had only a week and wanted to see as much as possible. As a final goodbye we looped through the town after a late dinner, had a beer with new friends, and watched people set candles floating to the river, small pinpricks of light against the black night. (Which thanks to Blogspot's confusing picture uploading, is actually the fourth picture)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Train Journey through Vietnam

As a kid my family would go on a local train's dinner ride. I don't remember much, just vague emotional impressions of happiness and excitement and that glorious Washington scenery. Once I got a little older I would ride it by myself to visit my sister at college in Bellingham, or south to see relatives in Portland. I'd make excuses for not driving, or being driven. Why the train was best for the environment, that it was safer. I honestly simply wanted to be on a journey.

Cars make me sleepy or nauseous, planes eliminate the feeling of having gone anywhere. So quickly and in such a different realm do they transport you, moving through cotton high in the sky makes a journey seem more a break from reality. Trains though, trains follow the curve of the land and wind through it with a romance I don't find most places. Trains let you walk around, sleep more comfortably. You see what's outside and have nothing to do put pay attention to it.

From Ho Chi Minh we took the train to Hoi An (and would take it again from Hue to Ho Chi Minh but for that trip I was drugged up on cold medicine so there are no pictures or thoughts really). We boarded at night, too dark to see outside and instead the rocking motion put me to sleep.

Woke at six to new light filtering through the window. Ignored the time and spent the next few hours taking shots that would be blurry and obstructed and never convey the majesty of the land. Drifted to sleep, woke, read, watched, repeat. Landscape kept shifting between farms, coast, mountains, cities, and jungle.

I'm often alone in my devotion to the railway. The bathrooms are disgusting, trains are slow, tracing their path with a relaxed air. It’s a foolish sensibility I have, but trains are still my favorite way to travel.