Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Dangers of Hoi An

This entry was to be called “Vietnamese Efficiency” but I am writing this from a delayed train J  In defence of the Vietnamese Railways, this is the first of five long distance trains which has left late, and it may yet make up the lost 40 minutes.  The other journeys (9-16 hours) arrived spot on time, or even early.  For all the pick-ups and drop offs we have required throughout Vietnam, everything has gone to plan.

Vietnamese trains have carried me all the way up to 3km short of the Chinese border (Lao Cai for Sapa) and are now whizzing me past empty rice fields back to Saigon.  So many of the countries I have visited this year have been having unseasonal weather (rain during dry season, monsoons carrying on a month beyond normal etc…) and Vietnam has been no exception.  Whilst luck has most definitely not been on our side, we have “enjoyed” thoroughly awful weather!  The phrases “I think it might be brightening up…”, “I see some blue over there in the distance…” have been heard one too many times.

Our schedule has been go-go-go.  From Kep in Cambodia to Phu Quoc island, then up through the Mekong Delta via a home stay in Can Tho and then the craziness of Saigon.  From here to Dalat followed by a five day motorbike journey from Dalat to Danang.  Train up to Hanoi, continuing up to Sapa for Christmas, back to Hanoi and out to Halong Bay before another overnight train bringing us to the Imperial City of Hue and then our New Year four day “low cost chill out” near the beach in the sleepy old-world village of Hoi An.

With the beach only 6km away by £1-a-day bike hire, we dreamed of happy days reading on the pristine sand with the occasional dip into the clear blue ocean… but then the rain started.  This is when life became dangerous for the budget.  There are not too many things to in Hoi An in the rain, apart from… shopping (and cookery courses).  Between personal tailoring, art, and silk lanterns, there are sufficient opportunities to put a severe dent in a girl’s budget.  As this is high season in Vietnam, our train sleepers to Saigon were already booked and couldn’t be changed.  We caved into the dangers of Hoi An.

Three days and six fittings later, I had three new dresses, a pair of trousers and a shirt (at a very reasonable price, thank you J ).  In addition to this rucksack-refresh, I had acquired two leaf paintings and an un-confess-able number of silk lanterns of all shapes, sizes and colours.  As the rucksack needing packing again shortly, a trip to the Post Office was looming.  A recce trip suggested that three month seamail option was surprisingly affordable.

With time to kill on our last morning, we donned our rain coats and boots and headed downstairs to brave the torrential downpour and head up to the Post Office.  For the first time, the hotel manager proved useful and not intent on over-charging us for a service.  If we would like to sit down and wait five minutes, she would call and ask the Post Office staff to come to the hotel and arrange our packages… at no extra cost!  We didn’t quite believe it but sat down and waited.

Quite literally five minutes later, two ladies arrived on a moped, carrying a selection of free boxes and a blue bag with all the requirements for a mini-Post Office.  The blue VNPT rain coat helped to give them away!  Taking a quick look at our purchases they set to work creating boxes in the right shape and size whilst we busied ourselves with the paperwork.  They had a dizzying array of tape guns with them – brown tape to cover the box, blue VNPT-branded tape for the edges and clear tape to cover the address labels.  The magic blue bag also contained a set of metal weighing scales… all very Mary Poppins.

Before long we had paid (they had even brought change in both dollars and dong…) and the two ladies were reloading everything onto their moped (never underestimate what the Vietnamese will load onto their bikes) and our flying Post Office had left.  We sat, slightly bemused, wondering how we would spend the morning now that our main errand had been dealt with so efficiently.  We idled with our books, wallets locked away, not trusting ourselves to venture onto the streets of Hoi An again.  Our boxes had sailed.

"Service with a smile": that'll be my box on the lady's knees at the back...  Lynn's at the front, with the magic blue bag on top of it.

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