Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Phew, what a scorcher

Gad, it’s hot. That’s a phrase I remember Spike Milligan using in some satire on the British Empire I read as a child. I used to love Milligan’s nonsensical poems and stories, back in the day. I’m a great deal less keen on days such as this one, when it’s 37 Celsius and I feel like an out-of-place colonial.

So this is what Vietnam’s hot season feels like: ferociously, oppressively hot. Too darn hot. I should have guessed, I suppose, seeing as the cool season is hot to begin with. But I don’t think I’ve timed my trip too badly. In a little over a week, or thereabouts, I’ll have finished the active part of my travels and settled down to look for a summer job.

My final destinations are the three aitches: Hoi An (I'm here now), Hue (pronounced ‘Hweh’ or ‘Hwey‘ - I‘m still not sure) and Hanoi. For some reason I’m fascinated by the fact that two of these places are not just anagrams but soundagrams, to use a word I’ve just made up. Both begin with a ‘h’, and then have an ‘oi’ and an ‘an’. I can‘t help wondering why that is, just like I couldn‘t help wondering why so many place names in Laos started with V. With any luck this sudden interest in linguistics will carry me far.

In the meantime I’ve been taking photos of Hoi An, which very conveniently has a compact historic core consisting of three longish parallel shopping streets, one of which overlooks a river. The town boasts Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and European influences dating back to the 16th century, although what’s most noticeable about it are the quaint, chocolate-boxy shop-houses.

It’s also renowned for its tailoring and if I had the slightest interest in my appearance, I’d probably stay here a few days and have some high-quality clothes made up at bargain prices.

At first I wasn’t that taken with Hoi An, so to occupy myself I took loads of candid photographs of people walking by in the late afternoon, when the day was cooling down and the light was taking on a golden glow. I went out in the evening too, clutching a tripod and vowing to get some decent night shots before the shops closed at 9pm.

Downloading the pictures, I was mightily impressed. This has to be one of the most photogenic towns I’ve ever been in.

For completeness’ sake I followed this up with a trip today to the ancient temples of My Son, about 50km away, even though I’d guessed they were going to be a poor man’s Angkor. Still, at least the history was interesting: I’d no idea that Indonesian Hindus called the Chams had colonised parts of Vietnam over 1,000 years ago, nor that their descendents are now Muslims living in the Mekong Delta.

Our guide informed us that they had curly hair and darker skin than the majority population, then made a hugely un-PC crack about the Vietnamese being much better looking. Apart from that, he was very good.

All in all I’ve enjoyed my couple of days in Hoi An, the only major disappointment being the fairly grotty hotel I’m staying in. There’s no internet, for a start! I should have looked around for a better one but it was 7.30am, I was shattered and the bus I’d been on all night had stopped right outside.

Following today’s trip to My Son I stopped at the relevant travel agents to get my bus ticket to Hue confirmed for tomorrow (I’m using an open ticket from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi). When I told the assistant where I wanted to be picked up, she looked at me wide-eyed and asked: “What are you staying there for?” And this from someone who must deal with backpackers all the time.

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