Saturday, August 12, 2017

August 10 – An Outrageously Exciting Day in Dong Hoi

Today we had no plan. Since we had two nights booked at this hotel, we decided to have a chill out day today and take advantage of the swimming pool, and then do the big caving day trip that we had come to this town for tomorrow.

After a bit of rigmarole (where on earth does that word come from anyway? I must look into that.) at the check in, which involved some negotiation, many hand signals, and a room swap, we finally got settled into a decent room with two beds. This was a very large hotel and seemed to be more of a business hotel as opposed to the smaller inns and guesthouses we’ve typically been staying in. We would discover that everything about this hotel was mediocre; the breakfast was blah, the pool was dirty, the pool deck and chairs were filthy, there was a constant loud noise coming from something outside of the building beside our room, they had ashtrays in the lobby so people felt happy to smoke there and toxify the air, and lastly, the staff just seemed a little sad. But the AC in our room worked well and kept it nice and cool, and that counts for a lot in the oppressive heat.

We decided to take a taxi to the downtown area and start exploring, so we had the driver drop us off right across from one of the main monuments in town – a crumbling bell tower that was one of the few things left standing after the Vietnam War. Dong Hoi was bombed mercilessly by the US and at the end of the bombing there were literally four things left standing in the city – the church tower, one of the town gates, a water tower and a single palm tree. The rest was destroyed and bomb craters peppered the entire city. We would learn later that nothing was rebuilt here for many years after that, and most of what exists in Dong Hoi now was really only constructed in the last fifteen years. Every day we learn something new about this country that just seems unbelievable.

As we did not have a map of Dong Hoi and had no idea where we were going so we just found the busiest street and started walking. The sky was completely clear so the sunshine bore down like a laser on our skin, keeping us hopping from shadow to shadow. The street we chose to explore had nearly nothing of interest, besides Vietnamese signs that sounded really funny in English. I saw one big billboard that said, “My Dung” and just had a picture of a women smiling and winking, so she must have had a real good one.  Another sign said, “Hung Low” and I really wanted Ana to take a picture of me standing below it doing a double finger pointer to my crotch, but she gave me the “What are you, 12 years old?” look so I just took the picture myself and I will do some Photoshop magic on it later.

The Olsons were keen to find a place to go for a drink, but there were no restaurants anywhere, and we tried asking a few people but they did not speak a word of English, which gave me the feeling they weren’t too used to tourists in this area. We searched around for a bit, but then gave up and jumped into a cab before the sun turned us into small, creamy puddles on the street. During the drive back we did actually see a couple of restaurants, but by that time we had our minds set on the pool.

We hung out at the pool for a while, lounged in the pool chairs, and enjoyed the overpowering smell of fish that filled the air. We weren’t exactly sure where the smell was coming from, but it was either a nearby fish sauce factory, or maybe the large number of fishing boats we saw at anchor near downtown. We headed back to the room and enjoyed the AC for a while as we read, wrote and watched tv. During that time Ana cleaned her purse, and picked out the three silkworm cocoons that Stella had pocketed from the silkworm farms. One of the cocoons had some strange black stuff on one end and a small hole. Ana kept digging and found a moth that had hatched inside her purse, but suffered a horrible, claustrophobic death by asphyxiation. I guess those tough little worms were still alive after all, working their way through metamorphosis. The remaining two cocoons got reassigned to a ziplock bag at the bottom of my backpack.

At 3 pm we decided we better get the hell out of the room before we all fell asleep or got feeling even less ambitious than we already were, so we grabbed a taxi and had him drop us off at one of the places we saw earlier - the Buffalo Hostel and Bar. We were the only customers there, but it was sort of a weird time of day, so we ordered drinks and lunch and kicked back listening to tunes. We struck up a conversation with one of the waitresses who spoke very good English and had a long, interesting talk with her. She told us all about the history of Dong Hoi, all about her hometown of Hoi An, and also about the relationship between the young people of the north and the south. All very interesting, and a hell of a lot more memorable than anything you might read in a book.

Around 5:30 pm we shoved off and walked back to the hotel, which wasn’t actually that far – maybe 1.5 kilometres – but since the sun was nearly down it was a lot more bearable. As we neared the hotel we discovered the source of that fish smell. There were many people with these buckets of pink stuff, which we discovered on closer inspection, were tiny shrimps. They were mashing the juice out of them and then spreading the mixture out on large fine nets, allowing it to dry. And the fish smell as we passed was so intense, it was nearly hallucinogenic.

The rest of the evening was spent in our room watching Star Wars and eating a nice backpacker dinner of instant noodles, crackers and fruit. I could have felt guilty for having such an uneventful day, but I did not, because days like this on our trip have been very few and it’s kind of nice to have a down day every once in a while.

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