I opted for the flight to Da Nang over the 20 something hour train ride (plenty of time for those later, in India). The peninsular town of Da Nang is famous for its hospitality- apparently when American GIs landed there they were met not by gunfire, but pretty girls with flower garlands. The town itself is basically a strip of cityscape running between two long, white beaches, with bright green, vegetation covered karst (limestone) mountains peppered here and there. It’s beautiful, and about as chill of a place as I saw in my travels.
However, outside of the swimming, Da Nang doesn’t have much in the way of tourist attractions, so I headed to the tip of the peninsula and the small town of Hoi An- once a powerful Asian trading community whose Chinese,Vietnamese, and Japanese influences are apparent in its incredibly well-preserved architecture. It’s now a World Heritage site, and it’s easy to see why, as few places in Asia can boast this state of preservation. The town is picturesquely situated, straddling a slow, brown river that occasionally becomes much more.
Those are historical flooding high water marks
After checking out the town, I decided to hire a boat to sail down the river and check out the view from it. The boat ride itself wasn’t anything terribly interesting, but when we were returning the boatman spotted some of his friends parked in the middle of the river on a couple of canoes tied together and shaded by palm fronds. He asked if it was okay to stop and say hello, and try some palm wine. It sounded fine by me, and they turned out to be really cool guys- a bunch of friends returned to town to hang out for the weekend. A few cups of palm wine (clear, very strong liquor without much flavor) and some utterly delicious fried squid later and the small visit turned into an evening of drinking, eating delicious seafood, learning some Vietnamese and teaching some English, and having great conversations with the incredibly hospitable Trung Pham and his family and friends.
The next day I combated my massive hangover with a lot of water and Sunday Night football in my hotel room, before meeting Pham and his brother for coffee and more conversation. That evening I took the Da Nang to Hue train, which is one of the most beautiful stretches of track I’ve ever seen. Photos just don’t do it justice. The magic hour light on the silver sea, the deep green vegetation pocked by rocky outcroppings, plunging to pristine crescents of yellow sand were all absolutely gorgeous. I glimpsed small towns in passing, old cement gun installations from the Vietnam War (this was one of the hardest-fought over areas in the war), and mountains shrouded in mist. Either this or Taiwan’s Taipei to Hualien take the train travel crown.