Saturday 23rd Dec
Vincent had leant me one of several house golf umbrellas, which were fantastic. It was a real game-changer in as much as I left the house without the certain knowledge that I was going to get wet and spend the rest of the day that way. I went back to Phi Bánh Mì (the sandwich place) for breakfast. I found out from their excellent English menu that the pâté they seem to eat everywhere is made from goose liver and pork meat. They served 11 different types of this sandwich at this place, so I tried an egg and cheese one, spicy. It was great. I think a hungry person could eat four or more of these Bánh Mìs, but to me, one took the edge off without me feeling full.
I had two and a half hours before they came to collect me for my trip to the Marble Mountains. I’d briefly crossed the "golden bridge" to the island the night before, to reveal a whole new set of streets, restaurants and bars to explore. I’d also not yet seen the famous Japanese covered bridge, so that sounded like a good plan for the morning, whilst saving the sights on the island (over the Golden Bridge) for the after my tour.
As I mentioned earlier, my lovely raincoat opened at the sides, and the slightest breeze caused it to flap around. It had poppers, but they gave way to the slightest resistance. So in the end I took my belt off my trousers and put it around the raincoat. I was conscious how utterly ridiculous I looked, but what choice did I have? I noticed in the market some women pointing and calling to each other to look. They’re weren’t laughing, so much as just seeing something slightly strange. When I returned to Vincent’s house at one point, the umbrella rolled up like a cane, he smiled and said, "Sir, you look like Samurai!" That’s what people had been thinking when I strolled around - even more so when I tucked the rolled umbrella into my belt, as it looked like a sword!
On my voyage out this morning a woman carrying a pole and two baskets of fruit stopped me. At first I thought she was trying to sell me something, but then she handed me the pole and gently took my umbrella/(sword). Then she popped a conical hat on my head. "Photo, photo.", she said. She had an "accomplice" who ingeniously posed alongside me, and I can easily imagine exactly how this started: Someone will have stopped them and asked to borrow their stuff, then, after taking a photo dressed up as a "local", handed them a few dong. These enterprising ladies had now turned the photo opportunity into their main industry - they weren’t interested so much in selling the fruit. They needed that for the photos.
I guess if I had one regret up to this point it was that I should have arranged to stay in Hoi An another day. There was a "Bamboo Circus" show they held most nights all about bamboo dancing. From what I could see, it was an extraordinary gymnastics show - running in with a bamboo pole, placing it on the ground on the run, jumping into it and just balancing there before leaping onto another pole held by someone else. The show wasn’t running the night I arrived, and I’d be back from the Marble Mountains too late to attend. But my flight to Ho Chi Minh was set, as was my accommodation, and there was insufficient time to change plans. It was a shame, but there was nothing I could do.
After “art street” I sat in a small café on the riverside having a beer. The river was flooded, and whilst I'd noticed the night how this had clearly lead some shops and stalls to have to close, it was also affecting business on the river. At night, the low boats take passengers out into the water for them to release lanterns - tiny candles in paper cups. But even the very low boats could now not get under the bridge - the lanterns could barely fit. So it meant than passenger had to decide which side of the bridge they wanted to boat along, essentially cutting the trip in two, as the best part of the illuminated strip was either side of the bridge.
The bus took an hour to collect everyone, which was just about the only downside to the trip. Our guide was great, and began bombarding us with facts and information, a lot of which had to do with the Americans and the war, which was proving to be an inescapable historical fact.
We first headed to “Monkey Mountain” (so named by the Americans), where there was a beautiful pagoda and a statue of a female Buddha standing 67 meters tall. (Apparently there are two main "branches" of Buddhism - one believes in the female Buddha. The other does not). The statue was built out of concrete and comprised 17 "floors" (not open to tourists). There was also a beautiful pagoda here, surrounded by sculptures and bonsai trees that were allegedly hundreds of years old.
It was still raining a bit, so the monkeys stayed hidden away.
The mountain had several sections - it was not just one peak. The highest accessible peak went off in one direction. The guide let us go on alone, as he’d been there countless times. It was getting dark, and the mosquitoes were coming out. The final ascent was 100 steps, so it very much like the final approach home from town.
The most stunning part for me was the final cave. All natural, it was a place of worship for multiple faiths. There were openings in the roof caused by American bombs trying to flush out the north Vietnamese troops.
When we got dropped off, Suneel and I made our way to the old town, where he’d not yet been. I showed him the ricepaper tacos and we had one each as we made our way to the Golden Bridge. He wanted to explore the market, so at that point we said goodbye and went our separate ways. The tour had lasted around five hours. I was ready for a beer and to write up note before I forgot the details.