Bill and Sue-On Hillman: A 50-Year Musical Odyssey


PAGE 22:
Hue ~ Hai Van Pass  ~ Da Nang ~ Hoi An
After another great breakfast buffet at the Asian hotel in Hue, we boarded the bus for the drive to Hoi An. The drive through the city gave us a chance to absorb the local colour. Bill sat up front beside the driver -- a great vantage point to photograph the sights as they passed by. The city streets were very well kept and often divided by medians with well manicured shrubs and flowers. Leaving the city the ride was rougher in spots with construction and speed limit restrictions. 

The view of the mountains and coast in the distance was spectacular and there was an abundance of rice farming and agricultural use in the fields. There were cemeteries and villages and also much activity on the lakes. The railway from Hue to Hoi An ran parallel the highway in the distance. Down in the valley we could see construction on what appeared to be a railroad tunnel. In the distance to our left we could see the new major highway and the tunnel entrance which shortened the drive time to Da Nang, but we took the longer winding route over the Annamite Range via Hai Van Pass -- much more scenic than driving many kilometres surrounded by tunnel walls. Most of the traffic now takes the shorter tunnel route leaving the older winding highway to tourists and trucks with cargos too dangerous to be allowed into the tunnels. At times when this road is closed due to fog, heavy rains, landslides or accidents the alternate tunnel highway has to be taken. 

Our driver met and passed traffic on hairpin turns. Roadside domestic goats also lived dangerously as they grazed in the steep narrow ditches, a metre or so from the passing traffic. At the crest, we stopped at a strategic viewpoint where yet again, a long-ago king tried to emulate the Chinese and started to build a Great Wall -- he got only as far as a small fortress. There were also more recent concrete bunkers that had been built by the French and the Americans, since this crest had at one time marked the division between North and South Vietnam.

 These fortifications didn't protect us from the aggressive vendors in shops strung out along the roadside. The rule was that if the travellers wanted to use the "happy room" they would have to purchase something. The sellers descended upon us using every known hard-sell technique to sell drinks, confectionary, stacks of souvenirs, and junk. We bought drinks and ice cream, but Sue-On made the mistake of showing an interest in wooden bracelets made from scented agar wood. They were an unusual item that was new to her and she was attracted by the cinnamon scent. She suspected though, that most of the scent came off the salesgirl's hands. The nicest one started at US$60 but she haggled and the price came down to $50. . . we walked away to climb the trail past the bunkers leading to a spectacular view of the distant sea.

When we returned to our bus parked by the sales stalls, the bracelet girl suddenly appeared out of nowhere with a series of last-ditch pitches . . . the last shout that Sue-On heard as we boarded the bus was, "For you ma'am. . . Special . . . $15!" 

Our winding journey down the mountain to Da Nang was uneventful. As we approached Da Nang we drove alongside the very picturesque beach. Entering the built-up area, hotels lined the road -- one that really stood out was called ELVIS. In the distance we could see the bridges that crossed the Han River -- one of which we would eventually cross over after passing through much of the crowded city. Da Nang was an important American air base during the Vietnam War (known as the American War here) and we passed buildings and display aircraft that had been a part of that operation. 

After crossing the very impressive bridge over the Han River, we started to see roadside displays of marble statues and we soon passed Marble Mountain with its elevator tower, pagodas, communication towers, and stone mining scars. Our bus companion, Vietnam War vet James, had been stationed in this area and would later make plans to return to explore his old haunts. We arrived at our Hoi An hotel, Vinh Hung II, and after a short rest we prepared to invade the Old Quarter and partake of a late lunch

Click for larger full-screen images

Asian Hotel breakfast before our long bus ride to Hoi An

Navigating the streets through the early morning Hue traffic

Into the countryside

The train to Da Nang and Hoi Van

Tunnel construction project in the valley

Legacy of French occupation: a Catholic cemetery

Lake Farming

Winding Mountain Road up to Hai Van Pass

Hai Van Pass rest stop on the summit
Bunkers ~ Towers ~ Tourist Trap Stalls

Mountain road down to Da Nang

Busy Da Nang

Old military hardware

View of Da Nang high-rises and Dragon Bridge while crossing the Nan River

China Beach south of Da Nang

One of many sales lots for marble statues

Marble Mountain
Elevator Tower ~ Pagodas ~ Caves ~ Marble Quarries

Approaching Hoi An
Fishing and Marine Farming is a major source of income

Arrival at our Hoi An hotel

Supplementary Photo Gallery I
Supplementary Photo Gallery II
Photo Gallery III: The Day's Meals: Breakfast ~ Lunch ~ Supper



Copyright 2015
Bill and Sue-On Hillman