On Sunday in Hanoi we boarded our overnight bus to Hue. The distance is about 700 km, but the length of the trip ends up being 12 hours (at least it's supposed to be) because the roads here are too small and very chaotic. Our bus broke down for over an hour in the middle of the night, and the trip ended up being over 15 hours. What fun! It was raining when we got to Hue, which turned out to be pretty unexciting. We did see the ancient citadel in town, which is very large, impressive, and historic (just don't ask us why, we already forget and we didn't pay to go inside). There are many other attractions outside the town, but the only way to get to them is on the back of someone's motorbike, and the roads here are unnerving enough from inside a bus. The hassling was not much better than it was in Hanoi. We were having lunch at a cafe, and before our food arrived the owner was sitting with us and trying to sign us up for a motorbike tour! "Yes, it is very rainy today, but I think it's still a nice day for a tour of the countryside." It's unbelievable here. We walked past a bike-taxi driver as he was taking a leak and when he turned around, hand on zipper, he asked Kate if we would like a ride.
Our bus trip down to Hoi An was only 4 hours and on a better bus. This has easily been our favorite city in Vietnam. It is small, laid-back, the UNESCO certified old town is very charming, and of course, the clothes. The clothes! There are hundreds of tailor shops in town, but luckily we had been told about a good one. The sisters who own it were very friendly, helpful, and not pushy. Not that they needed to be, we totally went to town in there and it was hard to stop. Raime got a wool suit, linen suit, two corduroy jackets, wool pants, 5 shirts, and a pair of jeans. Kate got 2 suits, 4 jackets, 3 dresses (2 silk), one pair of pants, and 2 skirts. The total price tag...under $400. They measured every inch of us, we picked the fabric and design, and within hours we had a pile of clothes. For one jacket they did not have enough of the fabric Raime selected, so they sent one sister to Danang (one hour away) to look for more of it! What service. Nearly everything required a second fitting, and they were happy to make any changes very promply. This is the way to buy clothes! Sending the clothes home by DHL cost about half the cost of the clothes themselves, but the Vietnamese post is a hassle and not nearly as reliable. It was a lot of fun, and it will be so hard to go shopping at home and spend lots more on clothes that don't fit.
There have been plenty of people in town who want to sell us moto rides, boat rides (lots of flooded roads in town right now), clothes at their tailor shop, and even people with snack stands who shout "You buy something!" But we have met plenty of truly friendly people here too, which has been very good for our impressions of this country. There is an excellent shop in town called Reaching Out that sells crafts made by people with disabilities. We spent $40 there, which entitled us to dinner for 2 at a vegetarian restaurant (which like everything else here, was owned by the shopkeep's family). The place was down an alley and hard to find, and was a typical Vietnamese eatery - practically on the sidewalk with very short chairs and tables. We didn't know what to expect when we showed up with our note from the lady at the shop that must have said, "Dear Mom, These folks spent a lot of money. Feed them well." We were indeed fed very well and we had to fight with them to leav! e a tip. We have since been back twice and it cost under a dollar each time. It was the first non-touristy place we have eaten in the country, as most locals' eateries are not vegetarian. We're very glad we found it.
Of course, we managed to have one very annoying experience during our stay here. Yesterday morning we woke up before 5 to get on a crowded van with other tourists for a short trip to My Son, some temple ruins about 50 km away. We drove for an hour, and then got to an impassible flooded road and had to turn around. You would think they could've called someone to ask how the road looked, but why would they do that? Our guide: "I am very sorry, but tomorrow will be no problem, we will go tomorrow." We weren't up for trying again this morning, but of course we found out that the roads were fine. Kate told the story to the DHL guy, whose English seemed very good, but then he asked "How old is your son?"
In a few hours we board another night bus, hopefully the last one for a long time. More adventures await...