After I last wrote I left for Da Nang to give T some personal time with her friends and family and me some time to relax. I had planned to spend 4 days alone in Da Nang and then meet T and go the Hue, the food capitol of Vietnam. I didn't know much about Da Nang but I was pretty sure there wasn't even close to 4 days worth of stuff to do, even including the nearby tourist city of Hoi An, so I was hoping to catch up on some correspondences and website updates and in general just take it easy and recharge.
The place I was hoping to stay in Da Nang was fully booked so I walked to a nearby hotel in search of a room. A man in the lobby that barely spoke English showed me an option. It was a very very nice room and he was asking a reasonable price so I decided to stay. It seemed a bit too good to be true so I had T confirm everything with reception. Yup, everything was fine. I unpacked my stuff and took a nap and was awoken by my phone ringing. It was the manager of the hotel asking when I was checking out. I told him around 9am on the 17th, as I had agreed. I guess there was a misunderstanding and he thought I was checking out at 4pm that night! No wonder the room was so cheap. I went down to talk to him and he was very nice. He agreed to let me stay in the room tonight for the price I had already paid but if I wanted to stay longer it would cost more. He said I could move into a different room for less. He invited me down later that evening for drinks.
That evening I sat in the hotel lobby with the manager and security guard who had shown me the room, drinking beer. For about 20min straight as I talked to the manager the security guard yelled at me in Vietnamese. I guess he had some egg on his face from the misunderstanding. I didn't feel at fault at all—I had confirmed 3 times, even having my friend call and confirm in Vietnamese—but eventually I said I was sorry and a little while later he let it drop. The manager didn't seem to care or be angry at me at all. The manager and I hit it off well and he started asking about my travels, in particular the women I meet. Very quickly the conversation took a turn that made me uncomfortable. The manager was asking me about which women I thought were the easiest to sleep with and telling me about his own experiences, despite the fact that he had earlier told me that he has a wife and daughter. He spoke about women like objects only there to please him and it made me very unhappy. He would often make a comment then look to me for approval. I hate being in that position. I don't want to insult the person I'm with especially when they have some influence over my wellbeing but I personally don't agree with what they're saying. If the conversation was happening in America I definitely would have said something but being in a foreign culture and with people who can barely understand the simple things I'm saying I didn't feel like launching into a diatribe about womens rights. So I left the situation as soon as I could and checked out the next morning.
Women's right in Vietnam are one thing that upsets me. Women are overtly treated differently then men and I know from talking to Vietnamese women that they're not all happy about it. People here believe in "womens work" and that women need men to protect them and help them make decisions. I've gone on record saying that I don't believe in anything and for the most part that's true—I have no religion and I don't believe in math or science—but I do believe in equal rights for all people.
As luck would have it my friends Marius and Max from the tournament in Bangkok by way of Otres beach had arrived in Da Nang that morning so I walked to their hotel. They had a double room and said I could crash with them. We spent the first day exploring Da Nang on foot. We started at the beach which according to Forbes is one of the 10 best on earth. Don't buy the hype, it couldn't hold a candle to Otres. As we walked through the city I saw lots of people playing chines chess—which I've been seeing more of since north Thailand—and solo playing cards randomly laying around.
I've devised a game for anyone exploring Da Nang city on foot. I call it "Street Cards" and to play all you have to do is look for playing cards on the street or sidewalk. If you're playing by yourself, try to mentally collect a whole deck. If you're playing with a partner, try to get higher poker hands. Or one person can get a point for face up cards and one person can get a point for face down cards. There's limitless possibilities. The most common card to find is a joker, followed by the 2 of spades.
Being with Max and Marius is an absolute blast. They know tons of games, including word games that you can play while walking or riding the bus, and have lots of running jokes, many of which I'm now in on. For the duration of our time together in Da Nang we were constantly asking Marius in a news-reporteresque voice to comment on the balloon situation which was prompted on many occasions by seeing an animal balloon escaping to the heavens.
Many things were closed and Da Nang isn't overrun with tourist attractions so we decided to find our own attraction and climbed a skyscraper that was under construction but uninhabited for Tet. After slipping through a hole in the fence and narrowly avoiding a guard we climbed as high as the unfinished staircase would allow and got a nice view of the city. That night we went back to the hotel room and played card games, drank and enjoyed a game they call "guilty pleasures" where in turn everyone plays a song they enjoy but should feel guilty about(though we almost never actually felt guilty about our tracks).
The next day we went to a nearby ancient city of Hoi An. We knew that riding the public bus there would be a challenge but we were up for it. After boarding the bus the woman came by to collect our money. She asked us for 150,000 Dong each. I knew the price was no more than 15,000 Dong so that's what I handed her. She wouldn't take it. 100,000 she said. I handed her the 15,000. She got to work on Max and Marius. They wouldn't give in either. Eventually she dropped down to 50,000 Dong each but I urged them not to give in. They didn't. She had someone else on the bus give her 50,000 to show that that was the price but she promptly gave it back to them after we refused to take the bait. She got 50,000 Dong from a Japanese tourist going to the Marble Mountains which was half the distance to Hoi An.
"You pay now. You off here" she said. I ignored here. For 15 minutes straight she tapped me on the shoulder and repeated: "You pay now. You off here" and every now and then I'd try to give her the 15,000 which she wouldn't take. "15,000 impossible" she insisted. It's funny how often I seem to do the "impossible" on this trip. Finally she took 20,000 each both Marius and Max but I refused to give in. At one point they actually stopped the bus: "You off here". I refused to move. The bus waited. Eventually the locals on the bus started getting mad and clearly told the woman to stop trying to rip me off and we got moving again. Then she said: "This bus no go to Hoi An" which was an obvious lie since when we got on she said it did and it was also written across the front. She only kept that speech up for 5 minutes. When we finally arrived in Hoi An she took my 15,000 and I got off without a problem. I had won but it was a lot of work. She tried real hard and got very insulted when I wouldn't let her rip me off. It's disappointing that other locals tried to help her scam me. There's a little more than 20,000 Dong to the US Dollar so I wasn't arguing over much money, it's the principle that's important.
The first thing we did in Hoi An was get some lunch, during which I learned The English Duck trick which is where if you know that the restaurant doesn't have something you tell the next people to walk in that it's absolutely delicious. We went to the restaurant because they were advertising 3,000 Dong per glass beer, which they didn't have, and two English girls that were there before us told us to try the duck, which they also apparently didn't have. We rented bikes and toured the city and if I had any expectations they would have been let down, but as I didn't and I was with good company I made the most of it.
The bus ride home was exactly the same as the ride there except that the guy collecting money took my 20,000 after about 15 minutes instead of 25. After he took our money he insisted that we all squish into 1 square meter of space despite there being ample standing room in the isle with the locals. Every time he'd leave I'd move back out and then he'd come along and shove me into the corner. One time I didn't budge and when he shoved harder I pushed back with my body. He stepped back, looked real pissed and gave a look of "Oh no you didn't" and frantically garbed 20,000 dong and handed it to me and motioned toward the open door of the moving bus. I verbally and non-verbally said: "Come at me bro" and he stood there for a second then decided better of it and moved on. He didn't bother me again which was a good thing because if one of us was getting off the bus it was gonna be the 40kg, 5 foot Vietnamese guy.
Get your act together Vietnam. With the most expensive visa in Southeast Asia if you're gonna treat tourists like animals and indignantly try to rip them off, you can't expect many people to go to your country. Other travelers talk, some even have website that few but increasingly more travelers read. Cambodia can get away with stuff like that because they've got Angkor Wat; what do you have? Perhaps it's your communistic attitude where you know that if you all agree to rip tourists off they'll have to pay the price, but really you're only hurting yourself. No one I know is going to get a post card from Vietnam because I refuse to pay 50 cents per card when I know I can get them for 10 cents per card in countries with stronger economies. I get the feeling that you need my money more than my friends and family need the postcards. I'm not sure how you can shift this paradigm but perhaps the government could urge people to be more polite and fair to tourists like Myanmar does with their: "Be kind and take care of tourists" campaign which is posted everywhere in Myanmar in both English and Burmese. T, her friends and family, and some other locals that I've met have been very nice and generous, but all the people that are used to interacting with tourist really leave a sour taste in my mouth.
If you'd like to follow Max and Marius on the rest of their journey check out their blog: Max an Marius's Road to Nowhere