When I came back to Hoi An I purposefully chose where to stay based on proximity to Cua Dai Beach. This is a little beach town 5 kilometers east of Hoi An. It’s an easy trip by bicycle from the town, but not a town teeming with anything but luxury resorts and beachside cafes. A great day haven for those on my budget.
Having seen the very charming “old town” and historical parts of Hoi An last September, I wanted a different experience. The lovely 2 star Sunflower Hotel is on the eastern end of Hoi An, about 2k from the beach. Perfect.
This morning I went across the street and rented a bicycle for $1 for the day. It was utilitarian – had a basket, a lock, one speed, full tires, and brakes that could at least slow me down. I knew I wouldn’t be breaking any speed records, so it fit the bill perfectly.
The woman at the shop told me to “be very careful!” and I was off, weaving my way down the sandy street towards the beach.
This first trip was just to scope out the scene and get around the town a bit. On my way, I spotted this pagoda
and promised to stop on my later trip to the beach to pay my respects to the Buddha.
As I rode, traffic whizzed around me with horns honking, lots of swerving; I had to pass a couple of bikes and trikes, which was a little hair-raising. I also experienced the conundrum of following the arrows on the ground that indicate where one should turn: the left turn lane is on the right side of the street, and the right turn lane is on the left. Something in my brain clicked right then as to why that makes sense; I cannot possibly explain it now. But if you don’t want to get killed in traffic, you MUST follow these arrows and the flow which is totally foreign to how we drive our giant cars in the US.
I rode around for about an hour, then returned to where I rented the bicycle. The young woman who had rented it to me looked concerned; I merely panted at her that I needed a Coke and handed over 8,000 dong for that. I thanked her, then parked the bike in front of my hotel and realized that I was sweating so bad that my shirt was drenched and I was dripping from my chin. Yuck! I went into my room, guzzled down the Coke, took a shower, and cranked the a/c to cool off.
Refreshed, I set out for the beach again. Of course, I had parked my bike in the sun and the seat was BURNING hot. I stopped in a shady spot next to the hotel to let it cool down for a minute, and a guy from the bike shop came out with a rag and bottle of water to cool it off for me! It seemed so much further to the beach this time!
I spotted the pagoda I’d seen before and went in for a look. It was so beautiful – all done in my favorite color, yellow, and heavy with the scent of burning incense. I was the only one there besides some very young monks, also clad in beautiful yellow.
I gave thanks to this guy for so many things: my safe/ sketchy bus trip to Hoi An; Tom’s safe and fun time in Vietnam; the fortuitous meeting of people who are helping me realize dreams of working here and in Indonesia; my own safe trips; for the guy who saved me from burning my butt on my bike seat – the list goes on and on. It’s a beautiful Buddha – perhaps one of my favorite pagodas (I know I keep saying that!!!)
As I rode to the beach I kept noticing incense on the sidewalks and in the gutters; candy and rice thrown on the ground; lots of people seemingly not working; and a general, party atmosphere – it felt a bit like a holiday. I had no idea what holiday it would be, so I carried on to the beach. In no time I was there and pulled into the bike/ motorbike parking lot. The attendant asked me where I was from, then started singing a song in English about taking good care of my bike while I was gone. It cracked both of us up. I walked down to the beach and marveled at how crowded it looked compared to when I had visited in September. Again, it felt like there was a party/ festival, but I had no idea what that might be.
I walked down the beach, asking the cafes which one would give me a beach chair for free if I bought food. Believe it or not, it’s not until you get to cafe #5 that the chair is thrown in if you buy something. Otherwise it costs 30,000 dong ($1.50). That was timely for me, because by the time I got to #5 I was greeted with such a warm, friendly smile by my new friend/ server Hue that I probably would have paid anyways to get my feet out of the hot sand.
I sat down in “the garden” for a bowl of pho ga (chicken soup – my new favorite). It was hot and so was I, but it tasted great. After lunch Hue escorted me down to the beach, asking me if I wanted “shadow, or no shadow” and finding both under one palapa. I settled in and started reading a book. The breeze was perfect; the sea was warm, clean, and calm; the beach vendors – all women – were persistent but kind. It was the perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon.
As the day progressed, the Vietnamese crowd on the beach grew in great proportions. Many of you know that on a Vietnamese beach this sight is an oddity:
Finally, a Vietnamese woman visiting from Nha Trang on holiday sat down next to me and started talking, eventually explaining that today is the “half New Year” and there will be a huge party on the beach tonight in celebration. Questions answered.
I was getting hot, and the beach was filling up fast. I remembered the treacherous road back to the Sunflower and thought that it seemed like a good time for my getaway. My timing couldn’t have been better. By the time I reached the parking lot where my bike was, it looked like this:
Traffic into the little beach town looked like more than it could handle; though it would have been interesting and fun to be on the beach after dark for the celebration, I was glad to not have to fight traffic out of there on my little bike.
I spotted the golden spire of my new favorite pagoda on my way home and stopped for another “thanks” and a photo: