We’ve now arrived in Hoi An, Vietnam. We flew in from Bangkok to the coastal city of Da Nang, where, incidentally, the very first American combat troops landed almost 55 years ago – at the onset of the American War, as the Vietnamese call the conflict.
We had arranged to be picked up at the airport and driven to our homestay in Cam Nam, an island and part of Hoi An.
I’m writing this just a few hundred meters away from the UNESCO listed ancient town in Hoi An which we walked to shortly after unpacking our stuff and where we eventually found a riverside bodega that served crispy veggie springrolls.
Hoi An’s lies along the Thu Bon river and was once an important trading post and its ancient town dates back to the 15th century and consists of roughly 1100 wooden buildings of Chinese and Japanese architectural influence. Today, the old shophouses are where local businesses sell clothes, shoes, porcelain, and, of course, souvenirs. There’s a bunch of tailors, too.
The dilemma with towns and places that get World Heritage status is that they tend to become more popular than what their infrastructure can absorb. As gorgeous as all the old, colorful wooden shophouses are here, the intense traffic, consisting of an endless stream of bicycle rickshaws and low-octane fueled scooters, distracts from the area’s remarkable beauty. Not to mention recurring forests of selfie sticks being haphazardly waved around by visitors – mostly from Vietnam’s neighboring country up north.
Despite having penned and contributed photographs and video for several dozen destination guides and travel stories about similarly visit-worthy places, surprisingly, I’m still often taken aback by how many others I have to share my experiences with.
Am I a cat or a dog person? I don’t know. Probably both. At some point as a child, we had both a dog (Coco) and a cat (Cesar) and I remember vividly how the cat’s tail one day got stuck in the spokes of a slowly turning bicycle wheel and had to be amputated at a local veterinarian. This was while living on Alfred and Willoughby in West Hollywood back in the mid 1970s.
It’s been just over a month since I was last in Bangkok after my Qigong course up north in Chiang Mai. Always feels good to be back in Thailand where as soon as you’ve passed through the austere immigration officers, more or less everyone’s default facial expression is a gentle smile.
Our Thai Airways flight arrived early this morning at 5:00 am after what seemed to take considerably less than the scheduled 10.5 hours of flight time. Thankfully, there was very little turbulens.
In between our vegetarian meals and a slew of meaty podcasts, I saw a couple of special effects packed Marvel flicks. I also watched the excellent biopic “Hitchcock” with Sir Anthony Hopkins as the director extraordinaire and his understated wife Alma played with tremendous fervor by Dame Helen Mirren. The film takes place during pre-production and filming of Hitchcock’s classic horror film Psycho, which I will now have to re-watch. I don’t look at horror films as often as I used to. Just like much of today’s list music, to me, the horror genre’s appeal has metamorphosed into something pathetically clichéd – although there are a few notable exceptions.
After a relatively smooth immigration and bagage claim process, we booked a Grab to drive us into town (which took less than 30 minutes!) and our Aparthotel in the Sukhumvit area.
We’re here for a few days to hopefully rid ourselves of jetlag and acclimatize to the region’s humidity and temperature before heading even further east to Vietnam.
Surprisingly, it’s not that hot here right now. At least not when the sun is hidden by rain-heavy clouds hovering over the city. The temperature was a pleasant 25C earlier this afternoon as I strolled down Thong Lo (Soi 55) on my way to a barber and then a massage.
After my shave, I randomly picked a massage shop that looked acceptably reputable, payed for a 90 minute massage and walked up a steep flight of stairs to a small, air-conditioned room with a raised massage table and two flimsy white plastic clothes hangers hanging on the wall to the left. On the sheet clad massage table was a towel and a square plastic packet containing a pair of ridiculously tiny black nylon unisex underwear.
I must of fallen asleep a half dozen times during my session, waking abruptly up shortly after each from the sound of my own snoring and a quiet giggle from the women gently kneading my body. She was both a thorough and skillful therapist but didn’t speak more than a few words of English. So I couldn’t be bothered to even try to explain to her that I was severely jet-lagged. She looked a little like a sumo wrestler; round, sturdy and completely neckless. At some point in between dozing in and out of sleep, I wondered how many shops more or less like this one there can be in Bangkok. Must be in the hundreds, if not thousands.