Empty Beaches

22 October

When I woke up, Lulu was staring at me. When she noticed I had awakened, she turned her head to the Peruvian-German, who was getting dressed for her morning departure from the guesthouse. Lulu looked sad. After a few minutes, Lulu found a small rug in the dorm room and peed on it.

Lulu is the guesthouse dog at Sac Lo.

The Peruvian-German shooed Lulu out of the dorm room. When she opened the door to the hallway a few minutes later, she discovered that Lulu had crapped in the hallway. She informed Lyna, who cleaned it up, and then napped on the one empty bunk in the dorm room to prevent Lulu from reentering. Lyna said that Lulu acts strangely when it rains.

The rain of the previous night never really stopped. There would be occasional respites, but the rain continued. I stayed in the hostel reading and writing until nearly 11. My plan had been to visit the beach in the morning, but the weather would not make it enjoyable.

Nevertheless, interested in the development outside Hoi An, I biked to the beach during one of the respites. I remember my previous bike ride to the beach from 6.5 years ago. The road was mostly empty with only a few resorts, which had very few hints that anyone was staying there.

But the ride on this day showed that Hoi An had grown even well away from the ancient town. Only a few empty fields could be seen on this ride. Many more resorts had been built along the route and people were actually staying there, although they seemed to cater to domestic tourists.

Once I turned onto the beach road, I could see that nobody was on the beach, which was not surprising given the weather. I decided to try to find this infamous Sunflower Hotel, but I was unable to. I did find a few knockoffs with similar names (a common occurrence in Hoi An and Vietnam in general). There were also quite a few luxury hotels on the beach, catering mostly to Europeans. One hotel had an outright Swiss theme. Cars in front of the hotel showed they were active rather than vacant.

Hoi An’s beaches are nice and clean, although not good for water sports the way Mui Ne or Da Nang’s beaches are. I’m still not sure why a backpacking tourist, unless they REALLY like beaches would choose to stay near Hoi An’s beaches rather than the Ancient Town if it is their one stop between Da Nang and Nha Trang. The ancient town is far more interesting and central. (To be fair, most backpackers skip Da Nang entirely; the city is not well reviewed in the guidebooks. This makes Hoi An the northernmost beach town in Vietnam unless the traveler goes well off the beaten path.)

I returned to town and bought a fresh doughnut from a vendor. She practiced her English, and I practiced my Vietnamese. We exchanged our ages (she was 28) and she joked that we were siblings.

Next, I went for a real lunch at a restaurant. During that time, the skies opened up. I was forced to buy a poncho to ride my bike to Yaly after lunch.

Paying was simple. Visa is accepted, and my clothes were ready. When I returned to the hostel, I found that the new purchases would not fit in my bag. I had anticipated this would be a problem. I biked back into town and bought a nice leather bag for $100. I probably could have negotiated that down, but I was in a bit of a time crunch. I paid with my Visa card. I now have a lot of options for luggage when I travel.

I got back to the hostel with about 45 minutes to spare before my shuttle was to arrive to take me to Da Nang. I packed everything and finished Life of Pi. I tried to check out and pay my bill, but at the same time, two new arrivals checked in and needed assistance first. Then, my shuttle arrived 15 minutes ahead of schedule. There was a bit of a panic, because the shuttle, in theory, had to pick up several other people before heading to Da Nang, but after Lyna talked to the driver, the rush slowed down. I paid and was asked to leave a review on hostelbookers.com.

I was the only one in the shuttle bus at this hour. (Shuttles from Hoi An to Da Nang run nearly every daylight hour.) I assumed I would be dropped off at the airport or train station, but, being the only one, I was able to tell the driver to drop me off in front of the Da Nang University of Economics, where my host would meet me. In the end, I arrived way too early: an hour early. At first I decided to wait, but as the clouds built overhead, I sought shelter in a cafe.

I ordered a ca phe sua da and waited for Duy. When he showed up, the downpours were still heavy, so we tried to wait them out, but failed. At one brief interval when the rains slowed a bit, we hoped on his motorbike and he drove me home. The drive was a short one, thankfully — I was now carrying a lot of luggage. His apartment was a small one. It was a loft with two floors — one bed on each floor — and a bathroom. That was all. He had a desk on his floor (the main first floor) and a ironing board and hangers on the upper floor. I slept on the upper floor.

He hooked me up to the WiFi and then went out to buy dinner. He brought back some fish, which he cooked. The fish looked like small bass. I had trouble separating the meat from the bones and found myself often picking at my teeth to clear the bones back onto the plate. It was very nice dinner and we talked about my trip and the U.S.

After dinner, Duy took me to a drinking establishment on the street. The bar was protected from the rain by a tarp. A few of the establishments on the street had odd English names. One cafe was called Mr. Bean, which made me think of the British comedian. A bar went by the name two girls. Duy tried to contact some of his friends in the city to see if they could join us, but it being late on a Thursday, no one was able to join.

After drinks, he took me on a tour of Da Nang. The city is full with tall buildings and bright lights. While Da Nang does not have all the cultural options of Ho Chi Minh City, it does have a much more modern feel. Duy took me to some of his favorite spots on the motorbike tour, across new bridges and into the city, around the office building he works in as a low-level computer engineer. His company has recently shifted to focus more on its Japanese managers, which he does not like. He is actively searching for a better job.

The last place he took me was to Da Nang’s beach. As it was drizzling and after dusk, there were only a few people on the beach. He told me a few places I might consider visiting the next day and we headed back to his place.

Before we went to bed, Duy posted my contact information on Da Nang’s couchsurfing Facebook group. Duy had to work the next day, but maybe someone else could show me around the city. Before I turned off my mobile phone for the night, I had already received a text from a girl named Phuong. We made plans to meet at 3pm the next day, and I had myself a tour guide for a few hours. She said her English was rather poor and she had no motorbike, so my plans would have to be limited to a small geographic area. I had no idea how old Phuong was, and, honestly, I was a bit concerned she might be only 14. I decided to map out a tour route in Da Nang the next morning.

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