CENTRAL HIGHLANDS AND CHINA BEACH

Vietnam Airlines captain is an American flying an 250 seat plus Airbus.  We landed safely in
Da Nang to cool temperatures in the 70’s meaning that China Beach is empty.  Oh well at
least it is warmer than Hanoi.  I checked in and was going out to grab a bite to eat when I met
a Vietnamese in the elevator from Chicago.  Lived there 22 years.  He was a young man in his
late 30’s maybe early 40’s and introduced me to his friend from Chicago that was on the
internet in the lobby.  I think he was Hispanic.  He knew Arizona well and wanted to know if
I was a Mining Engineer?  He was and they were both here on business but flew back to cold
Chicago tomorrow.  I walked over to a Vietnamese restaurant and had some Pho Ca and a Ba
Tram Ba Moi Ba.  Then I stopped to pick up my Hanoi Vodka and a Mango Fruit Smoothie to
mix with it while I caught up on my movies and photos.
    I visited the Market looking for coffee.  It was huge and busy.  Great way to wake up.  Had
a Fresh OJ then found some coffee and decided to take the bus to Hoi An rather than hire a
taxi.  I checked out, crossed the street, and waved the bus down.  I guy in the back of the bus
jumped out and grabbed my bag.  He threw it in and got back on while the bus was still
moving.  I figured I better jump on myself or my bag was leaving without me. 
An hour later I was on a Motor Bike with my bag in the drivers lap.  I arrived at the hotel but
when requested two extra days, he informed me that was not possible…they were booked.  I
will go visit my new Couch Surfing friend, after I check in,  and see what he says.
Hedi emailed me from Estonia to tell me about her trip to Istanbul and inform me that
Randy, the Couch Surfer from Hoi An picked up my profile and saw her listed as my friend so
wrote her to get a reference.  Cool. 
    I decided to walk around and get a feel of the city so headed out for the beach.  3 hours
later I’m on a deserted beach with waves you could surf on crashing in and a cold wind.  My
feet were tired so I took a Motor Bike back to the hotel and decided to go enjoy Happy Hour.  
I talked to some Americans that had rented and drove a Motor Bike to Marble Mountain and
China Beach to visit the caves.  They said it was grand so I checked with the local tour
company across the street and it will cost me about $9 for the day.  I decided to do it then
walked into town to have a beer and met David from Davis California. He is a postal worker
and every winter takes off to travel to cheap far eastern places.  He had been in Hoi An before
and knew Randy, the Couch Surfer that had the book store.  We chatted a bit then I returned
to the hotel. 
 I had a seven course lunch earlier at he hotel restaurant on the balcony overlooking the
street.  Below was a pleasant lady trying to get people to eat at her restaurant so I went there
for Take Away Hamburg.  I could hear them chopping the beef and then she sent her daughter
out to buy a take away container because they didn’t have any but were not going to refuse
business. She also had to run out to get me change for a small bill…they hadn’t any business
so had no money.   They sent me to the hotel with an order of fresh homemade French Fries
and ketsup in a ceramic dish because they didn’t have take out for the ketsup.  The Hamburg
I was good and I’m going over in the morning to have breakfast with them before hiring a
Motor Bike to Marble Mountain and China Beach.
Breakfast was free at the hotel and they had an egg station to make eggs or an omelet for you.
 I had an omelet and a banana pancake with coffee and juice.  I returned the ceramic dish they
had put my ketsup in and had a second cup of coffee while reading a tour guide of Vietnam
they supplied for their customers.  I stopped at the tour agent and told him I would return in
a half hour for my trip. I did and to greet me was a lady driver that had my rain poncho and
helmet ready.  We took off but within the half hour the rain stopped and another half hour
and we were there.
We parked at the base of the Mountain where a lot of the carving is done and a LOT of the
sculptures are on display for sale.  We started up the steps, paid our admission then on
further to a pagoda complex at the entrance to one of 3 or 4 caves.  This particular one was
more of a gateway to the top of the mountain.  


 I was covered in sweat after all that exertion and the high humidity.  It was dark and ominous.
We carried a flashlight and you needed it.  This was ROCK climbing.  My petite limber driver
had no problem and pulled me up half the trip.  It was steep and you did have to be very
careful but reaching the summit was a real high.
We came down the other side rather than back the same way. I didn’t bother exploring the
other caves because I had blocked them out of my mind after that last experience.  They
would have been nicer , larger, safer, and less effort I found out later.  
We returned to have lunch at the Laugh Cafe.  Another one of those restaurants set up for
homeless girls to work and learn a profession.  This was set up and managed by Australians
not Swedes like the one in Luang Prabang.  The food though good was overrated.  They
offered cooking courses and now that I made arrangement to stay right up to the 18th when
I was planning on doing something like that while in Saigon anyway. I noticed two young
girls that looked like European backpackers, come out of the kitchen with meals and sit down
with their aprons on and eat.  I assumed they had taken the cooking classes.
I had some great Cashew Chicken stir fry and some so so shrimp spring rolls that were
loaded with shrimp.  I couldn’t eat it all .  My driver, on request took me to the Japanese
Bridge where I found a silk sleep sack for 4 dollars…a real steal considering I paid around
$50 for mine.  Mine was a single small one..that I could have bought for $3.   
She then , as requested, took me to the local market and dropped me off.  I asked how much
I should give her and at first she said nothing.  Then after I pressured her she said $5 so I
gave her $10 as a tip.  
I browsed the market.  What a selection of chopstick sets, dishes, tablecloths, mats, etc.
 I wanted to buy everything but only bought the cinnamon I was looking for.  I hope I can get
it through customs.  It is the raw bark of the cinnamon tree that you grind or break into
pieces.  It is sweet and strong.  I love it.  I bought a star apple and another fruit that I still
don’t know what it is but she gave me a taste.  Cross between an apple and a pear.  I went
down to the docks along the market before returning to the bridge leading to an Island across
the river. That is where Randy, the Couch Surfer, has his bookstore.  
A lady accosted me and took me to her shop to show me the clothes she has been making for
10 years.  I didn’t see anything that interested me so crossed the bridge but after getting lost
and being tired, I hired a Motor Bike to take me home for $2.  
When I arrived at the hotel, I approached the Manager and asked about staying the extra two
days….no problem.  That is not at all what I got from the other Manager on duty.  I took it
and requested the plane flight from Da Nang to Saigon that same morning with a Taxi to the
airport…no problem .  He made a few calls and filled out an invoice for me to sign…$63 for
the flight and $10 for the airport taxi…pay when you check out.  Works for me!  Siesta.
When I awoke, it was getting dark so I just started walking toward the Japanese Bridge and
Old Town.  I had walked about an hour taking photos and not really paying attention as to
where I was going .  I knew I was in Old Town because of the architecture and the streets.   I
just kept walking and stopped at a bakery to buy some french bread for peanut butter snack
when I returned to the hotel.  It was getting late and I was hungary so decided to head back
and stop at the Laugh Cafe again for dinner.  I took a wrong turn and the road was dark and
unfamiliar.  I actually stopped and asked for directions but instead of going down the road
further before I turned right , I turned right at the first turn and ended up in no where land.
 I asked directions again and was told to return down the road to no where and take a right
and after another couple blocks take another right…I did and ended up almost at my front
door.  I was approaching the Laugh Cafe when I heard someone yell out Hello David…it was
Dave the postal worker from Northern California,  He was eating in a little sidewalk HoJo’s
and we visited a bit before I crossed over to the Laugh Cafe. 
    I tried to order some wine but the price was crazy so I finally decided to try a Gin and Tonic.
 It is all in the pour.  The waiter brought out a glass half full of Gin with a can of Tonic.  I
struck gold.  I then ordered Shrimp and Green Vegetables and sat back with my movie camera
to film the neighborhood.  The two girls that I saw earlier showed up.  I asked where they
were from and they replied Switzerland on the German border.  They both spoke English,
French and German.  They did take the cooking course and came back for dinner.  One was
Alexander and the other Hasfa.  They just came from 3 months in Cambodia and were
traveling in the opposite direction from me. They were headed for Hanoi and Ha Long
Harbor but not sure when they wanted to leave.  True travelers and only 20 years old!
I returned to the hotel after a great dinner and nice cheap drinks.  I may book a trip to Hue
after talking to Dave. He has been there and for a day trip he said it was worth it…still haven’t
visited Randy the CouchSurfer from California.
The next morning I asked the Desk Clerk about a day trip to Hue but I had to take a bus at
7:30 am then not miss the last bus at around 3pm.  It didn’t sound enticing so I had breakfast
and flipped my own eggs so they were cooked right.  I lingered over coffee then set out to the
old town and visited an ancient meeting hall.  I noticed an Art Gallery displaying photos so
stopped in and inquired about the price.  $8 a photo.  Yes they were photo copies but good so
I bought 8 of them.   
I continued to visit a few shops and after passing through the local market, I stopped at the
tailor shop.  
I didn’t see the lady that gave me the card but decided I was going to replace the long sleeve
shirt I was wearing with a tailor made one.  She quoted me $25 and I said forget it then she
said $15 so I got measured and picked out a cloth then she said it would be $27 because I only
bought one.  I was disgusted but paid and walked out to pick it up tomorrow.  I should have
told her to stuff it.
I crossed over to the Island to visit Randy and his bookstore.  He was reading a book and
listening to some great music  in his home/bookstore.  He opened about 3 years ago and last
year got Lonely Planet’s review as the best bookstore in Hoi An.  The same time, Rough Guide
came out with their review which gave me the Best Bookstore in Southeast Asia!  Now I  sit
around reading my books and people stop in and hand me money.  I bought his Cheat Sheet
of Cambodia and he threw in one of Hoi An.  He took in Couchsurfers up until last year.  The
government frowns on it even though it was free it was taking business away from the hotels
and guesthouses.  He would have had to maintain copies of passports, etc and face up to
$300-500 fines if he violated their regulations.  He is now a day host for Couchsurfers and
still meets a lot of great people…like me.  Randy had heart problems and 5 years ago after a
couple more stents, his cardiologists in California and Hawaii said he will have more
recurring attacks until he dies…in maybe 5 years.  They don’t know why and can’t help him .
 He sold everything before the Real Estate crash and took off around the world.  He spent
about a quarter of a million when he arrived in Hoi An on his travels.  Here he developed a
severe life threating infection and ended up in the Hoi An hospital.  They wanted to run tests
before treating him so he said do the works because it can’t hurt.  While running all these
tests, they found a bacteria that has been in his system since his last visit to Vietnam over 30
years ago.  They claimed that that was creating the inflammation resulting in his chest pains
and subsequent heart attacks.  He started treatment with massive antibiotics for weeks…and
it completely cleared up…no chest pains and clean bill of health.  That is when he decided he
could relax and enjoy life and what better place then here in the community that saved his
life.  He opened to bookstore and travels around Southeast Asia making friends and enjoying
his life. 
I took his advice and headed for the Lazy Gecko.  I passed the sign but the place looked like a
house though it had Gecko’s stencils on the entrance walls.  It was a house and after walking
into the woman’s kitchen and asking for a beer, she escorted me out and down the street to
the real Lazy Gecko.  While sitting on the balcony have a beer and sandwich, I looked over to
find David just arrived.  We chatted a bit then I went on the the Lighthouse restaurant for
coffee and apple pie.  I returned home on the same Motor Bike that drove me the day before.
 He waits on the corner by the bridge.  
While walking the streets of Hoi An or the back alleys, I sometimes feel I’m on a movie set.  I
mean really I feel like I’m in a dream or part of a play.  The Vietnamese are family oriented
like most of the world. I remember that feeling when I grew up in the 50’s .  We were all family
, neighbors, Boy Scouts, 4 H, friends, C.Y.O., parishes, Rod and Gun Club, everyone looked
after each other…no fences…no boundaries…dogs had no leashes…Summer Camps and Parks
and Recreation..paper boys…Dry Cleaners pickup at your home…milk delivery…bakery
delivery….YMCA where we all swam naked…(us guys)…H.S. Football, Basketball, Senior Trips.
ONE community and thought the whole world was like that.   I understand why Randy choose
to stay here.  He radiates calm and is happy. 
    Now America is not as communal as it used to be and neither will these countries in the
future.  Now, I see strangers treat each other as family because that is how they were raised.
 We now treat strangers as foe until we know them.  The grandparents still live in the same
home with their children and grandchildren.  Neighbors smile and laugh with each other.
 Even the dogs seem to smile as they run back and forth.  Randy said that Normal people are
just people we haven’t got to know yet.  
I went over to the Restaurant across the street to throw a little business their way even
though I was full.  I ordered a Spring Roll Appetizer and coffee.  I ended up with two Jumbo
Spring Rolls that were way more than I wanted but ate.  Coffee was fantastic as usual. 
 I walked down to the Laugh Cafe for two Gin and Tonics and returned to bed at 9pm.
 I dropped my laundry at the front desk before going to breakfast.    When breakfast was
done, I returned to the room and overcome by laziness , I fell into a slumber on the bed when
in a daze, I heard a doorbell ring.  I thought it was my computer sitting in front of me.  I
played with it a little and again I heard the ring.  It must be my computer…ding dong.  I
turned the volume down and heard it again along with a key in my door.  It turned out the
hotel has doorbells for all the rooms. It was the last thing I expected to hear. The maid was
delivering my laundry that I just dropped off before breakfast! 
 I got out of my slumber and spent the morning in the Old Town.  The streets are closed to
Motor Traffic between 9am and 11am then again in the afternoon and in the evening.  It was
quite nice.  I stopped at one of the restaurants that Randy recommended…Cargo and had
coffee and an éclair.  While I was there, I noticed the English Vietnam News.  They erase the
price of .30 cent and put in $1.50 and come up to you to sell it.  I was wise this time and
turned to the subscription page and told them I would pay .30 cents.  They all laughed that I
caught on to their scam.  My Motor Bike driver laughed at me when I originally bought it and
told me what they do.  It apparently is a Hoi An thing like two different menus…one for the
natives and one for the farangs.  I didn’t care because I got to read it free at the coffee shop.  
I patronized a handicapped Art Shop and was to buy two items as souvenirs but the head clerk
wouldn’t let me take a photo of a typed out paper describing the item and didn’t have a copy
to give me.  I walked out. 
I visited my Tailor and got my shirt.  I was not impressed but it was OK. 
 I moved over to the Secret Garden Restaurant and order some marinated BBQ Pork like
what I had in Sa Pa but not all that fat and really flavorful. The music was piped in and I
would have to return later to hear live music.  It sounded like Jimmy Buffet and James Taylor
with Carly Simmons.  I have no idea. The owner is a retired school teacher from the US and
designed the whole restaurant.  Very nice.  It started to pour down rain for about five minutes
and then ended.   I washed my meal down with some white rice wine …80%proof …not unlike
the Hanoi Vodka. .. while I was dining alone…the only person in the entire restaurant…I 
 noticed a cook preparing what looked like Rice Pancakes that were steamed.  
I paid the bill and went over to ask questions but she didn’t speak any English and my
waitress tried to help but didn’t.  I left and stopped by one of the shops to buy some more
“STUFF” to figure out how to take home.  
I had to go by the Laugh Cafe and stop for a Gin and Tonic.  I felt I would be hungry later as
it was still early so I ordered a Pizza to put in the Refrigerator at the Hotel when I returned.
  There were a nice couple from Sydney sitting near by but they didn’t want to have anything
to do with an Old American Pot Belly Single Lonely Bum sipping his second Gin and Tonic.  
She was saying to her male companion that she never had any luck with the men in her life.
 “Maybe because I’m Bi and they can’t handle that?” 
Returning to the hotel I had noticed a slew of Internet cafes that were populated with
Vietnamese young people so decided to explore them.  They were just like Madrid gaming
rooms.  Everyone was shooting everyone in game warfare.  Their were a few variations but
most were combat AK-47 battles with each other.  I had visited over three then came into one
that was NOT a gaming internet  cafe but what looked like studious young people doing
research or communication with each other on Instant Messaging .   
   The following morning after eating cold Pizza for breakfast, I hung out at the hotel and
played with Picasso Photo before leaving to visit Randy.   I was going to bring him medicine
I had for his congestion.  When I arrived in the afternoon, his book exchange was shut down
and a sign send….if the gate is closed, I’m down the street at the Lazy Gecko  As I was going
down the street he was coming up on his Motor Bike.  I gave him my meds.  He explained he
went to the Doctor that day and got Codeine and Expectorant which is the active ingredient
to  eliminate congestion.   He was on his way to bed and I continued to  Sleepy Gecko and ran
into Dave from Northern California.  We met another guy from D. C. that was a retired
traveler and we had a nice chat.   Dave and I went upstairs to share the clean air and the view.
  I left to have lunch at the MangoRoom.   Famous for Mick Jagger and Anthony Bourdain
the food reviewer from NYC.  I had a great meal of Red Snapper then on to an Aussie Wine
Bar
for a drink before returning to my neighborhood where some Vietnamese invited me to share
their rice wine and food with them.  I did.
 Then arriving at the hotel to settle my bill and have last call with my Vietnamese friends and
a new New Zealander friend.
 The following morning I was on my way to Saigon.

c

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