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Travelogue: A tale of two cities

October 11, 2018   ·   0 Comments

Written By KIRA WRONSKA DOWARD

Over the next few weeks, Citizen freelance writer, Kira Wronska Dorward will be reporting from Vietnam, as she discovers its new vitality and beauty. This is her second log.

Da Nang, a port city on the coast halfway between Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and Ha Noi, is a city that seems very much in transition. Considered to be a provincial backwater for many years, the sprawling coastline is now teeming with ongoing development in the form of sprawling luxury resorts, hotels and soon-to-be beach condos. Known more for its nightlife and restaurants than sight-seeing spots, Da Nang comes to life after dark, as the Vietnamese people are very fond of eating out multiple times a week. It’s been dubbed “Silicon City” because of its booming internet industry.

During French colonial rule, the city was called Tourane, and surpassed Hoi An, the traditional ancient port of Central Vietnam, as the most important port, which it remains to this day. Danang was the beach where 3,500 American troops first landed in South Vietnam in March 1965. At the time, they stormed the beach in full battle gear only to be greeted by local girls bearing flower garlands. By the war’s end, the scene was a very different one when two truckloads of communist guerrilla warriors (over half of them women) chased frightened civilians off and declared Danang “liberated.”

Today, Da Nang seems either half in the process of being torn down or half in the process of being built, depending on how you look at it. You can’t look very far without seeing houses with their interiors exposed or barriers promising an intimidating resort to come along the beach front, which is in Forbes Top 5 list of beaches in the world. For these reasons, Danang is one of Vietnam’s most vibrant economies.

The scene in Hoi An, a half hour’s drive from bustling Da Nang, is quite different. The atmosphere changes immediately as you enter the ancient town, which caters to tourists the way Da Nang caters to businessmen. Architecture and life here seem untouched by the demands of the twenty-first century, a water-borne oasis where the old Vietnam still lives and breathes. Driving into town, we see scenes of water buffaloes roaming freely through the rice paddies to the side of the road, where traditional rice harvesting methods are still being used.

Hi An, or Faifoo as it was known to Western traders, was once one of South East Asia’s major ports, well known to all European and Asian trading nations. The architecture reflects Japanese and Chinese influences. Driven to Hội An by Monsoon winds, Japanese and Chinese merchants would often winter there. During their stay they rented accommodations and often left full-time agents to take care of their affairs after their return home. Hội An was also the first place in Vietnam to be exposed to Christianity, and a missionary in the seventeenth century devised the Latin-based script for the Vietnamese language.

Crowded market stalls cater from tourist trinkets to pearls to silks, a commodity Hội An is well known for. The town is famous for its tailoring industry and our first stop is at a high-end tailoring studio called Be Be. There I am immediately grabbed by a seamstress and fitted for two unique dresses of my own design, with fabrics chosen from their reams of silks lining the walls.

Afterwards, we order lunch at a hole-in-the-wall where we are served a Vietnamese sandwich called Bánh Mì, filled with lettuce, dill, cucumber, a fried egg, and various unidentifiable meats that I try not to think about as I chew. Before leaving for Vietnam, I saw on the CBC that the Vietnamese government had been imploring its citizens to stop eating dog meat after seeing its effects on tourism and the general image of the country. I can only hope those pleas are being heard. I do occasionally see pet dogs here, and the odd wild-looking ones, but not as many as I would expect.

After strolling the higher-end market stalls that cater to hordes of European tourists, we end up at the waterfront and decide on a boat ride down the Thu Bon River. It is a beautiful sunny day, and we are not the only one’s pleasure boating. However, some travellers on the water are there to work, and I glimpse a single woman in a fishing boat wearing the traditional Non La conical hat, poling her own way up river. On an island in the middle of the river, I see a fisherman and what looks like two full grown pot-bellied pigs resting (the fisherman) and frolicking (the pigs) in the shade. More small fishing boats come into view, and I realize that stock sold in the less glamourous fish market has to come from somewhere.

Thinking about people eating the fish from this river, I recall seeing a BBC television program stating that Vietnam’s water is very polluted, and Japanese companies have been investing in programs to handle the problem. All the water I drink comes from a bottle and, if that is not available (very often), beer is my only alternative! The same program mentioned the effect global warming is having on the rising coastal tides of the country, and I think about this as we use petrol to power our boat up and downstream out of sheer indulgence. It seems that Hoi An can’t wholly escape the problems of the world after all.

         

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