A journey through the Southeast Asian country of Vietnam is a
thrilling experience, as Herald reporter Rosa Studholme found out when she
travelled there last month.
Golden beaches come into view as we reach the peak of Hai Van Pass, south of Hue
in Vietnam. The road curls downwards, leading us on our way.
Even the noise of the motorbike we hired in Hue to make the 140-kilometre
journey to Hoi An can't detract from the perfect and spectacular surroundings.
It's a mixture of the brilliant green jungle and the glorious blue of the East
Sea stretched out before us.
“I'm cruising the highway on a motorbike. This is a dream for me,” my partner,
He's right. This is truly a highlight of our trip the length of this country.
Grazing water buffalo are scattered across the landscape and goats carefully
examine the side of the road for tasty morsels.
Villagers meander down the road by pedal or on foot. There is no rush in the
countryside. It's a far cry from the dizzying scenes we had experienced in
Even at the top of this beautiful pass, though, you can't escape the hawkers.
All year, they gather to reel in tourists who travel this well-trodden tourist
Beers, conical hats and sunglasses are on offer.
Across the road, on a hill, lie the ruins of an abandoned United States Army
base, a blunt reminder of the devastating scenes that ravaged the region 40
"Hello, hello, you want something to drink?" the hawkers call.
We decline. Their faces are a picture of indignation.
We carry on. Along the road we spot a dusty cafe complete with sky-blue plastic
chairs and tables. It's dirty, but with the heat of the day getting the better
of us, it's nevertheless inviting.
We ask for Fantas.
The woman points to the display on the side of the road where there are Mirindas
– warm and looking well aged. As the bottles are opened, rust flakes off the
rims, but we take our seats and drink them anyway.
A wee girl sitting on a bench fixes her gaze on us with a cheeky glint in her
eye, fascinated by the latest visitors to pass by. She is too shy to approach us
and cannot speak English. We smile back and she coyly looks away.
Back on the road, it's a sharp jolt back to reality as the highway descends into
Danang, Vietnam's fourth-largest city, with a population of 887,100 at last
Danang, like much of the country, still bears the signs of its imperial history,
despite its centuries-long struggle for independence, which only ended in 1975.
Pushing through, we arrive on the coastline of Danang and make our way south.
Any glimpse of the long stretches of golden sand that make up China Beach are
blocked by the dozens of resorts that have claimed it. It seems that as one goes
up, another is just getting started.
Finally, we reach Hoi An, the city renowned for its tailoring. Eager vendors
will make anything from the finest suits to the most illustrious shoes, to be
picked up the following day.
We make our way methodically along the streets of the old town – a perfectly
preserved area, protected by UNESCO World Heritage Status.
A former trading port, the buildings and streetscape are a fusion of local and
foreign influences. It's a pretty place that lies along the Thu Bon River.
Commerce has given way to tourism in the 21st century and, like much of the
country, the town seems geared up to receive it.
Insistent shopkeepers call you, imploring you to buy something. The prices are
almost uncomfortably low, but the thrill of bartering lures you in.
It's very hot and chokingly humid.
I'm wilting like a leaf in the heat, sweat snaking down my back and beading on
my forehead, but I take heart that the locals seem to struggle with it too.
Wandering into one of the plethora of clothes shops in the energy-sapping midday
heat, we find the assistant lying sleeping on a mat with a fan nearby. She still
manages to bring herself to her feet with a weary smile and give me her
We are aghast at the locals wearing black jeans and hoodies in the heat of the
day. We're the crazy ones, they tell us. Keeping covered up keeps you cool.
One thing is for sure: the searing heat, the relentless pace, the noise and the
wonderful colour of the place start to get under your skin.
It's a country described by many as an "assault on the senses".
In my experience, that could not be truer.