I don’t know about you but I honestly haven’t a clue what made us suddenly veer across the street and book a ride over the Hai Van pass. This has been the subject of numerous discussions, and there are literally hundreds of tiny tour vendor booths in Hoi An and I guess we’d had enough of “on the other hand” and “but this one’s 23,000 dong cheaper,” which turns out to be about one USD less. It’s a matter of trust because you have to ride over the pass in a private car. Even the two seemingly disembodied legs sticking out from under the counter at the the tour booth didn’t deter us. Will our driver speak English? A little, which in Vietnamese speak means not at all.
Ok, what’s for dinner?
The next morning, feeling fat and lethargic after taking full advantage of the free full breakfast buffet, we had time to go over the free brochure provided and it turns out they’ve thrown in a free stop at a venue called Marble Mountain, which in fact is five mountain peaks so I guess the other four are also free. Our car arrived on time and whisked us off towards The Marvelous Marble Mountains. On arrival we were encouraged to enter through the marvelous Marble Mountains souvenir and carved marble statuary shop. The sculptures were massive, and any of them could sink Escape Velocity.
Luckily our assigned sales associate kept us in close proximity in case we forgot what we were there for. She gave a constant stream of helpful hints like, “We ship anywhere in the world!”
The good news at the mountain is that instead of a typical thousand-step staircase to reach the caves, all one has to do is push button number six in the not so free elevator provided and sure as Bob’s your uncle, there you are.
A short stroll along the cliff side led to, wait for it, 176 steps to access the actual caves.
In this part of the world China is king but really, how many dragons can you marvel at without losing your mind? Yours Truly has a finite limit and I suppose that goes for Buddhas, lying or otherwise, pictures of Jesus, Mary, and the whole entourage. It’s amusing to watch the multitudes line up under shafts of sunlight filtering down through holes in the ceiling only to strike a beatific pose bathed in its holy light.
So where was I?
Ah caves, and this one has an interesting history. It turns out the North Vietnamese used these caves as a hideout and hospital holding many hundreds of soldiers, right under the noses and within earshot of an American air base outside of Da Nang. Of course back then there was no number six button on an elevator. Ropes and rock climbing got them up into the caves and local partisans kept them resupplied.
On the way back down we successfully avoided the Marvelous Marble Mountains souvenir and carved marble sculpture shops’ aggressive sales people and, back in the car, conversation was muted due to the fact that only two of us understood any English.
Suddenly the driver’s navigation gear, which heretofore had been largely silent, piped up in what sounded a lot to Marce like heavily accented English. What it said, I couldn’t tell you but it seemed to be repeating the same phrase. Marce’s best guess was “Ess. Key. Car. Islam. eWreck. Ted.” I thought it was just Vietnamese for “Turn left here.”
We’re off to the Hai Van Pass. At 4,000 feet it’s said to have the most spectacular view in all of Vietnam and it’s why you take a private car to Hué instead of the bus at one fifth the price, which goes through a tunnel at sea level. We’ve been looking forward to this all week.
(Oops, there it is again. “Ess. Key. Car. Islam. eWreck. Ted.” Now it’s repeating every two minutes.)
Whoa, what a great view! We ask the driver to pull over for a photo op which takes a while due to language problems.
The higher we go up the mountain the more misty it gets. Back in the car it’s “Ess. Key. Car. Islam. eWreck. Ted.” with increasing frequency. Finally we summit in the clouds in a chilly mist with a view of fifty feet.
On foot we continue to climb and stumble onto a machine gun pillbox which I thought was a nice touch to crown the top of the mountain.
We declined a suggested trip through the mountaintop souvenir shop so there was nothing to it but to start down the other side.
“Ess. Key. Car. Islam. eWreck. Ted.”
Soon we began to snicker trying to come up with better possibilities. After a while our driver noticed our laughter and reached up to the nav unit and popped out a tiny micro SD chip. Marce took one look and said, “Aha! SD card is not detected!” Mystery solved, but despite the driver’s frequent attempts to shut the damn thing up, that was our soundtrack for the next 3-1/2 hours, until we reached Hué.
“SD card is not detected.”