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Full Circle

Day 83: Da Nang

Michael Palin - Full CircleIf the massive American base can be said to epitomize the Western way of making war, the nearby Van Thong cave is a perfect example of the guerrilla alternative. The way in is through a well-hidden cleft in the rock and along a pitch dark tunnel. Tourists cling to their guides as the path descends wet and slippery steps in pitch darkness. It gives onto a great subterranean chamber, a hundred feet high, into which a single shaft of daylight falls from a hole in the roof, which Miss Tanh maintains was gouged out by an American bomb. A pair of kneeling griffin-like beasts stand guard at the base of the steps. On the far side of the cave, a golden Buddha, with an uncanny resemblance to Grace Kelly, sits in a tenebrous candle-lit alcove. The temple was used as a Vietcong army hospital and a plaque on the wall commemorates the downing of nineteen American aircraft by the Lady Machine-Gunners Brigade.

Later we travel down the coast to the town of Hoi An. Until the Han River became silted up it was one of the chief ports of Vietnam and, like a mediaeval English wool town, it reflects old time mercantile prosperity.

Walk along the waterfront and back down the main street, taking in the delights of a place that has 844 official 'structures of historical significance'. Past weathered wooden walls, galleries with fine carved balustrades, dark beamed and lamplit interiors, with the smell of joss drifting gently out into the evening air. Across a handsome covered bridge of pink-washed stone built by the Japanese trading community over four hundred years ago to link up with the Chinese quarter on the other side of the stream. Clustered out on the river are the steep curved hulls of wooden fishing boats with boldly painted black and white eyes almost meeting at the top of each prow. This is a little treasure of a town, a reminder that its long mid-Pacific coastline gives Vietnam a perfect trading position.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 83
  • Country/sea: Vietnam
  • Place: Hoi An
  • Book page no: 122

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