Monday, November 19, 2007

Floods in Central Vietnam

Last week, central Vietnam was hit with persistent rainstorms, which led to much flooding in Hoi An, a popular tourist town about 4km from the coast. I was staying with my tour group in a hotel about 3km away from the old town of Hoi An, far from the lower streets in town, close to the river, which had begun to flood as our group attended a cooking class on Sunday evening. The river rose about half a meter over the duration of our 2 hour cooking class, so we had small fisherman's dinghies paddle us back to a dry street, and hopped in a cab to head back to our hotel.

This is what my Monday schedule was meant to look like:
9am (approx): get up, eat breakfast, pack, and take care of any last-minute errands
11:30 Meet guide in hotel lobby
11:45 Depart for airport
12:30 Arrive airport
13:40 Fly to Saigon
14:45 Arrive Saigon, drive 30 min to hotel, check group in, free time the remainder of the afternoon
19:30 Group dinner

This is how Monday turned out:
5:30 Wake up, roll over, and marvel at the sheets of rain which are pouring down before falling back asleep
8:00 Wake up again, notice that it's still raining buckets, go to breakfast
8:45 Walk out to the street in front of the hotel, and see that the water has flooded the street and is as high as the middle of my calf
9:00 Call the local Vietnamese guide, Hoang, (whom I am working with in this part of the country) who is staying in a city about 45 min away and tell him that the street is flooded.
9:05 He assures me that the bus will have no problem driving in the street because it is a big bus. We agree to move the departure time to 11:30
9:15 Return to room, pack, wonder about the rain which continues to fall havily
10:30 Field hundred of questions from the passengers in my group, none of which I know the answer to
11:00 Receive a call from Hoang, who tells me that the bus driver has just arrived in Hoi An, and that there is no way we can get out
11:01 Silently curse and wonder what the hell I am going to do
11:05 Call the office in Saigon, tell them we are stuck in the hotel and will not make our 13:40 flight. They manage to get the whole group onto a 10pm flight
11:15 Inform my group of the situation, and continue to field questions about how they are going to pick up their custom tailoring (which Hoi An is known for), which is certainly the very least of my concerns, especially since I know all the tailors' shops are under at least 2 meters of water
11:30 Receive a call from the office informing me that all our (paper) air tickets have to be physically taken to Da Nang, a 45 minute driver from where we are, to be reconfirmed for the 10pm flight. Contemplate suicide. Curse Vietnam Airlines for such an inane and archaic system. Wonder why a concept as simple as e-tickets hasn't taken on in Socialist and/or Communist Asian countries
12:00 Inform group of the plan (again), tell them that they will likely have a couple hours to relax in the hotel and vicinity while I head into town to get some boats to transport us to a dry area of town and pass off the tickets to someone who can take them to Da Nang
13:00 Start walking 3km in waist-deep water
14:00 Arrive at the dry area of town where Hoang is waiting with the new (tiny!) bus that will eventually take us to the Da Nang airport. Pass the tickets off to Hoang, who then gives them to a driver to take to the Vietnam Airlines Da Nang office. Turn around and head back to the hotel.
14:10 See all our group's luggage (17 bags!) pass me in a boat being pushed against the current by five people. Rejoice and breathe a sigh of relief.
14:15 Find two old Vietnamese men in a fishing dinghy and convince them to paddle their boat out to the hotel and pick up members of my group to bring them back to town. Find a second boat to join the armada, hop into one of the boats, and start paddling with the Vietnamese grandpas.
15:00 Arrive back at the hotel and load most members of my group onto the boats--6 of them decide that they don't mind walking, so I lead them along until I can find another fisherman's boat for the last few group members.
16:00 Hop on a boat to bring up the rear, and head towards town. Again.
17:00 Arrive in town to find that all members of my group have also made it and are alive and well. Hear that one woman has even managed to collect her tailoring. Rejoice again; one less thing for me to think about.
17:45 Hop in the 20 seater bus with my 15 passengers, all our luggage, Hoang, the driver, and the driver's assistant (yeah, I don't really get it either) to head to the airport. Still in my wet clothing, but relieved that we are finally on our way.
19:00 Bus engine stalls out as the road is now enveloped in knee-deep water and the engine is flooded. The driver proceeds to open the access door to the engine (which happens to be between the driver and passenger seats), and goes to work. The bus fills with a bit of black smoke, and I wonder if this day can get any worse.
19:03 My group starts singing "Row, row, row your boat." In a round. I thank goodness that I have an amazing group of passengers.
19:15 Bus is up and running again!
19:30 Arrive at the airport, check-in, settle into a noodle restaurant across the street and put on some dry clothes.
22:00 Plane takes off. Take a deep breath and thank god the day is finished.

With two members of my group, as we begin the 3km walk from our hotel to the dry area where we can meet our bus

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