Trip: Hue to Hoi An

Our last morning in Hue we packed up the car and got ready to leave. I was looking forward to the long trip, mainly because in the van I would be able to take off my soggy shoes and keep them off. They were mildewed and disgusting from all the rain, and it felt like I was putting my feet in a steam bath. They made me miserable.

I'm talking here about an expensive pair of waterproof, Timberland shoes. These are the end-all and be-all of ruggedness, for intrepid adventurers. Much as I like to think of myself in those terms, I rarely climb mountains, have never had to run away from bears, and my survival is assured through frequent stops at good restaurants. I'm not the type who pushes things to their limits. Why then, did these shoes die a thousand deaths, while wearing out the leather in my wallet at the same time?

The year before, I went to Sergiyev Possad outside Moscow. The place was covered with ice. I was with a bunch of Indonesians who had previously thought that ice came from the freezer. They had no problems. I, on the other hand, in my fancy Timberland shoes, almost broke my neck with every step. I was reduced to these silly, little mincing steps, and even then, I wasn't sure I'd survive. OK, I told myself, these shoes are waterproof, but they aren't meant for the ice. That was seemed plausible, especially because liquid water isn't possible at minus 20 degrees. But in Hue, where liquid water was the rule, they were equally useless. If I ever speak to the people at Timberland – provided I feel like speaking to them – I'll bring this issue to their attention.

In any case, Duyen suggested that I buy a pair of sandals. I was still in denial – my shoes would dry and this was only a minor nuisance. He insisted, and wasn't about to take "no" for an answer. We went into a shoe store, searched through all the sandals to find a pair big enough for my non-Vietnamese feet, and bargained for them. (Yes, even in the shoe stores.) I have to say that that is one of the nicest things that anyone has ever done for me in my entire life. I didn't realize that life could be so easy, and wore those sandals every day for the rest of the trip. I reluctantly wore the shoes on the plane going home, but have since relegated them to obscurity.

We left Hue, eating a breakfast of baguettes in the van. We really liked the place, and were thinking that maybe we should have spent an extra day or two in Hue. Next time. There will definitely be a next time. The drive to Da Nang took a few hours, and the scenery on the road was interesting. There were lots of little towns we drove through, and we got to see people going about their business. At one point we saw a wedding party, both the groom's party and the bride's party. Driving was definitely the way to go.

We stopped in Da Nang to see the Cham Museum. The Cham were the most recent people in south Vietnam before the Vietnamese. They were a Malayo-Polynesian people with links both to India and Indonesia. They were Hindu, later Buddhist, and now many Cham are Muslim. They did some wonderful work in stone, and erected brick towers that are still standing a thousand years later.

The museum is a very good one. We were met by the unofficial museum guide, a small man in his sixties who meets and greets the visitors for a tip. But he does know his stuff. He has a very whimsical view as well. "You see the third eye there?" he says, pointing with an antenna that has white tape at the end. " It's like a laser beam. It tunes right in." He took particular delight talking intelligently about the ornament with a circle of breasts, and referred to some of the mythical creatures as "very economical", since with the head of one and the body of another, you get two meals instead of one. Unfortunately, the museums are the only places in Vietnam where you can't bargain, so I ended up paying a fortune for a book on Cham archaeology. They threw in a card to soften the blow.

The harbor in Da Nang seemed interesting over the museum guide's shoulder (the Americans landed here), but it was raining again by the time we finished. So we got in the van and drove straight to Hoi An.