As the setting sun came earlier than in New York I realized that the earth’s till must be to blame.
The sun is setting at 6:45 pm throughout this trip and coming up around 5:15 am. In New York it’s coming up about ten minutes later but staying up almost two hours later. Because of declination, the further north one goes in the northern hemisphere, the longer the days get in the summer time while the inverse is true in the south. But here’s what’s confusing in Vietnam: the seasons. It is not the simple reverse of north-lying New York. It’s June and summer in New York and in Hoi An they tell me it’s summer here also. What? Not only is it not the reverse here, it varies by the region. Except Hanoi, the northern lowlands, there isn’t even summer or winter, meaning hot and cold, but rather wet and dry or at best cool and hot.
Roughly there are four regions with varying calendared seasons: the mountains of the far north, that are dry from October to March then wet from April to September and get very cold in December and January at night. Down the mountains in the north, like in Hanoi the cool and dry winter is from November to April with the coldest months being January-March. But even then temperatures are still 17-22 C in the “winter.“
Central Vietnam like Hoi An and Da Nang is hot and dry from January to August, the heat getting up to the mid 30s. During winter the rain comes and there are typhoons. This is between October and November. Yes, two months. So mostly hot and mostly dry.
The south, like Sai Gon, have a constant weather year round but split between wet and dry season, which begins in November and ends by May. So those afternoon torrential downpours I’m experiencing on this trip are their wet season.
Vietnam runs from 8-23 degrees north latitude and sea level to 3,143 meters to the peak of Fanispan, the highest mountain in the norther region. There are other climatic factors, such as ocean currents, direction of winds and mountain ranges. That subtle suggestion that weather is really a boring last resort as a common topic of conversation is a little more nuanced here. I don’t mean that I’ve heard locals discussing the weather (I can’t understand them that well), and the little conversation about the weather has been in terms of the heat, but rather that these weather trends reflect largely on tourism, the largest industry in Vietnam. First of all there’s tourism year round and the reason and timeframe for anyone visiting is more about his personal calendar than following weather trends. For example, most Europeans and North Americans vacation in the months between May and September. June-August being the least comfortable is heavy American tourist time.
In further regards to tourism, the amount of the economy that tourism comprises an area’s economy reflects on the level and expertise of the hospitality there. In Sai Gon 22% of the GNI, tourism is less important and the hotels, were the worst, at least at the bottom price point. Inversely, in Hoi An, where basically the entire economy is tourism, the hotels were the best and least expensive, although almost everything else was overpriced in most parts of the city. This makes sense because the reason to visit Hoi An is Hoi An. The city is the attraction. The Old Quarter are what I would assume to be the “authentic” vietnam, meaning not influenced by 20th century construction. There’s a lot of porticos, French-influenced buildings of the 19th Century but also a decent number of Chinese-influenced Buddhist temples from the 12-century and on. The tourism is temporally driven; escaping the most recent.
But also one easily gets lost in Hoi An and sees what isn’t even concerned about maintaining its authenticity, meaning the local homes. In a strange reproach to tourism the city lacks identifiable and reliable street signs. The local map shows about 25 streets, which is a fraction of them and the eager entrepreneurs who will help you with directions just before offering you their goods or services give you directions like “turn right and then turn left,” but exclude specifics. The absence of reliable street signs may be due to the aim of keeping street signs “authentic” meaning those that are up from before 1950 are those that will continue to direct us and the rest…too bad.
So it’s easy to get lost here even with GPS. There are many spaces—like between rice fields—that one wouldn’t presume is a “street” or “road” as part of the infrastructure, but they are. On trying to locate “the good beach” —An Bang—we got severely lost even though it was a straight shot down the main road. Just locating the road was tedious.
An Bang was filled with what felt to be a slight jellyfish venom. I spotted a few and even without direct contact they made the water not really desirable to be in, although people were wading and swimming there when we arrived. I spent most of the day sitting in the shade of a circular boat made of a lattice of bamboo bent upward, forming a sort of tea cup shape, that had then been sealed with tar. I saw a man using one, fully standing. They seemed designed for near-shore fishing as it had only one paddle and moving the boat forward was achieved by sort of stirring the water vigorously…I expect a small USB-powered motor would work equally well.
Behind me on the beach were the crowds of tourists who were renting chairs and umbrellas for 40,000 dong, or $2 USD. Behind them were a row of roofed dining areas that were twice the price of anything else we’d seen in Vietnam. Around 4 pm locals came with their own food and drink as well as tables and chairs and set up long dining areas perpendicular to the water. The intensity of the sun had diminished but still locals were crouching in the incidental shade of objects placed on the beach, like pyramids of inner tubes and boats.
The night market in old town is a testament to the wonder of the work of Tesla and Edison. It’s basically the same tourist junk as during the day—knick knacks, textiles and souvenirs—but with lighted sculptures of dragons and fish made of paper and placed along the bridge and promenade. We ate banh mi sandwiches for $1 and had drinks for 20 cents each in the child-size seating of the promenade.