|November 20, continued
Given we had to check out of the hotel early and didn’t have much to do, we headed to the airport where we grabbed an average (but very cheap) lunch and just chilled out. I never thought I’d say that I chilled out at an airport but actually it was just nice to be sat down. I’m definitely getting a little fatigued and right now the time we have in Thailand, with lots of lazing around hopefully, can’t come soon enough. Nonetheless, I am determined to make the most of our short time in Vietnam and Cambodia before that – after our time in Hanoi, we have just 3 nights in Hue, 2 nights in Hoi An and then I think four more in Saigon before a week in Cambodia. That time should fly by.
After the short flight to Hue (incidentally not pronounced Hue but kind of like “H-way”), we were picked up at the airport by our hotel. The woman wasn’t actually from our hotel but from a tour company close by. She told us we were first going to see her office and then to our hotel. We told her we had booked the taxi to take us to our hotel and were not interested in any tours. Despite claiming she just wanted to show us her office (yes, nice desk, now can I go to my hotel?!) we managed to persuade her otherwise. It didn’t stop her trying to sell us some tours. This would not have been so bad but we had already booked a tour with them – did she think we wanted to book twice?!
During the drive to the hotel, without notice, she just told us our hotel was closed. This sounded like a scam and she said she would take us somewhere else. Neither of us believed her and told her to take us there and if it was closed we would find somewhere else. She kept telling us the power was out at the hotel but we insisted. It turned out the hotel had not been paying their bills and the electric company had cut them off! After the problems in Hanoi, this was all we needed. Thankfully the guidebook listed two or three other places on the same street and they all looked decent and were the same price so we diverted into one across the street, just glad to have somewhere to stay.
After dumping our bags, we headed out for some dinner to a restaurant called “Friendly”. The menu here was full of local Hue specialities and they had a number of set menus which allowed you to taste a number of items. Elizabeth went for the $3 menu and I went for the $6 one – pretty expensive! Combined with a few well-earned beers, we worked our way through crispy pancakes, a rice-paper pork roll I had to make myself, soup, some kind of dough ball things and some weird tasting beef stuff wrapped in bamboo leaves followed by a fresh fruit salad. FRESH FRUIT! It was all really good and was good to finally taste some proper local food after the bland versions we got on the junk boat in Halong Bay.
November 21, 2009
We had decided to get up early this morning to visit the Citadel as it opened and then some of the royal tombs. However, when we woke up it was pouring with rain so we decided a couple more hours in bed was the better option.
After breakfast, we headed out for the citadel. Last night the woman had told us that it would cost around 300,000 Dong to get taxis to the tombs and we would be better off doing her tour. Her one cost 100,000 each and was as part of a large tour group. For the sake of 100,000, about $6, we decided we’d rather do it alone! She did also offer us a tour which included a boat ride back and that was a mere $100 each. Thanks, but no thanks. Not wanting to be outdone, the girl at the hotel said we shouldn’t take taxi as they might rip us off. She offered to get us a private car for $25. Once again we declined before grabbing our waterproofs and an umbrella and getting out of there!
The short walk to the citadel took us across the bridge from the French part of the city to the old walled city. It was much more pleasant to walk around than the Old Quarter in Hanoi, even with the torrential rain, with drivers being a little more courteous and the pavements being wide enough to walk on.
The citadel itself was massive but in dire need of repair. The wet and warm climate here and ruined much of the building and despite small attempts at renovations, this place was almost beyond saving and you could see the way it was sadly disintergrating and crumbling. The parts which had been recently repaired were gorgeously decorated and you could see around the main palace how splendid it probably was in the past. It had some very Chinese characteristics to it but I can’t have imagined the Chinese letting the damage get so bad.
The moats around the citadel were very pretty and you could see the lilies floating on the surface, a little subdued by the heavy rain rather than sitting proudly atop the water like you would expect. There were plenty of green areas too, which isn’t surprising given the rain which obviously creates a very lush environment.
We climbed up the main gate to the citadel to get some views down over it. It was interesting seeing some of the smaller buildings surrounded by scaffolding and you could see the attempts being made to repair it. I’d hazard a guess it is going to be a long, tough process.
From there we caught a taxi to one of the larger tombs. Given the weather, we chose one tomb to visit and decided we’d make up our minds about a second one later on. The taxi dropped us off and refused to take any money, telling us he would wait for us. I checked he’d stopped the meter and told him we’d be back in about an hour. He seemed happy with that and it made it easier for us, too.
Inside the tomb were loads of little buildings – these were places were the concubines and eunuchs lived as well as the central passage which the body took to reach the tomb and, ultimately, the afterlife. The grounds here were stunning, the little ponds in the centre surrounded by much large bodies of water which gave the tomb a really pretty setting.
Once again, the tomb was undergoing some renovation work so we were not able to walk directly to the tomb but had to venture along a muddy path by the lake. The rain had died down by now but the path was a mud-bath!
The buildings leading to the tomb were exquisitely decorated and although you couldn’t enter the actual tomb, you could visit all the other buildings. The decoration and setting here were amazing compared to what we saw at the Ming tombs. In fact, this is more like I had expected the Ming tombs to be.
Content that we had seen one of the better tombs, we decided to head back to the city and think of ways to avoid the rain. Our driver had waited for us and he took us back to the hotel. The tour guide who had met us at the airport was right – the fare was about 300,000 Dong but it was worth the extra to spend as long as we wanted at the tombs rather than be herded around on a bus. It seems they are used to lazy tourists here as the amount of people who tried to shove us on a bus to the tombs and couldn’t believe we would just hail a taxi from the street.
Back in the centre of town, we headed to a bar called Missy Roos for lunch – we weren’t too bothered what we ate but on hearing that this place offered free beer with their pizza, that was a clincher! So, more beers and a couple of pizzas later, we sat watching the rain fall down and didn’t have a clue what to do. We headed back to the hotel and thought we’d laze around for a bit and watch some TV. Our hotel had loads of English channels and we ended up spending the entire afternoon watching films including the original Superman and some of the Lethal Weapon films. Whilst it might seem a bit of a waste of time it was nice to just feel like it was any old Saturday afternoon at home, something you miss sometimes.
For dinner we headed to a local restaurant called Ushi where I had a lovely chicken and rice dish which came in a very sweet sauce. As it has been cold here, I’ve been finishing meals with a nice coffee and the Vietnamese style of coffee includes condensed milk rather than regular milk, giving it a thick, syrupy taste. It is different to how I normally have coffee but it is quite a nice finish to a meal.
We have an early start tomorrow so despite doing nothing all afternoon, we headed to bed pretty early.
November 22, 2009
Having gotten up at 5.30am, our tour bus arrived half an hour late so we were hoping the day would get better. The weather was still grim but the rain had eased a little thankfully.
We were heading on a tour to the DMZ – an area which split north and south Vietnam during the Vietnam war and the site of many key battles. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the tour as it was hard to know what sort of things were leftover from the mid-70s. You were advised to do this tour as part of a group as there are still unexploded mines and ordnance in the area, injuring on average 8 people per month even now.
After a lengthy drive, we stopped for a much needed breakfast and coffee before heading to the first of the sites. This was an old army base where there were a number of bunkers, helicopters and weapons as well as a small museum. Our guide spoke excellent English and it was pleasing to hear her talk about the war without the propaganda.
From there we made a few other stops throughout the day including a war memorial, another army base, a bridge crossing the river marking the central point of the Ho Chi Minh trail before finally getting to the part I most wanted to see – the Vinh Moc tunnels.
These tunnels were built by the villagers of Vinh Moc to live in during the fighting. They were only around 1.9m high at the highest point and barely a metre wide. At points along the tunnel there were little “cells” dug out. These were where families lived, often spending 5 days and 5 nights underground with no daylight or fresh air. There were other rooms too including maternity areas and a meeting room. The tunnels were around 20m underground, deep enough to avoid the American drilling bombs. The area was completely made of clay soil and the tunnels were totally unsupported other than with the strength of the clay.
It was poorly lit in the tunnels, giving it more of a sense of reality and eeriness. I couldn’t imagine living down here, as some villagers did for 6 years. At the very bottom level of tunnels, the rain water had seeped right through the soil and was literally flowing around our feet. It was really fantastic to see these and be able to experience the confined conditions many people in this area were forced to live in during this period of conflict.
After that, we took the long drive back to the city, the erratic driving causing everyone to get a good buffeting around on the way back. I didn’t feel too good by the time we got back and wasn’t looking forward to our 4 hour bus ride tomorrow to Hoi An!
For dinner we headed to the Why Not? Bar which was on the corner of our street. For lunch I had had beef with chilli and lemongrass which had chillies so spicy they made me hiccup almost the second I ate one of the green ones! Everyone at the table was laughing but I couldn’t help it and couldn’t stop. I just had to eat through it – the food was so good and I love spicy food that makes your lips and tongue tingle! Anyway, this meant for dinner I felt something a little more conservative would be a good idea. Elizabeth had had the same lunch as me so had the same idea. I went for a cheeseburger with fries and she had a vegetable baguette. Mine was so good I consumed it in no time at all and Elizabeth polished all of hers off as well after removing every last trace of mushroom!
A little tired from our early start and a bit queasy from the bus ride (not the beer, honestly!) we headed back to the room to sort out our bags. We were leaving our large bags in Hue and just taking the small bags with us for the 2 night trip to Hoi An.
Despite the weather and the inauspicious start, Hue had been a nice little stop for us. We were spending one night back here before we headed onto Saigon and we were glad our hotel had a room spare for us to come back to the same place.