The overnight bus to Hue was so much better than the one we endured from Yangshuo to Hong Kong. Unlike in China, it had relatively spacious beds, a toilet and even WiFi. Plus there was the added bonus of being surrounded by Western travellers and English speaking staff, which meant a lot less anxiety and confusion about what was going on. I even managed to get about four hours sleep.
Once in Hue we were immediately met by two Vietnamese bikers whose job it was to take travellers from the bus to their hostel. I had done my research and felt comfortable accepting the ride. I knew how far the hostel was, what the hostel looked like and how much a taxi there would normally cost, which was 30, 000 dong or about 80p. So even when the driver said we could decide the price after he dropped us off, I was sure the 100 dollar note in my pocket would cover us. I had to laugh then when, after the 10 minute journey was over , he asked for 400 dollars. Each. Two months wiser, we were undeterred by this demand. The asking price was clearly absurd.
'You said we decide the price when we arrive.'
'A taxi costs 30 dollars. '
'I have 100'
' okay, 200'
'I have 100'
'No, no 200. Each.
'I have 100'
With bitter disappointment etched upon his face, and all traces of former friendliness gone, the driver took my note and went off without a word. We had won.
As we stepped into our hostel and began the process of checking in, I spotted the guy we had met way back in Beijing on the Great Wall Tour, Reece, who we had also met up with in X'ian and Hanoi with his girlfriend Nicole. By chance, they had just dropped in to recharge their phones before visiting an abandoned water park and then biking off down the coast towards Hoi An. They immediately invited us to join them on their trip to the park, offering to take us there and back on their bikes. So before we knew it we were hurtling off down the long road towards the deserted sight. It wasn't even ten o clock yet.
The abandoned water park was really cool. Nothing like I expected. As we approached on our bikes we were met by a towering dragon that stood in the centre of a lake and was surrounded by lush green grass and trees. It looked so good that a Vietnamese couple were even having their wedding photos taken there. Perhaps that's something Thorpe Park could think about as they look to expand the business. Though I'm not sure that standing in the light drizzle by the Flying Fish would quite have the same effect. The picture would probably cost more than the wedding as well.
It was boiling hot. Worse than it had been anywhere else since Goa. We were sweating buckets as we looked around. So it wasn't long before Alice and Nicole, both very pale and liable to burn, decided to turn back from our walk and rest. Reece and I, Portuguese and Indian blood coursing through our veins, ventured onwards despite the sun.
Reece is basically a real life action man. An engineer in the navy, an explorer of over 50 countries, a big rugby player who loves climbing, diving and generally adventuring. I am a student of literature. Nevertheless I am also a willing and dependable aid so I fell quite comfortably into the role of trusty side kick as we searched for the elusive abandoned water slides. The Short Round to Reece's Indiana Jones if you will.
Eventually we found the slides and after scuttling down their dried out shafts took some cool photos. Having been abandoned there wasn't much else to see at the park so we soon returned to Alice and Nicole, only to find that the latter had lost the key to her bike. An hour or so of searching for this needle in a haystack consequently ensued. But to no avail. We were forced to then wait another hour or so until the rental company dropped off a spare one. Luckily we were taken in by some young Vietnamese girls who, praise the Lord, shared their food with us. The most interesting item on offer was their version of wedding cake, which was like Turkish delight wrapped in a big leaf. It tasted no more than okay but it looked cool. Like the lembus bread in Lord of the Rings. I was back to being a Hobbit again.
Soon the spare key arrived and we were returned in one piece to the hostel. After saying our goodbyes we decided to do nothing but chill for the day, tired from our night's journey and morning of adventuring.
On our first full day in Hue, Alice and I visited its main tourist attraction: the Imperial Citadel. Once the hub of political activity in what was Vietnam's capital, the Citadel was now a relic undergoing reconstruction, having been largely destroyed in the war with America. Nevertheless, the remaining buildings were still impressive and interesting to look at with their blend of Asian and European design. The gardens, despite the occasional piece of scaffolding or abandoned building, were pleasant and peaceful. But what really made the experience worthwhile was the amount of information we were able to obtain from the exhibition rooms on display throughout the citadel.
Not only were we shown the history of the place but also the day to day life of the various different people and ranks within it. Initially, the Emperor's existence seems a pretty unenviable one. He pretty much just ate alone, silently attended council meetings and even occasionally checked on the progress of his grave's construction. However, it is only unenviable to about four o clock. After that time he would send his team of eunuchs off with a list of the women he wished to surround himself with for the night. These women, taken from a pool of hundreds and maybe thousands, were charged with feeding him, massaging him and most likely canoodling with him. And what's more, they WANTED to be on the list. *Denzel Washington voice*: 'My man'.
We still had a whole afternoon left in Hue once we had finished with the Citadel and I was keen, despite the sweltering heat, to not just sit at the hostel until dinner. One reason was because it was so hot you could never feel comfortable just sitting. Another was because there was too much of an emphasis on drinking for my liking. I'd be sitting there reading my new book on the Vietnamese war to the sound of reps announcing and handing out free shots and beers. Not for me. So instead of that or going to the pool with Alice, as we had done the day before, I decided to cycle to the pagoda and see a bit more of Hue. Cycling amongst the crazy was actually pretty fun, as was the more relaxing ride next to the river where I settled down next to some cows and just chilled out for a bit. It started to dawn on me that I was becoming that middle aged guy who actually enjoys being at one with nature and simply sitting observing landscapes. And so, with that unnerving thought in mind, I quickly packed up my things and headed off home for a night of drinking shots and partying to the max.
Na, I had a nice dinner and went to bed.