We are currently in Hue, midway up the coast of Vietnam between Saigon and Hanoi. The weather has turned quite cold (10 degrees or so) so have had to wear double t-shirts and dig out the socks that lurked at the bottom of our bags!
It has been a VERY busy two weeks. Will update full in the next few days with more detail!
**** Text added 13/01/07 ****
The trip from Hoi An to Hue was broken with stops at the Marble Mountains and some random beach resort that was supposed to be China Beach where the GI soldiers were airlifted to for a day trip from the battlezone a little further north. Marble mountain was a good one. Yes the mountain is made of marble so naturally there are a hundred shops selling massive marble statues as souvenirs, although quite how you are supposed to get an 8 ft tall likeness of Jesus or a huge fat Chinese Buddha onto the bus is another matter. But we had a great time finding the tackiest and most inappropriate image, of which there were many contenders for the crown. Such a shame it would cost several thousand pounds to ship them home...!
We arrived in Hue and were greated by the usual crush of clamouring touts. It really is the last thing you want to deal with after a bus trip, even a short distance one that is only four hours. So we got our bearings and teamed up with another girl to search out a strip of cheapy hotels near the river. On the way we got accosted in the nicest possible way by a chap called Hugh (our spelling, not his) who took us to where we wanted to go and offered his services as a guide. We knew that we had only a limited time to see Hue and he had a lot of lovely comments from other travellers in his little pocket book that we booked him for a tour the next day.
It is for that reason that we were able to cover such a range of sights in such a short period of time and Hugh was an intelligent and thoughful guide. His friend who drove the other motorbike lacked conversation but was a real character, talking into his mobile on loudspeaker while travelling on the bike and Cheryl singing to him and dancing and bopping away!
Hue lacks a little something, perhaps a little bit of soul. However, it is remarkable that ANYTHING remains after the two wars against the French and the Americans and the phenomenal amount of fighting that took place there. The old forbidden city that overlooks the perfume river (a name that evokes such a poetry and has done for me for years) must have been an awsome complex of palaces and temples, indeed it is fascinating to wander and see nothing but foundations and the odd wall. The government have done a good job of restoring some of it, but even though it is a Unesco world heritage site the money being spent is painfully thin. We read a little book that detailed the lifestyle of the emperors of the Nguyen dynasty which was lavish on a scale that is breathtaking and alien and exotic - especially the "taboos" where certain words were not to be used or that 50 dishes of food had to be produced by 50 different chefs so that the Emperor Tu Duc would never tire his palate... Fascinating stuff.
Emperor Tu Duc was a fearsome man and his mausoleum several miles out of the town is monumental in the truest sense. After he died his wives (a hundred or so) lived there, praying for his well being in the afterlife, until their own deaths some decades later.
Our time in Hue was compact and didn't really merit any longer. We had already prebooked the overnight train to Hanoi, fearing that it would be busy with people returning home in the period prior to Christmas and settled in for a bumpy nights sleep to Hanoi.