Ancient Citadels, Temples and Tailored Silk Suits
Hue And Hoi An, Vietnam
We arrived dishevelled and exhausted after the nightmare sleeper bus in Hue at 7am (earlier than planned thankfully) and stepped off into a bustling city, met by motos all trying to take us to their hostels. We politely said no, got our bearings and headed off across the bridge and through town on foot to our hostel. We were greeted by the friendly staff, given drinks and headed up to our room. It was lovely with a balcony, computer and more importantly, a bath tub. After being squashed up between the disgusting cockroach infested toilet and up close with the French pensioner, I was desperate for a bath. Quick nap after, then we headed back across the Perfume River to the centre and the Citadel. Hue for a time was the capital of Vietnam, and the Citadel is the walled city where the royal palaces and temples were. The Citadel has two outer walls, four main gates and an actual moat surrounding it. Was very imposing. We entered through the south gate and through the ornately tiled arches into the first courtyard. On first thoughts, it resembled the Forbidden City in Beijing in many ways, but a little rough around the edges. A lot of the buildings were left to ruin after the revolution and Vietnam's Independence in the 1940's, so felt a lot more authentic. However, as you walked around you could see the restorations taking place (well people just painting over the existing paintwork) and the rebuilding. A shame really as it was nice to see something authentic for once. We walked around through the various palaces and an elaborate theatre before coming across a star fruit tree. As the West Country boy he is, Mike decided he would go scrumping for star fruit. We ended up with a ridiculous amount of star fruit (which we wouldn't eat) stuffed in my bag. After the Citadel we walked through the town to another lake, then back to our hostel before grabbing some food at a local restaurant. More spring rolls this time but not quite as good as Hanoi unfortunately (and definitely not a patch on dumplings). We headed home for an early night ahead of our day trip the next day.
Time to see some pagodas. Our tour set off early at 8am where we were collected in a bus and dropped off at the boat docking area before getting onto our Dragon Boat. In was full of tourists and we were given plastic chairs to sit on in the main area. We set off down the Perfume River in the blazing heat first to a traditional old house which was a beautiful house and garden, but not tour worthy really (Mike: The tour guide did give us some interesting insights into Vietnamese culture and Feng Shei design here though). After a short trip again on the boat, we arrived at Thien Mu Pagoda. Here was a lovely pagoda (again we weren't allowed in) and behind were lovely temples and monuments. I wandered off past an old car that caught Mike's eye before he called me back over. Turns out this relic was the car of a Buddhist monk, protesting against the oppression of Buddhists, which he stepped out of, sat in the lotus position and lit himself on fire. The famous photo was set on top of the car which Mike then pointed out was the cover of one of Rage Against the Machine's albums. Crazy to find such a world reknowned relic in such an obscure place as Hue. Next stop was another temple, which we were told wasn't that great, so we haggled for some beer and Mike sat on one of the temples steps drinking the tinny. Very respectable. Bhuddha does not approve. Back on the boat, we had our 'free' lunch - was just rice and stir-fried veg. The misers that we are, we decided in protest of having to buy extra food on the boat, we would take the free sides. The others we were eating with brought copius amounts of food, so we were left with loads! Big win :D We set off again to our first of two tombs - Emperor Minh Mang Tomb. It was huge. The 'tomb' is actually a large estate which had a few large pagodas, courtyards and beautiful gardens. Apparantly this Emperor was most famous for his numerous concubines. He is said to have had enough women that if he slept with a different one everyday, he'd arrive at the beginning again two years later. Puts King Henry VIII to shame. The Emperor's body, we found, isn't actually buried in his 'tomb', but somewhere in a section forest at the back of the estate. As the Emperor thought his many enemies would try to destroy his body after death, he had people bury him in a secret place, and then they were all killed after to protect the secret. I'm not sure I could do that for Old Queenie. Sorry Ma'am :S The last tomb we saw was for Emperor Khai Dinh. He was the last Emperor of Vietnam before it's Independence. His tomb was truely awesome. It looked like a French palace with a few pagodas outside to keep some Vietnamese influence. The interior walls were covered in mozaic tiles of different designs, and above his tomb was a life-size statue of himself on a gold throne. He'd wanted to go out with a bang, as it were, as he had very little power in Vietnam since the French arrived, and probably knew this was the end of the Empire. Quite sad really. We could've visited another tomb, Tu Duc's, but were told it was just like Minh Mang's (copy-cat), so we had another beer break outside, before being wizzed back home. That evening we had drinks, then went back again, to a lovely restaurant over-looking the river. It was actually a floating restaurant, shaped like a huge white lotus flower. The views were brilliant and it looked really fancy (there was even a film crew recording a group next to us. Not sure why, it only seemed like some locals eating, but they had one of those furry microphones, so guess they knew what they were doing :P. Behind us was a group of businessmen putting their money to good use by buying bottles of whiskey in quick succession. Unfortunately, they didn't seem to be managing well, and during the meal I saw Mike's attention drawn behind me, as was the waitress. I turned around and one of the guys was throwing us over the side of the roof, into the fancy signs and fairy lights strung up below. Classy. We took that as our time to leave before the wind changed to our direction. Lovely meal though and we even got to try the national dish of Pho (pronounced 'phurr'). Was a nice beef noodle soup is all we really thought, but it has a fancy name which matters.
After breakfast we waited around to be picked up for our bus to Hoi An. It was supposed to be only 4 hours, so we thought we'd escaped the sleeper buses. We were wrong. The sleeper bus came to pick us up, and we were send to the back of the bus again and squeezed into the corner of the 5 person bed. Initially, it felt like a coffin as we couldn't stretch out or sit up, but after a while we got used to it. The time whizzed by and before we knew it, we were in Hoi An, being picked up by our hostel. That evening we dumped our things and headed out into the Old Town to find somewhere to eat. Hoi An is famous for one thing really, being the place to buy cheap tailor-made suits and clothes. Once out of the hostel, we were constantly being asked if we wanted suits or dresses made. Mike asked inside, and the cheapest was $200 :S Not a chance. We instead made it through to a nice wine bar to eat, then continued to be asked Ýou want suit! You want suit!'on the way to the pub and hostel. The sellers still seem quite jovial and nice about it though, unlike China, so didn't feel to harrassed by it. Seems like we're getting to be seasoned travellers :D
Started off with a mad rush as the alarm didn't go off in time, so we had 15 minutes to shower and get our stuff ready to go to the temples at My Son. We were picked up and taken by minibus to My Son - a group of tower temples, similar to Angkor in Cambodia, that were scared to the Cham people (similar to Hinduism) and formed the base of their kingdom in Vietnam. The place was beautiful, but most of it was in ruins. The place had been a site of bombing during the Vietnam War, as many of the Viet Cong were based there, so you could still see the bomb craters, and an unexploded bombshell amongst the beautiful temples. When it was discovered by the French during their settlement, the heads of most of the figures on the temples were taken to the Louvre, the other major holy site for the Cham people. Whilst there, we met a couple, Carly (Scottish) and Murray (Aussie) whilst we were complaining about the potential that we were being ripped off with our tickets again (the tour guides seem to take your money in the bus, then purchase your tickets before you can even see the ticket office to check you're not paying double the price, which is what happened to us in Hue). We headed off from the site in our minibus, then hopped onto a boat for a free lunch of spring rolls, rice and salad (these 'free meals' are getting fancier), a stop off at a wood-carving village where we were shown how to make bamboo boats, then returned home. Mike wasn't feeling particularly brilliant after the trip as it was boiling hot and we both had a bit of a headache. After a nap, we met up with Murray and Carly, after grudgingly booking our sleeper bus tickets to Nha Trang (we'd left it too late to book the train tickets), and headed to Ganesa's Indian restaurant. The place was busy with mainly British tourists, but it all tasted great. After a brief walk down to the riverside, Mike really wasn't feeling great to we headed back to the hostel. A brilliant nights sleep wasn't had by either of us. Mike was up most of the night being ill, and had a fever and headache to boot. Poor chap.
Mike spent his morning sleeping as much as he could before we had to check out. He wasn't in a great state, and as our bus wasn't until 6.30pm, we had a long wait. I managed to get some breakfast, then after we checked out, I headed off to finally do some shopping and buy some magic pants and a new bag that I'd been oggling for days. Haggling was hardwork - I went into one place and they wouldn't go down below $15 for a bag which I wasn't sure I wanted. Then when I left they started shouting down the road at me 'What price you want?!!!!!' in quite an angry fashion. I had to tell her I didn't like the bag to get her to stop following and shouting. I guess I found that really difficult whilst we've been in Asia - you can't just browse to see if you like anything, and there's the desperation in their voices as they shout down prices after you when you leave the shop. Doesn't change the fact that actually, they are all still trying to rip you off. I eventually made it down by the river to pick up some presents, then got my trousers and bag at a much cheaper price. On the way back to the hostel, I started looking for Mike's birthday present. I'd already got him a t-shirt from Hanoi, but one thing he'd been going on about for ages was a pair of silk boxers. Now, as you can imagine, not easy to find in Vietnam. However, I was in Hoi An, the City of Tailors, and when I went into one shop, a lady said she could make a pair in 30 minutes. Brilliant. I got stuck though when she asked about measurements. I had to run back to the hostel to try and get Mike's waist and ass circumference, and the length he wanted, all without him knowing. Needless to say, I couldn't do it. So, Mike had to come with me to the shop, whilst the lady took his measurements. He only really twigged what was happening when she decided to go for the old reach around crotch measurement. The look on his face was interesting. Once I'd picked out the silk, she said it would be two hours, which was fine as we had all afternoon really. Once back at the hostel, after looking at hostels for christmas on the computers, I started to feel sick. Perfect timing really. With nowhere to lie down, we were just huddled together by the computers for a hour or so, between being ill. Mostly, I think it was the thought of the 12 hour nightbus that was worrying us the most. Just before we got on the bus though, I threw up which made me feel a lot better. We then got picked up with Carly and Murray, and were taken to the bus station where we waited for the sleeper bus. Turned out, no toilet again on the VIP bus, but I managed to jump on and get us some individual beds so we could at least sleep better that the bed from Hanoi. The bus stopped a few times in the night, but actually after the rubbishy day we had, the journey was better than expected and we managed to both sleep for a reasonable amount of time which was a first.