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Vietnam: Huế

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When we got to Hanoi Railway Station our train was conveniently already on the platform. We found our coach (4-berth soft-sleeper) and located our cabin. Our cabin-mates were Patty and Rusty, a lovely older couple from the US. We all chatted for a few hours and Lauren and I got a bowl of noodle soup gruel for tea, The 13 hour journey was perfectly fine; I got top and Lauren got bottom and aside from the odd bump and shake and the slightly smelly loo we both got a good few hours of sleep in.

We arrived at 9am and as soon as we stepped off the train the difference in climate was palpable; gorgeous sun. We jumped in a taxi and the tout who jumped in with us too gave us a hardcore sales-pitch the whole way; cheap tours and day trips, a recommendations book and plenty of photos of white folk enjoying themselves at the various sights. We managed to wriggle out of the sales and arrived at our stop; Sunny Fine guesthouse. We then found out we should have paid a lot less than we did in the taxi. Ahhh the woes of ignorance.

We dropped our bags with the very friendly gentleman on reception (Toan) and walked to the nearby Nina's café for breakfast. There Lauren had "the best omelette of my life" - her standards must have dropped because it only had onion, mushroom and Dairylea cheese in it. When we returned to Sunnyfine we were told our room was ready - at 10am! We've been incredibly lucky with early check-ins. The room was basic but had everything we needed and instead of a window it had a nice sticker of a window on the wall.

Being the lazy bums we are we spent the rest of the day lay down. The thing to rouse us was food, so we found a veggie place online and head out. It was then we discovered it was raining; so back up we went to fetch our almost-forgotten raincoats. It was proper rain; not torrential but familiar English style 'light rain' - the kind that'll soak you through. After a wet 20 minutes we arrived at the restaurant and found it closed and locked up. We then said "fuck it" and walked to the large mall where we ate in the food court and saw Zoolander 2 at the cinema.

We'd booked a tour with 'Hue Lady Riders' and were collected by two very young looking girls called Vi and Mynk the next morning. It was spitting a little but we happily hopped on the back of their scooters for our zoom around Hue. The two girls were no taller than 5 foot and so Lauren and I made for disproportionate passengers, likely to capsize the mopeds just through sheer difference in mass. Our first stop was a traditional street stand serving drinks. We were provided with the tiniest plastic stools to sit on; another indicator of our gigantism. In an attempt to get stuck in with the culture I opted for a Vietnamese iced coffee (cà phê đá); a small portion of espresso coffee sweetened with a glug or two of condensed milk and served with ice. Now I'm not a big coffee drinker anyway and when I do drink it, I like it mild, so the notorious potency of Vietnam's offering was quite eye-watering. I only managed a few sips.

After an exhilarating ride through the initially suburban but then very rural roads of Hue, along which we saw thick forests with signs about not poaching slow lorises, we arrived at Khải Định Tomb. We were a little disconcerted that the two girls just dropped us and pointed us to the ticket booth; with our other tours we'd be guided through the sights and the entry had been included in our tour price. We brushed this off and spent the comparatively expensive ‎£8 on the tickets. The tomb is built on Chau Chu mountain atop a few hundred steps. The concrete brickwork and figurines across the site were blackened due to age and evoked a slightly macabre image. Contrastingly, the interior of the various buildings were still very grand and colourful; the Emperor's tomb itself is covered in elaborate tiles with mirrors, gems and precious metals. A tomb that Liberace would be proud of. I was most interested by the fact that the Emperor was widely disliked in Vietnam as he was in cahoots with the French government (who were closely involved with the building of the tomb).

After another breathtaking drive on the scooters we stopped at Tu Hieu Pagoda which was deep within a pine forest and something we definitely wouldn't have found on our own. The pagoda wasn't too dissimilar from many of the others we'd seen before, a bit of the imagery was different (more of those unusual Vietnamese 'unicorns') and because of its location, it was very quiet and peaceful. On the way in was a large 'half-moon' lake full of cat fish (which the two girls wrongly or rightly fed with sugary biscuits). We later found out that the pagoda was once home to many eunuchs from the Citadel. Plenty of monks still live there to this day but unfortunately we just missed one of their chants. On our way out an old lady came running over with her old fashioned mobile phone asking the girls for help in Vietnamese. They had a look at the phone but couldn't help her. I then realised all that had happened was her phone had locked and she couldn't figure out how to unlock it. I quickly unlocked it and the lady was incredibly thankful. Even the girls couldn't believe my genius. I could do with that sort of adoration more regularly.

During the 'tour' we made an effort to get to know Mynk and Vi. We told them that we were a couple right at the beginning and they seemed quite impressed, asserting that they too felt like lesbians because they spent all their time together. They were very inquisitive and humourful if not a little immature for 20-somethings (but perhaps this was just cultural differences). They seemed to find us very funny which only made me show off more.

Next was the Tự Đức tomb, or more accurately the Tự Đức town; a HUGE and beautiful area containing the obvious tombs (Tự Đức, his fav wife and his adopted son), a few lakes, thousands of trees and plants and a load of small temples. Tự Đức, like most emperors, was a massive bastard who lived a very extravagant life; he had hundreds of wives and concubines and used forced labour to build his mausoleum. He also ordered that all of the slaves who buried him be beheaded so no grave-robbers could come and find his remains. We walked around the site for as long as we could with no guide and tried to take in as much as the scenery as we could.

The girls took us to a veggie restaurant for lunch where we ate everything that was put in front of us, including an interesting artichoke tea. We also tried (and failed) to perfect some Vietnamese phrases.

Our last ride was a very wet one; we were hit in the face with horizontal rain for about 20 minutes. It certainly perked us up from our post-lunch lull. Lauren managed to capture a little video of the ride;

We stopped at Thiên Mụ pagoda; the tallest religious building in Vietnam and just beside Huế's perfume river. This time the girls showed us around the sight and gave us some bits of information (but I won't bore you with it here). One of the most fascinating things we saw was the car (a gorgeous old mint-green Austin) of monk Thich Quang Duc who set himself on fire in Saigon in 1963 in protest to the awful treatment of Buddhists under the Diem regime.

That was it for our motorbike tour and we bid farewell to our petite hosts who very kindly invited us to karaoke that evening, but, feeling much too old for that sort of fun, we politely declined.

On a bit of a whim we took my broken DSLR to a camera shop just up the road from our guesthouse. The man and woman in the shop (who spoke almost no English) handled my camera for a while, trying out different batteries (despite me trying to explain that the two batteries I had were full). After a while the lady told me to come back in an hour. At this point we had no idea whether she was going to just have someone else look at my camera, actually repair it or just put it in the bin and offer me a new one when I returned, but, with no other prospects I accepted.

After a nice cheap local lunch, we returned to the shop to find that my camera had not only been repaired, but it was also in the process of being spit shined. The cost was 2 million dong (approx. ‎£65) and I tried my very best to non-verbally express my gratitude without being arrested for sexual assault. I think she understood that I was pleased.

That night in celebration we watched Freaky Friday on our 'retro' fuzzy fat TV and figured out what to do in our next destination; Hội An.

Posted by advensha 04:48 Archived in Vietnam Tagged raining vietnam backpacking travelling hue cinema south_east_asia zoolander_2

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