The town sits astride the Perfume River – sounds exotic but was named with some artistic license as it is neither fragrant nor ironically smelly. We spend the first day first napping then roaming around the pleasant roads, stopping at tourist bars and wandering beside the above mentioned river. The weather is no better than Dong Hoi and so we are still slightly underdressed.
Day 2 and we head off to the Forbidden City. A walled palace that is undergoing restoration to its former glory when it was the private domain of the King and his courtiers. The area is a collection of courtyards, ornately roofed oriental buildings, open grassy gardens and decorative ponds. It is restful, quiet and quite wonderful with pleasing vistas around every corner. Later we go in search of a pagoda which is outside of the forbidden city but within the walled citadel that surrounds it. This is area of about 2 miles square and packed with shops, residential streets, lakes, canals, the obligatory motorbikes and, as we eventually discovered after traipsing all over the bloody place, it also has ...no pagoda.! Oh well, we get a good insight into city life and play the fantasy meal game as we are hungry but not up to eating the weird stuff that is on offer – Pigs snout, tripe, penises, chicken claws and dubious soups. Finally, and joyously, settle on an Indian near our hotel which first filled us up and then for the next 48 hours emptied us.
We spend 1½ days and two nights in our windowless, smell retaining, room throwing up, shitting water and enduring headaches and fevers whilst we dip in and out of fitful sleep. We miss our home!
Interesting final day in Hue. Get up and about midday drag ourselves from our pit to hire a motorbike (slowly going up the food chain towards a hog), actually this was a real pig as the brakes were crap, the indicators and the lights didn’t work and the battery was flat so had to keep jump starting it. But who cares huh? We were living the 125cc Honda Dream in all its rusting, decrepid, stuttering glory and the sun was shining. Now motorbikes have never been my first mode of transport having only ever ridden a geared bike on an eventuful holiday in Crete some 25 years ago. So when we were offered an impromptu lesson in gear changing at the second set of traffic lights by a friendly looking Vietnamese woman we gladly excepted. This led to her suggesting that we followed her to our destination - the tomb of Minh Mang, some 10k out of the city as it was near her home and then back to hers for tea. Great we thought - Another example of Vietnamese hospitality… The tomb was magnificent. An extensive walled area containing woods that surround a large lake into which a large paved spit of land projected. This housed a succession of temples, ornate gates, ponds and gardens bedecked with bonsai creations and statues through which you move to the eventual resting place of Emperor Minh Mang which is effectively a hill with a closed wall around it. Apparently the beautiful area in which we had walked was only the surrounding gardens and the real deal lay beneath the huge pile of dirt. Minh Mang was a man who plainly liked his personal space because his mausoleum is an underground palace which was sealed and covered over upon his death.
Roi, the Vietnamese woman, had been waiting outside. We had offered to pay for her to come in but she declined. We followed her along bumpy dirty tracts to a little village beside the river where her home was. A single room 20ft by 10ft with a double bed, table, primus stove and shelf. The building (shed) was tin roofed and slatted, wood sided and provided no privacy due to its poor construction. We were touched that she wished us to see her home and share a cup of tea and the conversation was surprisingly good as she told us of her life, her children and her financial troubles, her family, her finaincial troubles and then just her financial troubles. Finally asking for money to help educate her children. It is a far more complex story than this blog allows but in short I stuck my heels in as I felt duped, she cried, we left, I felt guilty, Rachel felt compassion and we gave her all we had (only about £3.00 as it happens). I don’t know what the right course to follow should have been but it was an odd end to the day and gave us much to think about.
On a lighter note (as this was genuinely quite upsetting) Am finally getting the hang of driving on the roads here. Basically, trust no one, go slowly, forgive everything and keep your wits about you. As long as you remember one rule you should be ok ... namely 'There are no rules'.
Aslo discovered that a lot of people wear the facemasks, not for polution reasons, but to keep their skin whiter and out of the sun. Better jobs go to whiter Asians...How wierd is that!!!! I could become prime minister.