I was thinking about the shortness of some of my posts on Vietnam. So far it is up there with Laos as my favourite place in South East Asia and yet I’ve not written to the length of other places. I can think of a number of reasons for it but eventually settled on the fact that the so called ‘escalator’ approach to tourism means that it is harder to have those sporadic experiences that I have had in other countries. It was with this in mind that I headed to Hue and as it would happen, doing things a little bit different brought their rewards as I managed to become the definition of the worst Wedding guest of all time and amazingly not offend anyone!
It all started on the second day. Hue has a number of tombs spread around the countryside. They’re large affairs with some lovely buildings, sweeping lakes and an interesting history to match. It’s a very Asian affair. Most people either hire a boat or join a boat tour down the so called perfume river. I felt the tours all seemed a bit rushed so decided to rent a bicycle and do it myself. I set off around nine o’clock, where I was quickly joined by a mother on her scooter who insisted on crawling along with me for a chat. Unfortunately after a while she left me and I got lost. My main downfall was not the map I was using but rather signposts. Vietnam does not do sign posts to tourist attractions. But here they did. They were useless and after cycling up and down a hill too many times I was about to give up. It was then that I bumped into David from the Czech Republic who was the exact replica of me in terms of sweat and tiredness. Oh and he was also lost and had been for longer than me! The one saving grace was that we had stopped next to a path that led to a rather spectacular view over the river and mountains in the distance.
We retreated back down the hill where if luck would have it a couple on a scooter pulled up and pointed us in the correct direction. Tu Doc tomb was nice enough, a little gothic with plenty of ‘modest’ Asian architecture. Its size is what was most striking, when I think of a tomb I think of a bit of stone in the ground. With various buildings there were houses, temples, ritual areas, and rather wonderfully a small island that the owner used to keep elephants and tigers on for hunting. The island was tiny, a bit unfair I felt.
Leaving the tomb behind us we headed on up the road. It was there that we came across a wedding party. Pausing to look from a distance we were very quickly accosted and sat at the front table as party guests took it in turns to try their hand at karaoke. They fed us, and in true Asian style poured and poured beer into our glasses. Just like at the ‘rocket festival planning session’ in Laos, you don’t sip it, when someone chinks your glass, you down it with them. This is no good at midday. Now Vietnamese people get a very bad rep from travelers. “Vietnam is lovely” so many proclaim but then they add “except for the people.” So far I have found exactly the opposite (and touch wood this continues) and there can be no greater advertisement for this then that hour spent with a hundred or so Vietnamese guests. David and I sat there, coated in sweat, out of breath, dirty, in t-shirts and shorts and they couldn’t have been more kind. Everyone was smiling and waving, so many came up to speak to us and toast their drinks. The wife and groom had their photos taken with us on their request and we appeared on the official wedding video. As we made our excuses the wife’s sister translated for her parents who apparently couldn’t be happier that we had come and spent some time with them. It was a wonderful cultural exchange.
From there we carried on through stunning countryside, up way to many hills before reaching Ming Mang. It is the better of the tombs in my book being a bit grander, but by this point I was really feeling the heat so didn’t get as much out of it as I would have liked. Another hour or so back and I collapsed in a heap. Seven or so hours on the bike, it supports what I have said before that cycling or motor biking is such a great way to get out and see these countries.
Outside of the tombs, Hue has a citadel, which if I must be perfectly honest was a little disappointing. It was of course at a huge disadvantage as the citadels of Bundi, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer are just everything that you would imagine of a fortress. So one hidden within the city didn’t have the same romanticism for me. It was nice enough for an hour but was nothing to write home about.
I enjoyed Hue as I have enjoyed everywhere in Vietnam so far. Next up twelve hours on a bus and Ninh Binh.