Hue

4 Oct

I arrived in Hue with a pulsing headache from my wine hangover and was grateful to find that the bus pulled up right next to the hostel that we had booked for our time there: Amys (nope, no apostrophe before the s because that would make too much sense). For this hostel, Angela and I chose to do a private room with a bathroom because it was exactly the same price as a dorm room, thinking we’d have a little more quiet and a nicer sleep. However, the room was located on the first floor between the lobby area and kitchen, and the en suite bathroom was attached by an incomplete wall to the general bathroom for the first floor, allowing us to hear the beautiful sounds of the bathroom and kitchen. Since we arrived in at around 8:30 we had the whole day ahead of us and decided to have some breakfast, get slightly settled and take a walk around the city. Hue, however, is a notoriously rainy city and it certainly didn’t break pattern while we were there. We quickly realized after the rain started during our walk that our raincoats would not be enough and we would have to succumb to the poncho. Better yet, the place only sold the same color poncho so for the rest of our Hue trip the three of us looked like Violet Beauregarde from Charlie and the Chocolate factory. 


We walked in our ponchos through the intensive rain to the Citadel, a walled fortress that was the former Imperial Capital of Vietnam. The massive property, which Emperor Gia Long began building in 1804, had some nice detail, but didn’t impress me a much as the other structures we had seen in Hanoi, which of course could have been due to the flooding that was occurring all around it or the simple fact that there isn’t much to it anymore. Either way, we made it through and went in search for the market we had been told about. We found ourselves in a grocery store buying snacks, thinking that was the market. This was clearly not the market, which was instead located behind the grocery store which we eventually figured out and walked through on another day. Side note on snacks, I’m dying for fresh fruit or vegetables for a snack constantly but it just ain’t happening. We get smoothies quite often but at the store ya just gotta stock up on nuts, chips (taro chips are now my weakness) and cookies. The stores all have a cookie called Creamos that resemble Oreos, but are far superior in my humble opinion and have similar favors such as inside out, all chocolate, strawberry (which is painfully artificial) and COCONUT. For real though, we love Creamos. 


That night we went to a local street spot that came as a suggestion from one of the hostel workers…or at least we think that we went to the spot. It was your typical Vietnamese street eats spot with small chairs serving out bowls and bowls of a signature dish – bun bo Hue in this case. The dish is similar to Pho and has noodles and beef in a broth with the addition of a pork meatball type thing, which we were all initially convinced was a testicle. Luckily an English-speaker nearby informed us of the ball’s contents. Afterwards we went to the Imperial hostel, a brother hostel of the one we stayed at in Hanoi, for some drinks, where we rendezvoused with plenty of people we have met on our travels previously. 


The following day we set out to see the tombs, which are outside of the city. We deliberated for quite a long time to decide how to get there, whether by car or motorbike before deciding that we would simply cycle there and cross our fingers that we make it. While we were pulled over looking at a monument at the very beginning of our journey, a woman on a motorbike asked us if we were lost and told us that she lives right by the tombs and said she would take us there. We kindly declined but she insisted over and over again until we said okay, since she was heading back there anyway. She guided us the whole way going extra slow on her motorbike so that we could keep up. While we wanted to believe she was just a nice person, we were skeptical that she would ask for money. At the first tomb, she simply waited for us while we went in and asked if we would please come see her home prior to directing us to the second tomb. Still skeptical, we slowly agreed to do so. 

The first tomb was for Minh Mang, emperor from 1820-1841, and was absolutely gorgeous and ornate. It is hard to believe that someone built that whole thing for one man. Mang resides in the rear of the temple guarded by a massive gate and concrete walls. When we returned from the tomb, our lady in waiting guided us to her home, which was a very sparse room with a single bed and a small kitchen. She poured us green tea and right when she started talking I thought, fuck. She told back to back stories about the hardships of her life and how she couldn’t afford her children’s school. The room was so uncomfortably tense as we all realized she wanted us to give her money. See, if she had just asked for money before our bike ride we would have said no, or agreed on a price, but these guilt scams are something we have grown to disdain in Vietnam. After what seemed like an appropriate amount of discomfort we told her it was time to leave and asked her how to get to the next temple. She told us the direction then slyly asked for money. Luckily, we had a plan B that we developed as a “what if she asks for money” solution and went right into action. We threw her a couple of Dong and told her it was all we had and left. She seemed insulted by the amount, but we in turn were insulted that she just expected us to hand her money, especially when we had said no thank you multiple times from the start. Later we thought we saw something similar happening to other people on the side of the road so, if you’re ever in Hue beware of this act!

Luckily, she did give us the correct directions to the second tomb and we arrived as flawlessly as you can when you’re biking unknown roads. The second tomb, built for Emperor Khai Dinh, who reigned from 1916 to 1925, was completely different and more compact and built in a more gothic style, blending Eastern with Western architecture. The most amazing thing in this tomb was the walls and the alter in the center, which were composed of 3D mosaics with glass and pottery pieces. I can’t even imagine how much energy, skill and focus this artwork took. By another stroke of luck, the bike ride back was basically a straight shot and we made it without any problems. That night we were craving Western food and went for an Italian place out of sheer desperation that actually served us some decent pizzas, pasta, salad and of course some Dalat red wine, the cheapest we can possibly get our hands on. That evening we strolled the night market and became the subjects of a Vietnamese student’s English practice. 

I knew that while in Hue I wanted to see the Vin Moc tunnels, a tunnel system built by a Vietnamese village during the war to keep them safe from the constant bombing. We did a DMZ tour, which took us to multiple sites in addition to the tunnel. We saw the mountain (romantically named Rock Pile) where the US had their radio control center, the Dakrong Bridge, which was built in 1974 and joins the north and south over the Ben Hai river. Previously, the Vietnamese had to swim or boat across the river to get supplies from the north to the south. We also visited the Khe Sanh marine base, one of the most deadly places in the war, located on both the border of North and South Vietnam and Vietnam and Laos. More than 20,000 soldiers on both sides were killed in Khe Sanh and the place was described as “hell on earth”. Here we got to see a museum that went through the stages of the operations in Khe Sanh and actual US helicopters, planes and other vehicles used in the war. The museum had some pretty unsettling images and truly opened my eyes to how terrible the war was to soldiers and civilians on both sides.


That evening we decided to get to bed early as we were going to be up early to ride on the back of Easy Rider motorbikes to Hoi An. After eating an anti-climactic meal at a highly regarded vegetarian place in the area (no meat = no happiness) we headed back to the hostel. That night, I awoke at around 3:00 am to some rather strange noises. At first I thought I was making it up, but as I continued to wake up I realized the noises were coming from across the room. At first I just heard squealing sounds, but then realized there was also the pitter patter of rapid footsteps. Although I tried to ignore it it was unbearably loud and I was afraid that there was an animal in the dresser in the room, rather than in the wall as I suspected. I woke Angela up, who was equally freaked out and went to get the person working the night shift at the front desk. The man spoke no English so Angela and him had a nice back and forth on Google translate before he finally came to the room and tried to listen to the notice. He assured us it wasn’t coming from the cabinet and told us (through Google translate of course) that there was probably a nest of rats living in the wall. Oh the luxuryy. He said he would take care of it the following day, which I highly doubt happened as I can’t see these people knocking their wall in to get rats out, and advised us to play music to keep them quiet. Gotta love it. After hitting the wall a couple of times with my fist, our little rat friends quieted down and I was somehow able to go back to sleep. The following day I had one of the best days of my life, motobiking from Hue to Hoi An, which was much needed after the ratpocalypse of 2016.
     

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