Hue - to go... RAIN!
Trip Start Sep 25, 2003
59Trip End Apr 23, 2005
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Went on tour to Caodai Great Temple in Tay Ninh - weard mix of all religions, Visited Cu Chi Tunnels where the Viet Cong tunnelled underground to avoid the US and South Forces, Graham shoots an AK47 didn't hit much though, Took Reunification Express (Hard Sleeper) to Danang, Visit Museum of Cham art, Rain, Car to Hoi An a world heritage old town, charming. Bus to Hue, Visit Citadel, Go in Car to DMZ and more Tunnels at Vinh Moc, via Dong Ha, Doc Mieu Base, Ben Hai river, Con Thien Firebase, the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and movingly the Troung Son National Cemetery. Hired Motorbike on a rainy day to see Tombs and Thien Mu Pagoda, bike breaks down and we luckily find skilled mechanic. Reunification Express (SOFT sleeper) to Ninh Binh.
Booked a cafe tour to Cu Chi tunnels north of Saigon as time consuming to get there by public transport
The more interesting part of tour was to Cu Chi to a set of underground tunnels used by the Viet Cong to avoid the US & South Vietnamese armies during the Vietnam war. Although the tunnels were rebuilt for tourists - we are too large to fit down the original ones, it was a great insight into how it must have been. The VC were so small and slipped down the tunnels with ease. Looking at the set up, complete with bamboo boobitraps of various sorts, it is difficult to see how the US thought that they could win.....At one point our guide asked us to find a tunnel entrance, which we couldn't and when he lifted the lid using the smallest of handles, it revealed a really small opening - one of the originals. I was elected to go down first and I only just fitted through with my arms in the air. Cooking smoke was distributed by means of several chambers and small chimneys which distributed the smoke over a large area so avoiding attracting attention
At the end of the tour there was the option of firing a weapon of your choice, something G had really wanted to do and as the set up was very professional, he shot 5 bullets from an AK47. Incase you're wondering, he was a good shot! The gun was handled by a military chap and locked into shoot and the safety catch put on for a photograph. Boys! I say that, but after G had had his go, 2 girls decided to have a go too!
Did a whistlestop tour of Saigon in a cyclo - a little cart cycled by a driver, before catching an overnight train to Danang. A cyclo was a great way to see the city, and our driver made light work of the traffic and particularly enjoyed no entry and no cyclo streets. The most interesting things we saw were the Museum of American war crimes & the Reunification Palace. The former contained amazing exhibitions of war photographs from journalists who lost their lives and of the affects of agent orange and napalm bombs on the vietnamese - very thought provoking. The reunification palace was where the south vietnamese president lived until Saigon fell in 1975. It was just as it was left and had some great 1960s/1970s decor which was fab & a set of tunnels under the building complete with a war room with pink telephones!
On the train north, we shared a cabin with a vietnamese man from LA, back to visit his family for Tet (Chinese new year)who managed to scare me witless about the dangers of theives on trains and scams in Vietnam. In a neighbouring carriage was a vietnamese chap from the Old Kent Road in London, also visiting his family and a vietnamese girl from Canada, so it was an interesting trip
Arrived the following morning in Danang & it was raining. For the first time in SE Asia I very nearly lost it with a persistent moto driver who followed us for about 4km hassling us. We spent a miserable time trying to find where the buses left for Hoi An, 30km away, but everytime someone tried to help us, the moto driver snapped at them.Grrrrhhhh!! On a positive note, we went to a wonderful museum of Cham art, which was small, but with exquisite carvings rescued from various temples before they were plundered. The moto driver had waited for us and at the point that I was about to commit murder, G managed to get rid of him by asking him to 'just leave us alone please'. It was still pouring and tempers were getting frayed, so we grudgingly took a taxi to Hoi An.
It was also raining in Hoi An, but we didn't let that dampen our spirits as the old town is delightful, if stuffed to the rafters with tailors, all competing to rustle some clothes up for you in 24 hours. We were proud of ourselves, as we didn't give in to temptation!
We found a great place to eat at a small family run restaurant where we tucked into lots of the local delicacies including fried wontons and wontons filled with shrimps which were great, all washed down with delicious draught beer. Once we had finished, the owner bought us little glasses of mulbery wine and small cups of green tea. Needless to say we ate there for all our evening meals.(Had cuttlefish on the scond night which was fabulous with the consistency of a hard boiled egg white)
Food aside, Hoi An has some lovely well preserved old houses and assembly halls, a Japanese bridge and the architecture is a fusion of Chinese, Japanese etc as it was an important port and had many cultural influences
Next stop on our whistlestop tour north was Hue. We caught a cafe bus (bus organised by one of the many backpacker cafes) to Hue which stopped briefly at some marble mountains close by to Hoi An, where we didn't have time to go into the marble caves, but did have time to look at the many marble sculptures and statues that were being made there. I got a real shock when I turned a corner and bumped into a 10 foot tall Jesus!
It rained all the way to Hue and we were glad that the driver had decided not to stop at the not so scenic (that day) lookout from the high pass en route.It was at this point that I realised that we had left our passports at the hotel in Hoi An.
Once in Hue, where it had stopped raining, we were treated to the delights of the cafe buses i.e. they take you to a hotel of their choosing and encourage you to stay there. We got off the bus at the first place and found our own hotel who phoned to track down our passports - luckily they were already on the afternoon bus!
Hue has a citadel (walled city) which unfortunately was bombed by the US, but what remains is fabulous, so we spent the afternoon snooping around and getting a feel for what it must have been like to have lived in a court, with mandarins etc.
Hue is close to the Demilitarilised Zone (DMZ), which ironically was one of the most heavily bombed areas during the war and separated North & South Vietnam. There were gruelling 12 hour tours to the areas, but they didn't go to where we wanted to go / for long enough, so we hired a car amd driver for the following day with another english couple to visit Vinh Moc where there is another system of tunnels used during the war and to a North Vietnamese war cemetry.
The tunnels were great, very different from the Cu Chi tunnels near Saigon, as they were used by villagers rather than the VC, and therefore were larger and you didn't have to crouch or crawl. many of the tunnels had openings on to a cliff overlooking the sea, and we had a sneak preview whilst the guide was getting rid of a tour party. We spent several hours there as it was fascinating and the museum had lots of photos of life in the tunnels including a number of babies who were born in the tunnels complete with rattan cribs.
The war cemetry was also worthy of a visit, as a poinient reminder of those who lost their lives - it was particularly sad to see the graves of those who died in the first month of conscription and those who died just before the war ended.
Hue is also surrounded by Royal tombs that we thought we'd visit by motorbike the next day, however we awoke to torrential rain, so we decided to have a quiet day relaxing instead. By 10am it had stopped raining and appeared to brighten, so we hired a motorbike and set off. Within 10 minutes it was raining again so we bought a selection of rain macs including a poncho for Graham (the driver) to wear, and we set off. We took a gorgeous road along the Perfume river, past the lovely old Thien Mu pagoda and many villages. (Leaving the bike whilst visiting attractions becomes an expensive business, as you feel obliged to buy a drink off the vendor who offers to look after your bike)
We knew it was too good to be true - it started to rain and the heavens opened with rain drops the size of grapes and we got soaked, correction, Rach got soaked as Graham had the rain poncho.
We continued to one of the Royal tombs, which was set out like a smaller version of the citadel in Hue and would have been great with a picnic in nice weather, but was pretty ordinary in the rain. Thought we'd cross the river by ferry and complete a loop back to Hue past another tomb. Got fleeced on the ferry, especially as when we were 2 metres off shore, you could see there was a bridge to the other side, but it was an expereince loading a motorbike onto a small wooden boat.
Had some noodles at a small cafe on the opposite bank whilst listening to the dire tones of a man singing kareoke and that's when the fun started....we couldn't get the bike started and as it had been in our sight all the time, there was no suspicion of foul play (you hear about it a lot in Vietnam). The lady from the cafe cycled off and returned with her son who was a mechanic and after cleaning the spark plugs and checking some wiring, he decided the ignition coil had gone, so replaced it for us. Had to abandon the other tomb and dash back to Hue as we had a train to catch, and an arguement to have with the owner of the bike, who finally agreed to go halves on the repair cost.
We were unable to get hard sleeper tickets for our train journey to Ninh Binh, so we travelled soft sleeper which basically amounted to loads more money for the same bed as in hard sleeper (if a little spongier), but with 4 bunks in the compartment rather than 6. Shared with an very quiet couple of westerners so managed to sleep well.