I left my heart to the sappers round Khe Sahn

Trip Start May 14, 2010
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Trip End Jun 19, 2010


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Friday, May 21, 2010

He says:

After leaving Hoi An we went to Hue for a couple of days. We caught the reunification express train as we had heard that the section between Hoi An and Hue is the best section and it didn't disappoint, though unfortunately the windows were so grotty that we couldn't get any decent pictures.

Due to the amount of fighting and bombing that Hue has been subjected to over the past 100 years the town itself is not anywhere near as charming or impressive as Hoi An and its main attractions are the Citadel and the Imperial cuisine. The citadel has been badly damaged but I was surprised about how much of it has actually survived, or has been rebuilt. We spent a morning exploring the citadel itself, but by midday the heat was again too much so we opted to head to the markets to escape the sun. The markets were bigger and cleaner than Hoi An's and there was a surprising lack of touts pushing us into their stalls (although our Cyclo driver was very keen to show us his cousins stall, Gaynor only narrowly escaped buying some very expensive fake silk pj's).

Hue is the former imperial capital and famously the emperors used to demand 100 dishes cooked by 100 chefs for their imperial banquets. As a result Hue's cuisine is based around small servings of many different tidbits and over the top presentation. To experience it we ended up going to the largest restaurant in town for dinner. The meal itself was really good, if a bit expensive (you know that you are getting spoilt when $10 mains are extremely expensive), the location was incredible and the service made Gaynor feel a little under dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. However, the most impressive part of the whole meal was the presentation... Each dish was presented immaculately with an extremely detailed miniature stature carved out of different vegetables, Gaynor was pretty keen to keep ordering food just to see the decorations, but as our meal cost us close to 30 times what my first meal in Vietnam cost, we thought better of it. Unfortunately we stupidly left our camera at home so no photos for you.

Yesterday we opted to do a tour of the DMZ. Neither of us are huge fans of organised tours and yesterday was a good example of why, although on balance I'm glade we did it as it provided the opportunity to see things that would otherwise be beyond our reach. The tour itself was to Khe Sahn and the Vinh Moc tunnels with stops at an ethnic minority village, the rockpile fire base and a war cemetary in between. Khe Sahn was a bit of a let down, just a decrepit small museum and some rusting American tanks and helicopters, but was good to get an appreciation of the geography. The Vinh Moc tunnels on the other hand were something else, these are the largest tunnel complex dug during the Vietnam war, where for 10 years villagers ate, slept, gave birth and were continually pounded by a total of 2 million tons of bombs. Our guide insisted that they stayed by choice, I however, am not so sure. The ground was covered in old bomb craters and the tunnels themselves extend over 2,000 meters and are up to 30 meters under ground.

After the tour ended we opted to get dropped of in Dong Ha so we could catch a sleeper bus to our current location Ninh Binh (I haven't seen any hippies yet, will let you know). We were in Dong Ha for around 5 hours waiting for our bus and it is the first place we have been that we appear to be truly foreign, language was a real issue, people called out and waved at us from their balconies, mothers brought their babies and children to come a stare at the strange white people sitting on the street and we attracted a group of children at one point who followed us down the street nervously pointing. The town itself is a bit of a shit hole, we actually looked it up in the Lonely Planet, who's description goes something like 'Dong Ha is a true frontier town for which there is no conceivable reason to visit'. I would agree with the description but the lack of touts and the true novelty of being a local attraction made our brief visit quite fun if yet again bloody hot (BTW it is impossible to get a refrigerated drink in the place). Our sleeper bus eventually arrived and it was Gaynor sized, we had top bunks, which although gaynor fitted in quite nicely, I was unable to sleep without my knees being up around my chest. I was also unable to sit up without bending over double. Anyway it was an experience and will be remembered fondly...

So now we have arrived in Ninh Binh, another small town a couple of hours south of Hanoi. We are tired but have had our first shower in 2 days, washed off what feels like an inch of caked on grime and sweat and feel almost like we can face another day. Mercifully though the temperature this far north is a lot more mild.
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