Trip Start Feb 17, 2013
Trip End Mar 21, 2013

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Where I stayed
Holiday Diamond Hotel

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Thursday, February 21, 2013

Okay, so we now know what those poor dudes who sleep on park benches or sidewalks must feel like.  The beds on the train were hard as rocks or sidewalks or park benches or . . . .  The next time I see a homeless person, I might offer to buy him a large piece of foam rubber to cushion his "bed."  Thanks to drugs (melatonin) we slept.  Not well, but we slept.  The train rattled and rocked and rolled for 16 hours.  At each stop, the conductor "slammed" on the brakes so, if we'd been in a car, we would probably have whiplash.  Remembering that our compartment was "deluxe," I can only imagine what the poor people who were sitting up on hard benches must have felt like.  Ugh.

We arrived in Hue about 7 a.m. -- an hour before our original train reservation, but an hour late for this train.  Nonetheless, what an experience.  Disembarking was also an adventure (see pictures), but our taxi that had been hired by the hotel was waiting for us.  Amen. 

As we travel the world, it becomes more obvious that our American culture could definitely learn from other cultures.  We may think we are the best, and in many ways we are, but . . . .  In the Middle East, the farmers put our farmers to shame, growing fruits and vegetables that could make the most serious carnivore a vegetarian.  In Asia, the hospitality in the hotels makes our most luxurious hotels look, well, in need of some training, at best, and shameful, at worst.

Our taxi dropped us at the end of the alley -- more on that in a minute -- where someone from the hotel was waiting for us to help with our bags.  At 8 a.m.  In the morning.  We were given a cold, wet wash cloth to freshen up -- wash our hands and faces -- then seated for breakfast.  Now, keep in mind, this is long before 3 p.m., which is the standard check-in in the USA.  (And, by golly, if you arrive at your hotel at 2:59 p.m., your room will not be ready.)  We were informed our room would not be ready for about a half hour so, after scheduling a driver for the day, we walked a few blocks to locate an electrical converter to fit my computer and a bank to get cash.  VN merchants only deal with cash, no credit -- imagine that, no debt.  We were back to the hotel about 9 so we could brush our teeth, change clothes, etc., before meeting our driver at 10 a.m.

Again, the hotel manager walked us to the end of the alley to meet our driver.  This hotel, two stars by some rater's evaluation, but definitely three stars by ours, is in an alleyway with several other hotels.  Lots of motorcycles, but no cars -- even the sanitation workers push a cart to collect the garbage.  Our driver spoke very little English, but once he learned we are from the United States, his English became a little better and he opened up a little.  It took us all day to learn that his dad died in 1968 in the Tet Offensive, when our driver was 13, which makes our driver my age. Our driver went to a military academy (Tom speculates because his dad had been an officer) and probably served as an officer in the South Vietnamese Army.  When Tom asked more questions, the driver said he does not talk about it.  Again, speculating, that even to this day, he is probably watched very closely by the Vietnamese government because he, and his father, would have been fighting on the "other side."  

Observation:  Although the people are extremely nice and friendly and helpful, they do not talk about the war -- the American War to them.  Our Hanoi kids were, of course, from families of the North.  Whatever they have learned is from the northern perspective and the government propaganda of which we noticed a great deal in the explanations at the Hanoi Hilton museum. Those evil Americans -- of which I cannot completely disagree.  We had no business being involved in that war.  Although subtle, watching how the Vietnamese react to our questions about the war, or Tom's stories of when he was here in 1972-73, it becomes obvious they do not have freedom of speech.  They clam up, become excellent listeners, or tell us they do not talk about the war.  

Back to our day -- there are several emperor tombs in the vicinity.  Although impressive, none of them is very old, the oldest dating to the mid-1800s and the newest dating to the 1920s.  After being in the Holy Land a little over a year ago, where everything was ancient, this was ho-hum. 
One of the more interesting facts about the Tomb of Tu Duc, or about Tu Duc himself, is that he had 104 wives plus many more concubines.  Even with so many women in his life, Tu Duc never fathered children.  According to Tom, it must have been a cinch amongst the girls that his nickname was not Woody or Stiffler.  Since the girls had to be searched for weapons before they went to bed with Tu Duc, maybe his nickname was Shorty or Limpid Lizard.  Tu Duc occupied much of his time writing poetry, so it is possible he preferred his wives' brothers.

About 1 p.m., we asked our driver to choose a local restaurant for us to have lunch.  It was very nice, the food was good, but everyone in the restaurant was a tourist -- most of them on large buses.  Ick.  Our tour of the Holy Land was amazing and we truly appreciated how small the group was, but we are definitely not tour people.  To see groups of 30 makes me cringe.

Our last stop of the day was the Citadel which was the royal palace for the Vietnamese Empire. Most recently, it was the site of the Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War or the American War, as it is known here.  The Citadel was very impressive, very large and was very beautiful in hits heyday. Damage from the war is noticeable and very little has been effort to restore its opulence.  Third world, Communist country probably doesn't have the funds.  As we tour these sites, we have become much more appreciative of our National Park system.

I am going to let Tom write more about the Citadel -- 

Tom here.  Visiting the Citadel was special to me because I remember it so vividly from my college years and watching the Tet warfare in Hue on the nightly news.  For some reason, that particular time in the war has stuck in my mind and now here I am in the place where it happened. I remember the American soldiers on TV, in front of the Citadel, telling the reporters what a crazy war this is.  For a Civil War buff like myself, it is like visiting Gettysburg.  Finding out that our driver's father was involved made it even more moving.  Sorry I can't think of anything funny to say, but the experience was not funny.  My mission to Hue was accomplished.

Tet = Happy New Year!  The Tet Offensive happened during the Vietnamese New Year, which just ended a few days before our arrival.

After the Citadel, we went back to the hotel to rest and to cool off.  February 21, and it is hot and humid.  But, this is only the beginning.  Within a few days we will be where the humidity is stifling. Since I'd much rather be hot than cold, I will just say that by the end of the day we were both dragging -- from the humidity, not the heat.  Definitely NO SNOW in this part of the world.  Eat your hearts out, family and friends who live in snowy parts of the USA. ;-)

One of the things we read in tour books is that Vietnam is not disabled friendly.  Boy, I'm not sure it is able-bodied friendly.  Uneven sidewalks, usually with a multitude of motorbikes parked on them so we have to walk in the street; more motorcycles, motorbikes, scooters, and bicycles than we have ever seen; and no one seems to have the right of way or give the right of way.  It is a free for all and every man for himself.  Dangerous.  Crossing the street in NYC will seem a breeze after this experience.  It appears no one looks, they just go -- whether walking, driving a car, or driving/riding a motorcycle.  Surprisingly, they don't seem to have accidents.  I think the only other time we have closed our eyes this much, when in a car, was when we were in England where they drive on the wrong side of the road.  

Finding a restaurant for dinner was an adventure -- just to keep from tripping or being hit by a moving vehicle.  We found a nice little place that had been recommended by the hotel where we had a nice meal.  This was on a very busy street with lots of restaurants and hotels.  One of the highlights, because we were seated near the open door, was watching a Greyhound-sized bus trying to make a sharp turn out of the hotel onto the narrow street.  Because of our "wonderful" night on the train, I thought Tom was going to fall asleep in his dinner. Dinner, btw, cost about $10 for the two of us -- complete meal, appetizer, one glass of wine, one glass of tea.  We had planned to walk along the river and see the night market, but we were tired and hot and needed showers.  So, off towards the hotel we went until I began noticing lightweight, zip-off, pants in several of the stores.  The sales people are almost like vultures if they notice us looking at something.  I asked a lady if they would have my size -- giant, Bruenhilde that I am, American.  OMG, she knelt down and ran her hand down my leg and brought out a package of pants, handing me one to try on.  It fit!!  For a whopping $9.  Now, we see if the pants last through the first washing.  

And, that was our day -- in bed by 8 p.m., Tom snoring by 8:30!  


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