No dice!

Trip Start Oct 19, 2010
Trip End Jul 23, 2011

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Waffle at war museum

The outer part of the Citadel was a little disappointing.  The streets were nowhere near as interesting as in Hanoi and had little to offer tourists, maybe Hanoi has spoilt us a little but we expected the streets to have ancient buildings being as though it was an ancient city!  The only thing that we came across of interest was the war museum which had US army tanks and artillery from the 'American War' from 1965 to 1973 (or as we know it, the Vietnam War). 

Remedy for a headache maybe?

After leaving the Citadel we walked along the river lined with dragon boats.  The original dragon boats were used in masses along the river at festival times but these ones were just used to take tourists to some of the pagodas further down the river, a bit of a tourist trap to be honest.  Shops faced the river which had some interesting medicine shops selling all kinds of herbs and animals cured in large jars – frogs, snakes, ginseng roots etc.  They looked like some kind of mad scientist’s laboratory.

train track through Hue

The next day we decided to find the train station on our side of the river.  We got our tickets, seats 1 & 2 on coach 1 on the 14th (sounds simple but I will explain more later!).   To our surprise we found the south side of the river had some better streets to amble along, they seemed more like what we expected in the citadel and were peppered with pagodas. 

tower at Tu Dam Pagoda

There was one (Tu Dam Pagoda) which is used by the monks for training today and has a multi-tiered high tower which is the official symbol of Hue.  Each tier is said to represent the stages of ascension to heaven by Buddha.  Here, a monk burned himself in 1963 in protest to the oppressive administration (not the monk however who drove the famous blue Austin to Saigon to set himself alight also in 1963 though).  A smaller river crossed through this area with a local food market to one side including live birds in small baskets (brings a new image of ‘chicken in a basket’!).  

'chicken in a basket'

We ate at a recommended local restaurant called Nina’s Cafe in the evening.  This was hidden in a backstreet, it had a roof but no walls!  The food was very tasty and larger portions than some of the restaurants so we were very stuffed by the end of it.  Huge bowls of rice soup, squid with pineapple, grilled minced pork wraps, spring rolls, shrimps in garlic...and the obligatory sticky rice of course! 

Back at the hotel, I had a bit of a mishap...all the bathrooms have a shower hose next to the toilet which I wanted to use to wash away our muddy footprints.  As I tried to pick it up the shower head broke off and freezing cold water jetted up spraying all over the bathroom and me with no tap to turn it off!  Waffle came to my rescue after he heard me shouting him in panic and turned off the main water tap to the room.  I looked like a drowned rat!  Waffle told the receptionist what had happened, a guy then zipped off on a motorbike and returned with a replacement hose and it was fixed in a jiffy.

So, the day of the train...We boarded the train, coach 1 and looked for seats 1 & 2...The coach was very narrow and we had our big backpacks on that made it very difficult to manoeuvre.  The first seats were 63 & 64 then 3 & 4, 5 & 6 etc.   So where were our seats?  We were being pushed forward by the locals (they always push and pull, you have to get used to that) and the numbers just kept going up, we got about 3/4 ‘s of the way down the carriage when the ticket inspector saw our tickets and pointed back the way we came!  We turned around, knocking people over with our backpacks and edged our way passed people coming from the opposite direction back to the start...The same inspector, now behind us looked at our tickets again and point back the way we came...we were getting very agitated and hot at this point and an old lady pushed Waffle out the way making him very annoyed.  We had no choice but to turn around again and go back up the carriage.  Eventually we found our seats next to 61 & 62, how crazy is that!  A local guy helped us put our bags up on the racks which were full by that time and we finally got to sit down.  There was a family in front of us with several large shopping bags full of food enough to feed the whole carriage, they did not stop eating all the way!  The couple next to us who could not speak any English at all also found this amusing and they tried to chat with us along the way, laughing about the hungry family and trying to find out where we were going etc.  They also got the food trolley guy to show us the food he had hidden under newspapers so that we could eat (a favourite Vietnamese pastime).  He showed us a nice chicken drumstick and said ‘Chicken?’ so we said OK...he then put the drumstick back and passed us 2 very small roasted birds about the size of quails with heads and claws still attached!  Not quite the drumsticks we thought we were going to have.  This is something we are still trying to get used to..however much you think you understand what to expect i.e. seat numbers and food etc, it is always a surprise!  Just as we were about to eat, the train went through a long tunnel and plunged us into complete darkness.  The ride took us through several long dark tunnels and popped out the other side exposing some stunning views of the coast and the mountains and we could see the weather changing, getting sunnier!

football on streets of Danang

We arrived at Danang and the sun was shining as we walked towards our hotel stopping off along the way for a coffee and to check our map.  Eventually we got to our hotel which was styled in a Louis XIV French style with ornate plasterwork, vintage telephones and chandeliers, very nice!  At breakfast a man who looked like Charles Bronson (although loads here seem to resemble Charles Bronson around the city – we have spotted at least 5 lookalikes!) passed us the menu in Vietnamese with a crude English translation that was amusing and confusing – what is bread sunny, wheat incited and waivers?  As it turns out bread sunny is a baguette and two fried eggs, waiver is a beef egg noodle soup and we haven’t found out what wheat incited is but we know it has beef in it! 

Danang bridge at night

Danang isn’t really a tourist area, it is a large city that was used by the US Army for R & R during the war with beaches stretching all the way to Hoi An and loads of wide streets full of tailors, electricals, and all manner of shops.  At night the streets are filled with light displays like Blackpool, I guess this is in preparation for Tet New Year.  The bridge is lit up as well but these lights look more permanent and makes an evening stroll along the river very pleasant.

Central Vietnam has a Cham community still in existence (The ancient Cham empire from 1,600 years ago is Hindu influenced which is apparent in the statues and artwork seen in some of the restaurants and some temples).  We went to a museum in Danang containing many artefacts depicting Hindu type gods, demons and dancing girls. 

how long is that trailer!!

The day we chose to go to the beach was not the best of days weather wise.  We crossed the bridge and headed to the coast but as we got closer the rain started to beat down.  From what we saw, it was lined with palm trees (not much else) and the waves looked good for surfing but we didn’t stay around and trudged back to the city soaking wet.  On the way back we saw a guy on a motorbike towing a 40ft trailer with a corrugated metal sheet on it... it’s amazing what and how they transport stuff here! 

There is a large supermarket near our hotel so we thought we would do a bit of local food shopping!  We bought some precooked meals and a roast chicken to snack on.  It gave us chance to see what they eat at home although the chocolates are poor and the cakes are worse, I do miss Cadbury’s chocolates...

One thing we are noticing is how much more friendly they as we move more south are (even though they are still friendly in the north) but on the other hand how little English is spoken here as well.  The people and especially all the children say hello and wave but they can’t understand us at all! We have had our 7th power cut since we arrived in Vietnam and had to walked down to breakfast on the 2nd floor in the dark on some floors, we are on the 7th!  We intended to stay in after breakfast to book a flight to Ho Chi Minh City ready for the Tet New Year but as we have no internet I thought I would write our blog until it comes back on. We are off to Hoi An for about a week tomorrow (only 30km away) but we wanted to book the flight today as travelling is busy this time of year so I hope it comes back on soon, we have been running on generators all morning.

Power is back on now so we are going to book our flights online before we go out around town...
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