You want boom-boom?

Trip Start Oct 31, 2012
Trip End Dec 12, 2012

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Monday, November 19, 2012

In most of the places I have visited in Vietnam, I am frequently approaced by taxi drivers not to see if I want a taxi, but if I want boom-boom.  When they ask me, "You want boom-boom?", they say it while clenching one fist, then hitting it with their second, open hand, while pushing the two together.  I was at a loss for the first part of my trip in Vietnam when I was asked this, thinking they were asking if I wanted a taxi, just as they would if you wanted a tuk-tuk.  I should have known better.  Yep, they wanted to know if I wanted a girl.  One guy even claimed to have a photo album to prove that his girls were young.  Since I don't speak Vietnamese, and he probablyt only knows the most important phrases in English, I held my tongue in calling him a sick pervert I guess the moral of the story is this: You can get boom-boom and screw some Vietnamese girl, or you can take the taxi and get screwed by the driver.  Your choice, which is why I prefer to walk

Like the cruise on Halong Bay, today is a day that I won't be offered boom-boom, as I will be part of a (dreaded) group tour of the area around Hue.  I say 'dreaded' because I don't like group tours, I prefer to travel independently, but to get around would be difficult on my own, so this is the only way.  For $10, you can be part of a group that gets transport by bus and boat to seven sites, a free lunch on the boat, but you have to pay your own entrance fees. 

I was told by the agency that the tour would start at 8 am, but they wouldn't be picking me up from my hotel until 8.30 am -- WTF?  When they did pick me up, and deposited me at the pier, I felt like a basketball being driven downcourt by the entire team, as I was handed off from one person to the next, I must have been escorted at some point by five different people, and all of them didn't seem to know what they were doing.  (I got a little nervous when I was the only tourist in the van that was dropped off at the pier as well.)  When I walked onto the boat, I saw sitting there a couple from the same hotel who had been picked up 30 minutes before me.  Then the waiting began.  When people complained, they were given a "two minute more" answer rather than the standard "five minute."  A little after 9 am, we were on our way

That boat was so damn slow.  Every boat passed us by, even those of the same make and model, so they couldn't say it was based on that.  It was so painful, it was worse than watching paint dry, which would actually have dried faster in this heat.  For the morning part of the tour, we sat on that boat for about three hours, while having only about 1.5 hours on land.  What made it worse was that I noticed other people's tineraries for this trip, and just about everyone had something different.  The tour guide was so full of shit, it was unbelievable.  (I found someone a husband, and you know who you are!  I'll send you his picture under separate cover, and I'm sure your future mother-in-law will be a pleasure, as she's coming too.)  As the tour progressed, instead of explaining to us what we were going to see while the boat was making its way down the river, he waited until we docked, then made us wait to hear him ramble on forever, which cut deeply into the time we had to see a site.

Our first stop was An Hien, to show us how "all" Vietnamese in Hue lived in the 17th and 18th centuries. There are few of these homes now in existence, and the one we visited was rather pretty. The homes were in a similar fashion, which reminded me of it being influenced by the Japanese. The big part of the house was actually the grounds, where there would be a pond, and the garden was the main draw -- though the house is now the main draw, so there was no garden.  Then we visited the Thien Mu pagoda, which was first built in 1601, and the image is one of the main ones used in the publicity of Vietnam.  Our next stop on the itinerary was Hon Chen Temple, which was used by the Chinese as a religious spot when they traveled the region.  Next up was lunch, which was rather abundant, there was no way you could get all this food anywhere for $10.  (They fixed it in the back of the boat while we were traveling; I peeked in, and it was nothing but big pots over cannisters turned into grills, very basic. 

After lunch was over, the tour guide told us that because we were such a large group -- about 40 people, we couldn't visit all the royal tombs.  Here was his reasoning: If everyone stood in line to buy a ticket (only one ticket seller per site), then it would take forever, so we were to choose two of three tombs to visit, pay him the money, and he would purchase the tickets in bulk -- but we still couldn't visit all three sites.  That was his rule, and since it wasn't mine, and the tour I booked said I got to visit all three sites, things were going to be different.  

When we reached the first site, Minh Mang Tomb, those who had chosen this site, were to proceed to the entrance, wait for him, then we'd start the tour.  For those who didn't choose this site, they were to wait by the bus, as we would now be traveling by land.  One French couple refused to pay the guide, thinking that he was ripping us off, so opted to pay the ticket sellers themselves.  I was suspicious of the guide as well, especially since the entry fee was as much as the royal grounds, which was the main draw of Hue, but he turned out to be truthful in this respect.     

When the Vietnamese royalty were buried, it was done at these elaborate sites.  The exact location of the kings' bodies weren't shared, for fear that their enemies would dig up their bones.The only thing that is known is that the bodies are somewhere on their respective sites  The people who buried the kings were then killed, so the secret location would be safe, and  it was seen as an honor to die.  (This was also done in Egypt.)  Minh Mang ruled over Vietnam from 1820 -- 1840.  After we were rushed through, it was off the Khai Dinh Tomb. Same drill: If you chose this site, enter it, if not, wait near the bus.  

This site was done up in such a different design, using black concrete, that it appeared to me as being a burnt out building on the outside, but was incredibly beautiful on the inside of the main hall.  Rushed through again, then back on the bus, as we are now rushing off to the third site, the burial tomb of Tu Duc.    

Tu Duc was one of the last kings of Vietnam, and perhaps the most flamboyant one of all.  Widely considered a puppet of the French, he designed the buildings for his site, which are actually quite serene.  We learned that he had 104 official wives, more concubines, and zero children (he was sterile).  We also learned that it took him two years to bed his women the first time out before he started to bed them a second time, and so forth.  Good news for a wife or concubine that couldn't stand him, as she would have to put out only once every two years, not a bad deal for being able to live in luxury.  Since I had signed up for a tour to see three royal tombs, but paid for only two, I purchased my own ticket at the third site.  I thought I did not come all this way to be told I couldn't see something, and even more so with the tour guide's stupid reasoning.  At the tombs, I also didn't stand around listening to him talk, as he used up most of the time allotted to the visit.  I wandered off, then returned to the bus in time.  

To show you how slow that boat was, the tombs were further out than the three sites we visited by boat.  While it took up to 3 hours to travel by boat, It took us only 30 minutes to get back to town and from a further location!  Earlier, when the tour guide had told us the rules on visiting the tombs since the group was too big, I complained.  Speed up the boat, I told him, and we'd have more time at each site.  I also told him to talk to us while in transit, that both him and the boat were wasting our time.  It wasn't like the boat ride was scenic, and it went so slow that there was no way you could get sea sick.  I felt sorry for those who were going to see the royal palace complex at the end of the tour, as they had only about one hour to see it, while it took me four hours the day before Then, at the end of the trip, they didn't even bother to drop you off at your hotel.  Luckily mine was close by.  Oh yes, the tour did follow the itinerary I was given, though we didn't have enough time to wander a village that makes incense and the conical hats, which I didn't mind.  

When I returned to my hotel to reunite with my luggage and wait a bit until it was time to go to the train station, the desk clerks were being so accommodating to me, even though I was no longer a guest.  The staff here was incredibly personable and helpful, they run a close second to my Hanoi hotel.  

Yesterday, when I bought my train ticket to Da Nang, it was one of the last availble, which meant I was stuck with a top berth in a six berth compartment; thank goodness the trip was for only 2.5 hours.  When the train finally arrived, one hour late, I made my way to the berth that I and six locals (one was a small child) would be sharing; they were already on the train from an earlier location.  Since the compartments are so incredibly small, an old woman on one of the bottom berths offered me part of her berth to store my big suitcase.  I politely declined, but she wouldn't have it.  I then placed my suitcase on her bed, thanked her as best I could with the language barrier, then decided to ride out the trek in the very tiny, narrow hallway with other locals who couldn't get seats or berths; the compartments were also hot and stuffy.  At least in the hallway, you could open the windows for air. 

Even though the train had NO SMOKING signs everywhere, guess what people did.  One guy was smoking so heavily, I started coughing, so he decided to continue smoking in his compartment.  And unless dogs in Vietnam squeal like pigs, then someone had a pig with them in a neighboring compartment. 

About one hour into the train ride, I went back into the compartment to get something from my backpack, only to discover some girl sleeping in my berth!  I decided that since I wasn't going to use it, why not let someone else.  Plus, what could I do after the generosity of the old woman for letting me store my suitcase on her bed?  She was short enough that the suitcase didn't encumber her, unlike the French guy on the Lao Cai/Hanoi train who claimed I was taking his space.  The same thing happend to the local whose berth was right below mine.  He left for a bit, perhaps to the dining car, only to find a mother, teenaged daughter, along with their bags, asleep in his berth; he also let them be.  

Vietnam trains are notorious for theft against foreigners.  I was kind of concerned about leaving my backpack and locked carry-on on the bed with the girl, but thought I really had no choice.  My concerns were not to be realized, as when we arrived at the train station, the girl on my berth lowered my luggage for me, and even handed me something that had fallen out of the front pouch of my backpack.  Later, when I checked my bag, nothing was missing.  I didn't want to be suspicious, but....I'd do the same in the US. 

All this entertainment for only $4,50!  I would have missed out had I hired a car and driver to drive me the three -- four hours to Da Nang, though the scenery on the drive is said to be spectacular.  When we finally arrived in Da Nang, I wanted to give the old lady $5 for letting my suitcase share her bed, but she was asleep, and I didn't want to wake her, or leave the money for her for fear someone else would take it.     


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