We were very happy to get out of the chaos of Hanoi, even though we enjoyed our time there, and experience a more relaxed, warm, Vietnam. After the awesome bus ride we crashed for a couple hours at our hotel and awoke to beautiful sunshine for the first time on our trip. Clint forgot what the sun does to pale skinned "whities" so he ignored the sunscreen and unfortunately suffered the consequences. He's still in a bit of pain. Our impression of Hue has been very positive. The people are more friendly, everything is a lot cheaper, the food is better, the streets are easy to navigate and the traffic is tolerable. We hear the voices of little kids saying "Hello" everywhere we go. The first day we explored the city by foot until we couldn't go any further. We crossed the Perfume River, which used to seperate the old North and South Vietnam, and was a DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) during the war where lots of violence took place. So, it's a historically important city in Vietnam. We also visited a local market that had all types of local seafood, meats, veggies, and fruits. We felt a little out of our element but people were pleasant to us nonetheless. After the market we took a long walk to The Forbidden Purple City which used to be the old private residence of the Emperor in the 1800-mid 1900s. We only saw a fraction of the City but it was worth the arduous walk. On our way back "home", we stopped at the River Boats and purchased a ticket for a day long River tour for the following day. This 8am-4pm tour, that was a "must do" in Lonely Planet supposedly included a guide, lunch and stops at several Tombs and Pagodas. The next day we hopped on the boat only to find out after we had left land that very few things were included in the price we had paid, which was 100,000 dong (about $6.00). We didn't sweat it too much and enjoyed seeing the sights. Got to see some interesting tombs of old emperors and Buddhist Pagodas. We also chatted with some well experienced travelers... a 60 year old couple from Holland who were traveling throughout Southeast Asia, backpack style, for several months. They had traveled in SE Asia before and had some great advice for us. If we were to do today over again we would have not chosen this particular full day boat tour...Lonely Planet was wrong about it being a "must do", but then again we would have missed the great conversation with other travelers. Now, we have decided to break away from the tourist tours and put our Lonely Planet guide down. The best way to travel is to talk to other travelers and learn from them. So...on we go. Our next stop is Dangang and then Hoi An. We leave at 8am tomorrow morning...on a sitting bus for only 4 hours. Thank God!
After our cold but good trip to Halong Bay we jumped right on a bus to Hue. We had purchased tickets for a "sleeping bus" through the same agency as the Halong Bay trip because we were told that other buses (cheaper buses) were completely full due to the Tet holiday. The photos that the agent showed us displayed these luxurious, clean buses with wide, fully reclining seats. We normally would not spend $25 for a bus ticket but everything is considerably more expensive due to Tet and we just wanted to get out of Hanoi so we went for it. What we experienced was far from what we had signed up for. Where do I begin...well, first of all the "reclining seats" were very small, narrow beds. There was not enough room above you to sit up nor enough length to lie down comfortably (at least for Clint...6'3"). There were three rows of "bunk beds" and we weren't quick enough to get the bottom beds so we were stuck with the top. Clint had the middle row so he did not have a wall to either side of him, just a small handle to keep from rolling off. They did provide you with a small pillow and a nasty smelling blanket...and I must admit that I was grateful for both of these as it did get a bit chilly. Poor Clint was laying directly underneath the only air vent on the bus so he was especially chilled. My head was directly above the repulsive bathroom so I got a lovely whiff of the toilets the entire 11 hours of our trip. I was wishing I had one of those Vietnamese cloth face masks with me...I am still considering buying one for future bus rides. But that wasn't the worst part of the trip...The driver of the bus found it necessary to honk the entire length of the trip even though it was a night bus and clearly people were trying to sleep. Every passing car or motorbike he honked at, and he chain smoked cigarettes. He also drove the large bus as if it were a Ferrari F50. He drove over curbs, sped over speed bumps, and weaved around traffic like he was in the Indy 500. Every time we were about to fall asleep we were jolted awake by the sudden fear of flying off our bunks...or the road. We held onto the "handle" even while we were "sleeping". Clint had two side to fall off of so he had to be extra careful. With all the bumps and jostling around we were grateful to have a bathroom on the bus...or were we? Not only did the toilet reek to high heaven but the floor was covered with an inch of urine. When we entered the bus we had to take off our shoes and put them in bags so they put these plastic slippers by the bathroom door so you wouldn't soak your socks with piss. The toilet was a "Japanese toilet" as I described in our first blog...which is also a Vietnamese toilet apparently. There is no seat and so I had to squat over it carefully as the bus weaved back and forth holding onto the door that didn't shut or lock while standing in other people's urine...and doing this all while holding my breath! Oh yeah, and because the bus was overbooked there were people sleeping on the floors of the bus, so to get to the toilet I had to climb over on top of it and cautiously slide/jump down...and then when I was through, muscle my way up on to the top and over to my bunk. We couldn't wait for this ride to be over. We finally arrived in Hue at 6:30am and in one piece! I'm sure we will have many more horror bus stories along our way. We are now able to laugh hysterically at this memory and will appreciate them all as a part of the experience.