Hue in a manger (pronounced Hway by the way!)

Trip Start Aug 04, 2011
Trip End Jan 04, 2012

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Flag of Vietnam  , Ha Nội,
Sunday, September 11, 2011

What a terrible shame. A good day on the bay is brought back down to earth with a bump on a truly miserable day. The Halong Bay cruise turns into a ferry trip on day 2. It's just a shuttle service, taking those on longer breaks to their next stop on Cat Ba island, and taking those on '2 day' cruises like ourselves back to the harbour. Making it worse is the torrential rain that seems to follow us from the moment we wake up. Occasionally the rain breaks to give us yet another glimpse of the tremendous formations, but it just doesn't live up to yesterday.

It's a long sinking feeling. A long trip back, waiting in the communal area of the boat (as you have to check out so the staff can prepare the cabins for the next group), while the rain beats against the windows. A new set of people picked up from Cat Ba make the experience slightly more uncomfortable as the people we had bonded with had moved on and been replaced by strangers. Not enough time to get to know these people, so we scowl quietly in our kagouls, venturing upstairs onto deck every now and again to take in the last of the cruise.

Back in Halong, we alight and we head to a local restaurant as part of the tour. It's the normal deal with these sorts of places. Plates of different kinds of food and just tuck in with the chopsticks. To make the situation a little surreal, it appears that we're an add on to a large wedding going on at the restaurant at the time. The wedding party cheer and drink merrily with the bride and groom visiting their guests from table to table. Our little group is just sat on one of the outside tables bordering the party - was nice to be invited I guess but feel bad for not bringing a present.

The journey back to Hanoi is uneventful and we stop on the way at the souvenir supermarket. I pick up a copy of the lonely planet guide to find (he looks shocked and disappointed! and very surprised I tell you) that the book which has a faded cover and some of the pages printed upside down is in fact a fake. I learn this only because the lonely planet guide actually tells you that Vietnam makes a series of fake books which don't last any time at all - so whatever you do don't buy them as they are very cheap. I was disgusted, truly appalled. My 3 pounds would be feeding a nation of pirates instead of the Lonely Planet megacity (not sure where the lonely planet megacity is, however with the cost of their guides, it is probably paved in gold somewhere in Monaco). The guide scares you to death about the country - everyone wants to scam you. Everyone wants your money. I start to look at my co-tourists as threats as I am warned that they may drug me and steal all my possessions. Trust no-one.

We get back to the hostel, greeted by our family their in the form of the hostel staff that still want to look after us even though we are no longer their residents. Our minibus shuttle turns up to take us to the overnight sleeper coach and the hostel lady carries Kate's bags out after giving us both friendship bracelets. She waves us onto the bus and then waves goodbye. You see the moment in her face when after 4 days of looking after us she realises that we are not going to give her a tip as we are in fact western cheapskates. She looks heartbroken. Like a mother who has just waved her children off to university and they don't so much as kiss her goodbye. Oh well. You win some, you lose some.

Then the horror begins. It must be karma for not paying a tip.

Firstly I lose our receipt and so we are one of the last people on the bus. The bags are dumped into the hold and then we take our shoes off and put them in little plastic bags while we are on the coach. We don't get to sleep right next to each other but that shouldn't be a problem. I find a bed on the floor and am then quickly told to move as the bed is for 'VIP'. What a crock. I climb up onto the top bunk of the middle aisle of beds and the pain begins. 12 hours of a bed which is at least 4 inches too short for me, in which even Kate's feet couldn't be placed without being squished.  All night my feet had to be moved at funny angles to fit into the little space below the person in front. This was made more difficult as the bed is only about 1 inch wider than my body. It was very uncomfortable.
The first four hours were the worst, the TV turned up to maximum loudness blurting out a Vietnamese dubbed Chinese martial arts film (Kate informs me it was actually quite sad - I lost interest when every second was filled with air-stunts and 'kapow' sound effects), the bus stopping every couple of miles to pick up people that appeared to be friends of the driver, people talking very loudly on their mobile phones. I just got my book out and started reading. I could phase them out. Just as I managed to reach some form of balance, the lights are turned off and I am unable to read. The personal lights do not work on this coach either apparently. Everyone goes to sleep and I am stuck wide awake, not being able to lay down properly on a death bus. Lonely planet states 'If you like living dangerously, there are now plenty of sleeper buses with reclining seats'. I recommend avoiding this thrill-seeker ride and take up snowboarding.

I managed to get and hour or so of sleep and then drifted off systematically every 20 minutes or so. Time ticks past slowly. At 6.30am we pull over to the middle of nowhere (just past the DMZ) to a little cafe where the driver is clearly in line to take a kickback. We stop for half an hour breakfast a mere hour from our final destination.

At last we reach Hue. The bus pulls into a street and immediately the bus is surrounded on all sides my motos vying for your trade. Travel agents (or so they would like to call themselves) try and get you to go to their hotel. "we have a reservation, no thanks". We repeat this line several times and manage to break free from the hoards. It's all polite. Nobody is horrid about it, it's all very friendly. We get out our fake Lonely Planet and look for our hostel on the map. Not far from here - peace at last soon.

For legal reasons I am in the process of identifying the manufacturers of these copied books and will tell the authorities when they give a damn. I am not expecting any kind of action until the next century. When I can locate a legal copy of the lonely planet in Vietnam I promise I will buy it. Up to now from the 39 book shops I have entered on this mission I have managed to find a proverbial forest of faded upside down printed Lonely Planet guides to Everywhere and a legal untouched and unread copy of 'Ho Chi Minhs guide to Communism in the 21st century'. 
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