IndoChina - Vietnam: Hue & Hoi A step back in time

Trip Start Jul 30, 2010
Trip End May 29, 2011

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Flag of Vietnam  , Quảng Nam,
Friday, November 5, 2010

Patience, n. A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.
 Ambrose Bierce,The Devil's Dictionary

We arrived 4 hours late. Instead of pulling into Hue (pronounced 'hway' as in "h’way the lads...") at 8am we arrived at lunchtime. At 13hr journey had turned into a 17hrs smelly marathon. Heavy rain overnight had meant that the train had to slow down and crawl over long stretches of track for fear that the wet ground beneath the train giving way. I guess in the UK SouthWest Trains would have closed the entire network bringing S. London to a standstill. Not in ‘nam. Things carry on but just take a little longer. 

In the afternoon we had a rather rushed tour around Hue which was until 1945 the political centre of Vietnam. In quick order we visited the Imperial Tombs of Tu Duc – the emperor who effectively handed the keys of the country over to the French, the Citadel – modelled on Beijing’s Imperial Palace. This was a vast complex but significantly damaged or destroyed by an earthquake in the 19th century and by American forces during the 1968 Tet Offensive when the Vietcong and the NVA used the citadel as their base. During 24 days it is estimated that 10,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed. At present the palace is being reconstructed altho’ when they’ll finish is anyone’s guess given the size of the place.  

By now everyone was pretty knackered so we headed back to the hotel before going out as a group for a frankly forgettable meal somewhere.  Hue seemed like an interesting place and it would have been good to explore it a bit more and walk along the Perfume River that cuts thru’ Hue but that wasn’t to be. What we’re finding is that as part of a group you are treated and you act like a passing tourist there to be a source of tips for all sorts of people, with no opportunities to step away from the itinerary. You turn up at a place as a group, are walked around it as a group and all jostle for the same position for the same photo-op. Being part of the group in a way discourages you from doing your own research. Group dinners are painful. In Hanoi one person left the group but was replaced by 10 new people. Most of them are very nice but we’re wasting some much time and money in mediocre, slow and safe-option restaurants it’s becoming quite frustrating. Rant over!

After one night in Hue we were on the road again to Hoi An. Before we set off we visited the Thien Mu Pagoda. The oldest monastery in Hue it was also the home to Thich Quang Duc, the monk, who in 1968, before the world’s press and TV crews set fire to himself in Saigon in protest to Pres. Diem’s restrictions and treatment of Buddhist monks and nuns.  The pagoda covered quite a large area and we managed to escape the pack and made our own way around the area which felt like a little bit of freedom from tour guides.

Back on the bus we had a 4hr journey over the Hai Van Pass which follows a spectacular route up and over the mountains that run along the coast to Danang. The first impressions of Hoi An that evening was that it was a lovely small port town. Like Luang Prabang in Laos, Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage site which limits development in the Old Quarter which is where we were staying – and  given the colour of the water that came out in the bathroom sink I suspect that pipes had also been preserved.  The Old Quarter consists mainly of old shops, tailors (which Hoi An is apparently famous for), shoe shops, bars, galleries and restaurants mostly targeted at visitors. On closer inspection it also seems to be a centre for fake watches, bags and ‘designer’-ware. On our first night there the police stopped our group demanding to see our tickets. What they wanted to see was that we'd spent the VND 90,000 each to visit the Japanese covered bridge (something else Hoi An is also known for). We just lied and said the tickets were in the hotel and the police were happy enough but it's a bit like the Met stopping people in London demanding that they visit the London Eye. Anyway we visited the bridge the following morning, all 50m or 60m of it, and apart from it being very damp and a bit dilapidated (which given its age is understandable) all it leads to are more tourist trap shops.

On our second and third day in Hoi An it rained and rained and rained. Not that this deterred Claire from visiting almost every one of Hoi An's countless tailors in search of the perfect travelling skirt which she finally found on our last night there. By the evening of our second day the River Thu Bon had overflowed its northern banks and was closing off roads altho' we did use this to our advantage and managed to 'lose' the group and found a restaurant which was cheap and did brilliant food altho' its 'killer' centipede was a bit of a distraction. Actually since getting to Hoi An we've managed to lose the group most of the time and have as a result found some really interesting little shops and restaurants.

I think it's a tactic we'll have to deploy quite a bit for the remainder of this particular tour.
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Margaret Squires on

Very very intereting following your adventures

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