Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tomb Raider.

After two hours sleep and with a heavy head we devoured a minimalist breakfast on the run to absorb the alcohol still afflicting us and jumped on the Bus bound for Hue. After an hour or so cruising from Hoi An and through Danang, the road opened up to a beautiful beach side mountain pass. Almost in unison with every one else on the bus (For the first time mostly full of Westerners) I reached into my bag and pulled out the camera, switched it on and lined up a snap. A collective “Ohhh” rang through the aisles of the bus as we drove straight into the mountain by way of a very, very long tunnel.

Twenty minutes later we emerged from the tunnel to look back over our shoulders to see our beautiful views disappearing behind us. It was at this exact point that we realised we had missed one of the moments we had looked forward to the most. Not long before leaving Australia the guys from Top Gear did a Vietnam special which heavily inspired our trip. There was a moment in the show where Clarkson and Hammond sat by the side of the road waiting for May to catch up while overlooking the most spectacular view. The exact spot was visible up the old coast road behind us to the left. The tunnel we emerged from had bypassed that from the right. Oh well, next time Gadget, next time.

We arrived at Hue and again as we alighted the bus we were instantly set upon by a horde of Hoteliers, Taxi drivers and Motor Bikers each one pleading, nay, pushing for our business. One went so far as to follow us all the way to the hotel area, nicely agreeing to walk on the other side of the road to leave us alone, yet still directing us from every corner to his hotel. Needless to say when we did get to his hotel, we chose to stay in the one next door, the one we had picked from our guide book.

Right next to our hotel was a delicious Indian restaurant, which we gorged ourselves at and compared favourably to every other Indian restaurant we’d been to, yes, even “Priya” near Watergardens. Deciding to spend only one night in Hue I walked down to the local travel agency and booked the sleeper bus for the following night to take us to Hanoi. We decided to use Sinh Cafe้ bus company as we had seen their buses and been recommended them as they were the most modern and comfortable looking option for a long haul trip. With our exit strategy planned we decided to make the most of the small time we had in Hue and see the sights. Opting for the relaxed approach we hired a Cyclo each to take us on a tour around the Citadel.

Hue was once the Center of the Vietnamese Empire, and previously home to the Emperors. The Citadel is the Palace of the Emperor, or at least it was, until the Americans bombed the shit out of it, as they do. We decided not to pay the $5 entry fee as it was late in the day and we were going to have more time to explore the next day, so we got our Cyclo drivers to take us on a peaceful trip around the Citadel and back through the town to the restaurant strip. So peaceful was the ride in our Cyclo I could help myself nodding off a few times in the middle of traffic. But hey, I’d only had two hours sleep.

Our Cyclo drivers organised to pick us up the next morning on motorbikes for a tour around, and we spent the rest of the night wandering though the town with a feeling of “whatever” about it all. I think around this point we were starting to get a bit tired of people trying to sell us shit, scam us, beg from us and con us, but then again we’d only had four hours sleep. After another pleasant (but not seedy) massage, we found a cafe้ next to the hotel for dinner and swapped traveling stories with a few backpackers, before retiring for a relatively early night. The Cafe้ we went to was called “Cafe้ on Thu Wheels” and specialised in motorcycle tours. Our enthusiastic and friendly host, became introverted and moody after we told him we’d hired a guide off the street. Oh well, next time Gadget, next time.

Checking out of our hotel brought up our reoccurring feeling of being ripped off. With the hotel charging an extortionate exchange rate for paying in Vietnam Dong, rather than US Dollars. After a small pointless argument we paid the bill on our Travel Card in US dollars and saved ourselves a few pointless dollars out of spite of being rorted.

Our motorcycle tour of Hue’s surrounding Tombs and Pagodas started with a hitch as Prue’s guide stopped for Petrol and I went ahead with my guide. After waiting about ten minutes for her to catch up my guide realised they weren't coming and left me waiting on the side of the road where I was mocked in Vietnamese by a small school boy after I refused to give him a cigarette. A minute or two later my guide came flying back around the corner and whisked me off to the site that Prue had been taken to. Ok, well organised tour so far.

The Tombs of the previous Emperors were quite impressive although the $5 entry fee at each site for both of us seemed a little bit high. Again we felt reinforcement in the feeling that everyone in Vietnam is just trying to get money out of us. The Pagodas were free to enter and the last one we went to was quite impressive although it housed a somber mood in a garage at the rear of the temple. There we found the Austin driven to Saigon by the Monk who Self immolated (Burned himself to death) in protest to the South Vietnamese Government’s treatment of Buddhists, the same Austin is visible in the iconic photo of the event.

After a few hours of riding around on narrow back roads our drivers took us to a local place for lunch where we were fed suspicious food that thankfully never made us sick and then they dropped us at the front gate of the Citadel. Trying to pay for the Guides started an argument as we believed we were paying $5 each for what was supposed to be a two hour tour. They believed that as the tour had taken nearly four hours (not our fault) we should pay double. Originally it was only going to be $8 each for the whole day. So we bluffed calling the Tourist Police and bailed out at the original price of $5 each. Needless to say our patience with the Vietnamese constant attempt to make us part with extra (or any) cash was starting to wear thin.

The Citadel was a bit disappointing, most of it was destroyed, so everything that couldn't be restored was still in the process of being rebuilt. The majority of the grounds felt like a work site, although a few areas that had either been repaired or were never destroyed were quite impressive. Hue was a lovely city with some amazing old sites to visit and I’m sure given a bit of extra time to absorb the atmosphere of the town we would have enjoyed it a lot more. Unfortunately a few irritable incidents put it on the back foot, and we boarded the bus eagerly looking back at the city of Hue with a strong sense of nothing much at all.

The 13 hour trip between Hue and Hanoi was relatively comfortable. I found myself about 4 inches short on leg room in my sleeping berth. Prue on the other hand slept fairly soundly. The ride itself was a lot smoother than some of our previous bus trips. The large Sinh Cafe้ coach strategically lined itself in the middle of the road and blazed a trail to Hanoi letting all other traffic flow around it. We arrived at Hanoi at 6am, walked around the corner to the office of a tour company we had been recommended, only to find that it didn't open until 7am. Not much of anything was open for breakfast and we waited patiently until the tour office opened, purchasing a three day tour to Ha Long Bay that left at 8:30am then treated ourselves to a delicious breakfast before setting off on our next adventure...

Facebook is working where we are, the photos from Hoi An and Hue can be found [HERE].

More photos should come in the next day or so now that we have facebook again. It takes a bit of free time to organise the photos and write the blogs and lately we haven't had much free time...