Published: September 10th 2011September 10th 2011
Mike and I are in the Vietnamese city of Huế, today (it is pronounced hway!). We've not had an especially productive day, as it happens. We got off to a very slow start because Mike wouldn't get up this morning, claiming that he hadn't got any sleep because the onions kept him up, whatever that means!
But once we were up, we went down to breakfast. It was really good. They had lots of flavours of jams. I tried pineapple jam and grape jam (this just tasted like the really artifical American grape juice, so was a bit of a disappointment). And they had an omelette bar for Mike, so that he could have his daily quota of WAY too many eggs. I tried dried kiwi too. And they had passion fruits (yay!).
However, our lack of haste turned out to be costly when looking for a bank to change up my travellers cheques. Vietnam is THE worst place to try to change up travellers cheques because none of the hotels (even the 5 star hotel in which we are currently staying) accept them at their cashier desks, and only the really big banks will change them. However, since every day seems to be some sort of Vietnamese holiday (if I hear the words "but it's [insert day of the week here] today" one more time, I will scream), the banks are perennially shut. Today they were shutting at 11am, according to our hotel, so when we heard this, we rushed out to the Vietcom bank just up the road. I rejoiced to see its doors were open and that the signs said they shut at 11am, and rushed to the counter, with 10 full minutes to spare.
But no, readers. I'm sorry to say that I rejoiced too soon. Because, despite the fact that this major Vietnamese bank was open, the woman behind the glass said no.
She said, "we shut at 10pm". Yes, 10pm. Great. So at 10:50am, they should be open for business. But obviously this rude and lazy bank worker was just that, and she would not change my cheques for me. I had to practically twist her arm to get her to give me directions to another bank (I would have actually twisted her arm if she weren't sitting behind bullet-proof glass). So we rushed off...to an ATM machine.
We continued to look for an open bank at top speed, but then gave up after a woman in a tour office directed us back to the very bank we'd just been in (but only after being told the word "bank" several times, very slowly). As we walked back past the bank, they were still open.
So the manager of the hotel was enlisted to help me get some money. She and her army of receptionists called up all the banks and hotels to try to find someone who could help, before sending us out with the doorman to a gold shop, who also couldn't change up the cheques. But then the doorman spotted an open Vietin bank, and we hastened inside to find...that they could help me! Yes!
Unfortunately the exchange rate they were offering wasn't that great (31000d to the GBP as opposed to 33000d), but they didn't slap on such a huge commision as HSBC had in HCMC. I needed the money and we had shlapped around, so I went for it, so I finally have some cash again!
Then we caught a cab from the hotel to the citadel. We went through the Ngo Mon gate into the Imperial City, and saw the Thai Hoa Palace, an important room in old Huế, which was at the time the capital of a newly unified Vietnam. The Emperor would sit in his throne and the mandarins would parade outside, on various holidays (they must have been forever doing this given how many "special day(s)" Vietnam seems to have). It had many (about 80) red and gold lacquer pillars, which, when they were restored, required 12 coats of lacquer that each took 1 month to dry! This was done in 1991, apparently (probably in honour of my forthcoming birth, I dare say!)
Also within the Imperial city, in the Forbidden Purple City, were the Left House and the Right House, of which we went inside the latter. These are the only buildings still standing after a 1947 fire destroyed the rest of the Forbidden Purple City. I found some thimbles in the shop in the Right House, which confusingly seemed to think they were from Tunisia. Very peculiar. Mike and I also tried on the traditional Vietnamese conical hats. I think they suited me better :D.
Then we went to Hung Mieu and The Mieu, which were temples to the Nguyen Emperors. I didn't think these were particularly special, actually, even though the guidebook raves about them.
We took a cyclo back to the hotel (we both wanted to take a taxi, but couldn't find one, and I wanted to take a moto, but Mike didn't - so, parents, it looks like you won't be needing to dissuade Mike from learning to drive one), and then I had a bit of a lie down (I was feeling a little nauseated for no apparent reason). We caught the last 15 minutes of the France vs Japan rugby game, which were quite exciting really. I much prefer watching rugby to football.
And then we ventured out again for lunch at Mandarin Cafe. The garlic bread was nice but I wasn't impressed with my rice, although with the whole meal coming to $5, I guess I really can't complain all that much.
We made it back inside the hotel before a little spurt of rain, and we have decided that since we can see the European city on our way to the train station tomorrow, and since the mausoleums are quite a way out of Huế (and we'll see Ho Chi Minh's in Hanoi anyhow), we are going to take it easy for the rest of the day. But do stay tuned because we are planning to go to a restaurant run by a deaf-mute family for dinner, and who knows what excitement might otherwise be in store for us on this day, a "special day" in Vietnam :P (on the grounds that it is a Saturday - and they don't come every week!)