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Published: August 8th 2007
The overnight train to Hue (pronounced way) cannot slip by without a mention. It was a sleeper train, different from the last one we got from Koh Samui to Bangkok with each Cabin housing four pull down beds. We met the train with plenty of time to spare and bought food for the journey at the stools around the train and waited about on the platform killing time. As the train set off, loud music began blearing through the speakers. Somebody then commented that they were communist songs….well that got my attention and I needed to know more. I'm not sure how the fact that Vietnam is a communist country had passed me by but I'm afraid to say it had. Suddenly all images from George Orwell's 1984 swirled into my mind yet they did not match up with the Vietnam I had been living in for the last few days. What I was seeing bore no resemblance with pictures I had seen from Russia or North Korea and was certainly not in keeping with what I learned from Marx at uni as Hanoi it's self was a fantastic example of an economic system built on the profit motive. My
ideas about communism need some serious updating!!
After promising myself I would find out more about it before leaving Vietnam I settled in for a long night. After a few games of cards and some people from our group attempting to spread out the longest crossword puzzle in the world down the trains corridor- I hit the sack. I find it unbelievably easy to sleep on moving trains and slept right through until I was woken by blearing communist songs again. It was at this point I found Bruce- a London cabby who was part of our tour group. I decided that if he had 'the knowledge' then he might know a bit about communism, so I fired a few questions at him. From his understanding- people in Vietnam do not get a vote, also the schools and some health care is paid for by the government. However that was as far as his knowledge got us so I'll have to dig a bit further elsewhere.
As we got nearer Hue and our stop was approaching our tour guide went through the drill of getting our group of 14 people, plus 2 other tour groups off the train
in less than a 4 minute window before the train moves off again. It actually went very smoothly with the last person off the train having at least one and a half seconds to spare.
From here we headed to our hotel and met Hoy! Ok Hoy was the guy who had a shop next to the hotel that sold anything you wanted and even if he didn't have what you wanted he could get it for you. Simon had raved about Hoy for quite a while and over our stay in Hue it became clear why. He was a cross between Delboy and Jim'll Fix It - If something was broken he could fix it and if there was a gap in the market he would fill it straight away- and he was such a lovely guy to boot. After eating lunch at- yes you guessed it -Hoy's, we headed out for a day trip.
Hue is the great cultural and religious capital of Vietnam. Our first stop was the perfumed river (I couldn't smell anything) where we boarded our boat. The boat was comedy; it was exactly like a living room on water: square in shape
with sliding glass doors covered in net curtains with chairs and a glass cabinet displaying ornaments. The only addition not as commonly found in a living room was the three girls trying to flog us merchandise all the way to our first stop, which was the Thien Mu Pagoda.
This is the pagoda where the famous Buddhist monk came from that drove an Austin motor car from Hue to Saigon, and upon arrival; he set himself on fire in protest of the policies of the President of South Vietnam.
We walked around the site which was extremely peaceful and pretty. We also saw some novice monks that are still working towards becoming actual Buddhist monks: Instead of having a shaved head they have a long piece of hair left and the rest of their head is shaved. Around the temple it was also weirdly swarming with dragonflies, however after freaking about them at first, I managed to kind of tolerate.
later that evening we attended a traditional dinner of Vietnamese food and singing which was nice but maybe a bit touristy and then we headed back to the hotel only to stop at Hoy's for a couple
of drinks - and from this day fourth a measure of Gin that reaches over half way up a large glass in known as a Hoy measure- the man can do no wrong!!!.
The following morning we visited the Old Citadel built in 1800 by the Nguyen dynasty. It was constructed by 20,000 men and is an exact copy of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. This place was just stunning, the architecture was beautiful and the vivid colours and designs were lovely. It wasn't just the architecture but the gardens and walkways with trees and decorated high walls that gave this place a magic feel. We then headed for the museum which was only ok compared with our morning at the Old Citadel.
After lunch we headed into the countryside where we first stopped off at a beautiful old Chinese bridge. On the bridge was a very tiny old woman smoking a long cigarette and dressed exquisitely in a pink silk pyjama suit with her long grey hair twisted up into a knot on her head. Simon grabbed me and told me she was the woman who had told him his future a few years ago -
the same lady who I had wanted to talk to. As every one explored the area Simon introduced me to the lady and she began to read my palm. I won't go into what she told me but I just hope she is right.
After we left the Chinese bridge and I had to suffer a barrage of questions about my palm reading- we reached another pagoda - which I forget the name of (I'm not saying that once you've seen one you've seen them all but I guess I'm saying that once I've seen one I begin to forget all their names!!) After this we headed for a stunning palace (again names escape me) where an old king used to reside. It was surrounded by a moat and the moat lead to a giant picturesque pond with lily pads and flowers. It was totally picturesque. Afterwards we headed to the resting place of one of the last kings to have lived (which has a name I'm sure) . This was interesting because when he was designing his tomb in the 1920's he was influenced by modern art and he decorated his tomb with a mixture of mosaic tiles,
coke bottle tops and various other weird things.
On our way to our last destination we stopped at a place the US army had used as a look out in the Vietnamese war. In several of the places we were greeted by very young street kids selling things. In one of the places the children were so young it was quite alarming to see them approaching strangers and asking them to buy something. A couple of the kids kept asking to be picked up which is a terrifying thought if they approach the wrong kind of person, unfortunately the kind of person who goes looking for little street kids in South East Asia.
Our last destination was a monastery. Here eunuchs- that had looked after the concubines to the king have a final resting place. Because they had no children or family of their own to pray for them after they died, they donated lots of money to the monastery so the monks would pray for their soles and not forget them. I personally think this is such a sad story and I said a little prayer for the eunuchs my self.
The night ended at a
back packer bar and then back to Hoy's for a substantial Gin and Tonic!!
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