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Published: December 21st 2008
After a long night on the train from Hanoi to Danang, we awoke to the once familiar sound from China, of a man doing his best to cough up his morning phlegm in the train washroom. This sound greeted us every morning in China, and more than once had us in tears we were laughing so hard. This time was no different, and almost comforting in a very bizarre kind of way.
We made our way down to the dining cart with our compartment buddy Murat, to find some breakfast. We squeezed into a tiny wooden booth, I looked around the smoky compartment and I noticed I was conspicuously the only woman present. We ordered pho bo (beef noodle soup) and coffee. The coffee however, came with an added perk. Not only was it the usual thick, strong and sugary mixture we had been served many times in Hanoi, but this one was also laced with rum, and it wasn't subtle. So after breakfast, we made our way back to our little room, where I proceeded to fall back asleep.
Our destination was Hoi An, an ancient fishing village, which used to be quite cosmipolitan, sporting Japanese and Chinese
districts. It is now a UNESCO site, and reminiscent of Vieux Quebec, with little streets free of cars and filled with little shops and cafes.
We toured the Tan Ky house, home of a Chinese Trading family, now in its 7th generation. The gentleman who gave us the tour was a good friend of the family, and gave the tour in French. He was quite dramatic in his recounting of the history, but it made for great fun as I translated it for Craig. The house sits quite near the river, and they have the flood levels marked on the wall on the bottom floor. This fall, the water was nearly over my own head! Of course, they are long used to these floods and can quickly move everything upstairs. The most unusual piece in the house, is the only Confucius Cup in Vietnam. It has a small hole in the bottom. Fill the cup less than 80% full, and the water remains in the cup, but fill it anymore, and it all runs out the bottom. It teaches moderation.
We took a day trip to the ruins of MySon, which I found amazing, but I'm not sure
it was the majority opinion. They have not been fully restored to their former glory, and the site isn't huge. But they are nonetheless over a thousand years old, and have survived so many wars in the process. In fact, bomb craters from the Vietnam War were evident.
We only spent two nights in Hoi An, if the weather had been nicer we would likely have spent longer. You can easily bike to beaches on the South China Sea. But the weather was wet and cool, so we carried on to Hue. We travelled to Hue on a sleeper bus, known here as an open bus, but the three hour trip was just perfect, as it let us know that we never want to overnight on one of these buses. The beds are narrow, and are hard on the back. Three hours is fine, and no great ordeal, but I wouldn't want to go much longer. Still, it was fun and reminded me of the Knight Bus from Harry Potter, so I was amused for the first... well 15 minutes.
Now Hue is a city I wasn't sure I would enjoy. In my online research, many said it
was worth a miss, just skip right to Hoi An, but I must vehemently disagree. This is the Imperial City! We visted 3 tombs and the citadel and all are impressive. The first afternoon we just started walking, as we often do, and got ourselves lost in the backstreets. The buildings are so beautiful, and we accidentally happened on at least ten little temples. My favourite temple was a pilgrimmage site for all the goldsmiths in Vietnam, who go there once a year. We watched a school group out on the street performing some light calisthenics. We watched people people collecting firewood and hanging clothes off their boats, doing their laundry in the river, and drinking fresh beer on the side of the road.
When we saw a streetside barber right on the river's edge, Craig decided he was in need of a good shave. The barber was careful to take out a fresh blade, and then started cleaning up my travel beleagered husband. I took some pictures, but I was making the barber nervous, so I decided it was best to sit with his elderly companion, an 84 year old vietnemese doctor sporting a fitted leather jacket waistcoat
and a beret. We had a conversation in French in which he bemoaned Vietnam's poverty, and well, to be frank, the cheapness of the foreign tourists who come to take advantage. We paid the barber well.
We hired to cyclos to take us around the imperial city where you don't have to purchase a ticket. The wall is 6 km around, so this is a good option if you lack time. My driver had very good English, and taught me some Vietnemese. He told me about the fall floods, about the UNESCO reconstruction projects and the good places to eat. In the end, at our request, we were dropped off at a cheap and good local restaurant. It turns out the family that runs it is mute, but they hire street kids to wait and bus tables. The food was really good.
The next day, we boarded a bus to see the tombs. The weather was downright miserable, but it makes for some interesting pictures. We quickly learned to ditch the tour group, and just meet back at the bus at the designated time. Once we even made it back early, and sat at a roadside stall drinking
Vietnemese green tea under a tarp, as the rain kept falling. It sounded like camping, which gives you some idea of the weather that usually greets my camping trips.
The citadel itself is half under renovation, but once it is complete I'm sure it will rival the Forbidden City in Beijing. In fact, we had a lot of fun with it in its current state. We got lost a few times, happened upon a few overgrown secret gardens, and found ourselves out of bounds in a renovation zone. The construction workers of course didn't care, so we got a glimpse of what is to come, and it invovles stilt raised covered bridges over gardens and more stunning pavillions.
Unfortunately, the downside of this tour was the buffet lunch which gave me a mild case of food poisoning. As always, the little restaurants we've been frequenting on this trip have all been fine, but the tour organized buffet makes you ill! We flew from Hue to Hanoi, and it kept making me feel more ill. When we checked into the hotel at 10pm, Craig says I was white/green. Thankfully, I fell asleep pretty early, and woke up feeling much
We had stayed in really great hotels in Hoi An, and Hue, and had noticed this hotel when we were in Hanoi previous, down a little lane beside St. Joseph's cathedral. We had high hopes. But it wasn't great, no Internet, terrible breakfast, and more expensive than our previous place. Also, the staff didn't speak any English, and we couldn't manage a conversation to find out how to book a day trip. We went upstairs, packed up again, and checked out. We walked directly across the lane (admittedly a little awkward), and checked into the Indo China 1 Hotel, which gave us a big discount, has a computer in every room (thus I can work on my blog again!) and has a more than capable staff.
So we took it easy today, wandering the streets of Hanoi, we even found a pub that serves Quebec Poutine! Probably our only poutine in 2 years... and it was among the best of the poutine I have ever had.
Tomorrow we are off for further adventures, so stay tuned.
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