Leaving Savannakhet we head East to the Vietnam border at Dansavanh armed with a visa and a fist full of USD. The border crossing was comparatively straight forward and we eagerly enter Vietnam with high spirits and high expectations of this evocative country. The bus drops us off in Hue not long after dusk where we team up with an American couple to catch a cab and find a cheap guesthouse.
Hue is an impressive city mixing the high octane new Vietnam with an older Imperial Vietnam. The war torn Kinh Thanh citadel dominates the city center within huge moated walls while motorbikes swarm at it's feet. The Perfume River lazes through the middle of the city, it's banks marked by opulent royal tombs of past emperors, pagodas and temples alongside towering hotels and official buildings.
We spend our time in Hue riding around the city visiting the various sites, drinking in local bars and eating delicious vegetarian-Vietnamese cuisine. We both instantly fall in love with Vietnam and it's friendly residents and pushy street vendors. Life here is fast and vibrant which stands in huge contrast to Laos.
Ness: "...The bus stops at
the border, a dusty street with little around. Being two of the only four westerners on the bus, we stand on the outskirts of a scrum of Vietnamese and Laos men and women crowding the immigration building. We wait our turn seeing no obvious need to escape the country in such a rush! The booth houses several military officials who scrutinise us under their cold stares, especially Tom as his now full beard disguises his previously clean shaven and pale predecessor portrayed in his passport.
We eventually get our visas stamped and walk down the desolate road with no direction. As we walk towards what we think is the next checkpoint two armed men check our passports again and move us on. We finally find some of the people that were on our bus and join a new scrum to get our entry cards. Now stamped in to the country we undergo one more check of our credentials and are now seemingly qualified to pass in to Vietnam.
We stand on the road side waiting for the bus and reflect on the lack of direction and bag checks making us contemplate what else is possibly entering the country as four
shady civilian dressed men on our bus carry suspicious briefcases...."
Tom: "...At last good vegetarian food!! We have dinner with an American couple -Alex and Edith- in a restaurant on the banks of the Perfume River and order confidently from the all vegetarian Vietnamese menu. This is one of the many vege restaurants in town, a concept unheard of in Laos. I cannot describe what exactly i was eating but it was simply delicious!
Tom: "...On our cruise around the city we decide to visit Kinh Thanh which proves to be an amazing place! Though heavily bombed by the Americans during the Vietnam war restorations and an introductory video allow a glimpse of what this grand citadel must have been like during it's glory days. Inside the walls is a magical trip back in time with grand golden halls, gardens and beautiful Chinese influenced architecture resplendent with serpents and dragons. The haunting remnants of the (once) Forbidden Purple City lie within it's center now open to the world, and the elements.
Ness: "...Everywhere we've traveled we have seen other westerners with an array of injuries from scraped skin and bruises to broken legs and open wounds caused
by motorbike crashes. These often young westerners are fueled by their sense of freedom and group bravado to push their normal limits beyond what they would do at home. Most have no or little experience riding bikes yet believe they can simply ride like the locals and brashly join the chaotic traffic unaware of the extreme danger this poses. All you need out here to rent a bike is a passport as collateral and no questions asked.
Hue is no exception and as we are sitting outside the popular 'Why Not Bar' we are watching a group of ten young westerners negotiate the rental of motorbikes from a local Vietnamese tour operator. The group pair up and a few ride off wobbling down the street. Tom and I watch wanting to hide our eyes and really worrying for their safety as the roads in Hue are insanely dangerous. At least a few have the sense to go around the block at least once but they look very unsteady. Two of the lads are left behind obviously having trouble with their bike, the guy driving looks so unsure and afraid that it really is an accident waiting to happen. Not used
to a bike with gears he is revving the engine in neutral and wondering why it wasn't moving. The bike's owner points out the gear pedal and in that instant he comes careering towards us. At this point Tom and I seeing the danger approaching leap to our feet and dive out of the way a second before he mounts the pavement with a look of terror on his face, losing his passenger and crashing through our table - luckily letting go himself before smashing in to the solid wall. He shakily picks himself up and frantically apologises, promising to pay for the damage. The locals are in hysterics...."
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