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February 21st 2012
Published: February 29th 2012
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The lovely Hoi and Mai
20th-23rd Feb '12 Hanoi to Hue

This overnight train was a sort of down market version of the one we took to Sapa, but we did have a compartment for 4 and got a free bottle of water each. The best part of this train journey was the company – we shared with a couple of young Vietnamese newly- weds (who were off to Nha Trang for their honeymoon). Hoi was 30 and a former tour guide turned business man and spoke excellent English and Mai was 26 and an accountant who spoke no English but asked loads of questions through Hoi. They both looked about 15 and were the sweetest people! They had got married on the 16th and showed us their wedding photos – including the photos taken by the lake in Hanoi, it was all really romantic and she looked stunning. They explained about their wedding ceremonies and asked lots of questions about weddings in England and our traditions. We chatted a lot about the cultural differences between our two countries. Hoi, who also smoked, showed me where you could go for a fag and when we got back was greeted with the same kind of comments

Dragon Boats
Howard makes to me about smoking! When we turned in for the night the two of them shared a bunk and whispered to each other into the night.

21st-23rd Hue

When we woke up we were still a couple of hours away from Hue and our new mates insisted on feeding us, this turned out to be a Vietnamese pot noodle (mild was super hot) and a kind of savoury rice crispy cake accompanied by Vietnamese coffee. All we had to offer was a couple of cookies! We did decline the offer to join them at the train buffet car where they were going to have some very strange sounding egg dish. Honestly Vietnamese people can’t half tuck their grub away and yet they are sooooo thin!

We got round to the subject of children and so we showed them pictures of our children – they were very interested in the fact that we had 4 and how close in age 3 of them are. In Vietnam the limit is 2 children and if you have more there are penalties like extra taxes or if you work for the government you can lose your job or be

Medicine shop
moved to another part of the country, you would not be allowed to join the Communist Party and that means no real chance of promotion. When they saw the picture of Looci’s tattoos they were astounded and wanted to know if they were just drawn on or real!

Soon we were pulling into Hue and saying our goodbyes. All in all it wasn’t too bad as overnight train journeys go, mostly due to the company. I did manage to get some sleep once I had removed the hair and other unmentionable thing and put the quilt (which appeared clean) on top of the heavily stained sheet! Still Howard had been desperate to go on this train as it was The Reunification Express.

Once in Hue we caught a taxi to our hotel, which deserves a special mention as the staff were so friendly and helpful, breakfast was included and could be had at any time of the day, unlimited green tea and bananas, 2 computers you could use free of charge and most of all as a double room with its’ own bathroom and air con cost just £9 per night! So if you go to Hue, look

out for The Jade Hotel!

We headed straight out to explore and immediately cyclo rickshaws were stalking you at every turn but we found our way up to the riverside and managed to shake them off. We walked along the Perfume River and over the bridge (which thankfully had a pedestrian walkway and I only encountered one bicycle on it which was a minor miracle) to go and find The Citadel – a walled former city. We stopped by to look at the captured USA planes, helicopters and tanks that were on display, then walked on to The Imperial Enclosure, where the Emperors lived and ruled right up until the last one Gia Long in 1945.

Very impressive restoration work had been carried out in this area with a lot still left to be done. The citadel area was extensively bombed both by the French and then the Americans (10,000 people died in Hue during the American war). You can still see shell and bullet holes on the outside of the main gate.

We visited the whole complex, including the Forbidden Purple City – which was only for the Emperor’s use, there were beautiful dragons and

Imperial enclosure
good luck symbol tiles on the roofs, spacious graceful columned walkways, intricately decorated doorways and beautiful courtyards.

We watched a video in which they recreated what the site must have looked like and brought the whole Imperial pageantry to life.

After our extensive look around we stopped for a drink at the café – which was just a collection of tiny plastic tables and chairs and a fridge all outside. I was happily drinking my diet coke when suddenly an elephant came charging towards us! Well I jumped up and began to move but was just astounded, luckily it wasn’t actually heading for us but a pile of chopped up bamboo just to the side, if it had have been aiming for us I guess we wouldn’t have got away in time just due to the shock! Added to that he also appeared to have 5 legs!! No I guess he was just happy….to be getting his tea ha ha. It turned out that there were 2 elephants on the grounds that were used to give people rides around the site and as it was near closing time our elephant had just had his chain removed and he obviously knew it was feeding time and where to go to get it!

After walking back to the hotel we were knackered and reckoned we had walked about 6-7 miles but we still managed to drag ourselves back out again to the river to see the night food market.

22nd Feb ’12 Hue

Today was our Dragon Boat trip up the river to visit the Imperial Tombs. These are mausoleum complexes which were planned during the Emperors lifetimes and some were actually lived in also. Much to our amazement the trip was just for us in our own dragon boat ,we had thought we would be joining in with other people. Anyway we set off and the first stop was for the lady of the boat to be dropped off at the market on the other side of the river to buy the food for lunch! We had a quick pootle down-stream and then picked her up again and were soon off again heading up stream. In true Vietnamese style, no sooner were we underway then a blanket was laid out and a shop appeared on top of it! This was one of those occasions when you

Going to market
really wish there had been more of you!! Guilt forced me into a few small purchases.

We stopped and moored up on a river bank and our lovely lady led us through a tiny village, all the time shouting something out in Vietnamese. It turns out she must have been asking if anyone wanted to earn a few bob taking a couple of westerners on the back of their bikes up to the tombs as soon 2 likely lads with a couple of spare helmets appeared and we climbed on and sped through the countryside, past little villages until we reached the first tomb – Khai Dinh (who ruled from 1916-25 and was apparently a puppet of the French). We were told we had 30 minutes (which was far too long really) and began the climb up a series of very steep steps up the hillside. This tomb was all made from black concrete and looked really gothic and had taken 11 years to build. It was impressive and very ornate.

Then it was back on the bikes and we were wizzed off again, I had a slight moment of unease when I realised we were not going

back the same way but as Howard’s bike was behind I reckoned it must be ok – no one spoke enough English to explain what was going on. Anyway we ended up at the tomb of the Emperor Tu Duc (he ruled from 1848-83) and this one was a much larger site but had only taken 3 years to build – due to forced labour and at great expense and apparently he ruled in ‘ultimate Imperial luxury’. The site however looked very simple compared to the first one we saw although there was much more of it. It had a beautiful lake where he sat in a wooden pavilion with his concubines writing and reciting poetry! He wrote his own autobiography which is inscribed on a stone stellae in which we are told he admits his mistakes. There was even a theatre in the complex where you could dress up and have your photo taken sitting on the throne, unfortunately I was beaten to it by some other darn tourists! We had 40 minutes here which was not long enough.

Back on the boat we were taken to a bit of a pointless shrine up on a hillside. I

Tu Duc Tomb
think it was so we could use the loo more than anything! We then had a nice lunch on the boat of fish and tofu with rice and then we were on our way to the last tomb we would be seeing (there were plenty more around and about).

The boat moored up on the river bank and we were able to just walk to this one – The tomb of Emperor Minh Mang (why do I keep getting Flash arrrarrrr playing in my head???!) He ruled from 1820-1840 and I have to say this was my favourite. It was so beautiful and surrounded by lakes. The buildings themselves were very simple but very ornately decorated. There were lots of different temples and structures dotted around the grounds and it was all just so pretty!

There had been a lot of restoration done in the main buildings but some of the others were still just in ruins and one was just a flight of very old broken steps up a small hill to an archway which was swallowed up by a tree. The actual burial site is underground and was behind a gated wall and peering through you could only see trees and bushes. The door is only opened once a year on the Emperor’s birthday. Once again we did not have enough time here, even though we were given an hour.

Our final stop on the way back down the river was at the Thien Mu Pagoda and once again more steps! In 1963 a monk self-immolated here to protest about the policies of the then South Vietnamese President. The car that brought him to the pagoda – an Austin, is still on show.

Then it was back to Hue with one last attempt to sell us stuff – white silk pyjamas for me and a black short sleeved silk shirt for Howard! Needless to say we managed to resist, whilst feeling really bad for the lovely lady, but she was laughing and joking about it. Still all in all it was a really good day out.

Additional photos below
Photos: 19, Displayed: 19



Khai Dinh

Minh Mang Tomb


Hue bridge

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