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Published: March 6th 2011
The Cham is an ancient kingdom from the Central Highlands of Vietnam... Silly Dragon!
Our stay in Hoi An and Hue has been fantastic.
The flight from Hanoi to Danang airport in the centre of Vietnam was very smooth, save for some airport antics typical of Vietnamese travel. Nothing went as planned or announced. Check-in was a mass of people rushing the counter and our gate actually had another plane that was flying somewhere else parked at it so our Jetstar plane just taxied to another gate, which we could see out the window so we went there. Somehow it all went smoothly and we got to where we wanted to go.
Danang airport was one of the main bases for the American military, as we're only about 20 miles from the old demilitarized zone of the North-South Vietnamese border. I seem to recognize the airport with its palm trees and yellow concrete quonzet huts lining the runway, relics from the war (and perhaps a movie?).
Our first destination is Hoi An, a quiet, ancient city and new UNESCO world heritage site. The city was abandoned during the war and was saved from the rampant growth of the rest of the country. The houses in the town are original, hundreds of years
old, and very beautiful. Red, yellow and blue lanterns are strung up across the streets throughout the town. Cars and scooters are not allowed here, and sounds of laughter and tinkling glasses can be heard from the restaurants and coffee shops that line the streets.
In the evening, we take a couple of bicycles into the old city. Its a warm, clear night. We come across an open air music and dance show down on the river and pause on our bicycles to watch. The audience is relaxing in the warm ocean air; this is a world away from the hustle and bustle of the capital Hanoi.
Hoi An is known for its hand-made clothes, and at the suggestion of Trung and his friend, I stop off at a shop to be measured for a new summer blazer and a couple of dress shirts. It's 9pm and the shop owner assures me that my clothes will be ready for me at 11am the following morning, amazing considering she has to make two fitted dress shirts and a lined cotton blazer in about 12 hours, in the middle of the night. I'm glad its so fast thought, our bus
leaves for Hue at 1:30pm the following day!
Our hotel is the Thanh Van II. We get an upgrade somehow because the rooms are all booked. We get two suites. Mine is actually three distinct rooms, not including the large bathroom with full size bathtub. Its fantastic, for $20, including breakfast, bicycle rental and travel assistance to get to Hue tomorrow. The bathtub is a full 7ft long, so I take advantage and watch 'Julie and Julia' while in the bath for 2 solid hours that evening. On my bed there is a squid made out of towels, holding my A/C remote control. There are rose petals on the bed, in the bathroom sink, the bathtub, and.. the toilet.
Our bus to Hue is arranged for 2pm the following day. We spent the morning touring around Hoi An, having a relaxed lunch overlooking the boats in the harbor. I wander over to the tailor to see about my clothes, they're ready and look great. The fitting goes well, with only minor adjustments (actually, the sleeves were too big on the jacket and it needed to be taken in at the waist, and both shirts had the same problem.
All was done within an hour of the first fitting, what fantastic service! For about $70 for all three items, its an amazing deal.
The bus ride to Hue is a three-hour journey, similar to driving the coast of Lake Superior, the road is sandwiched between the long, flat stretches of beach and the 1000+ foot mountains that form the central Vietnamese highlands. The waves crashing on the beach and the mist shrouding the mountain peaks make for an extremely senic ride.
Our first impressions of Hue is that it's similar to Hanoi. The traffic on the way into the city is bad, and we arrive at the hotel after some journeying around with a cabbie. The hotel is down an alleyway, the Hue Nino Hotel. Trung and I picked it because it was #1 on Trip Advisor. We're not sure why at first, its just a house in a dark alleyway. Soon we realize its the family staffing the hotel that makes it great. As soon as we arrive we're escorted to the 'living room' for some hot soup and tea, 'to warm our bellies after a long journey'. The rooms are tiny, but very comfortable. I
have a neat wooden bathtub in my room. Later, when I try to take a bath, I realize that the tub actually leaks on all sides, and the tiny bathroom quickly fills with water. Not a good scene: Andy scrambling to get the bathroom drain to work while the newly-filled hot bath drains out over the floor through my quaint, wooden bathtub!
We took motorbikes the next day at the suggestion of the Hotel 'Dad'. He said 'The best way to see Hue is by motorbike' and off he went without another word to get the motorbikes. So we get two (for $5 a day) and head out for an adventure.
The ancient imperial city of Hue was built in the Nguyen Dynasty, ending in the mid-1940's. The old citadel, palace, and 'forbidden' palace are still on the banks of the Perfume River, which runs through the centre of Hue. Our motorbike tour takes us here first. The citadel and its palaces are 10km in circumference, and were heavily damaged during the war due to the Americans bombing everything in the region. The main gate into the forbidden city is still standing, as is the main central throne
room. There are projects underway to restore the rest of the citadel to it's former glory, but it is slow going.
After the citadel, we visit an adjacent pagoda, the most famous in Vietnam. The final emporer of Vietnam was upset at the new government's discrimination against religion and drove a car from this pagoda to the centre of Saigon, where he sat down in lotus position and burned himself to death. This doesn't really have anything to do with the pagoda, but its a pretty hardcore story which provides a pretty stirring example of the Vietnamese people's conviction. Today the site is still a working Buddhist pagoda, and we were lucky enough to see a prayer ceremony, complete with captivating drumming and chanting.
We went on our motorbikes further along the banks of the Perfume River, quickly entering extremely rural areas complete with bumpy roads and chickens everywhere. We're in search of the elusive tombs of past emporers, opulent resting places fit for an emporer 'set like jewels in the banks of the Perfume River' - Lonely Planet.
The first tomb we come across is that of Ming Mang, one of the final emperors of Vietnam.
Its set on a beautiful island on a small lake, with about 7 gates leading symmetrically upwards to his tomb at the top of a grassy hill. Apparently there is a small palace under the hill, sealed forever after his body was placed inside. Its well worth the hour-long motorbike ride, searching for the tomb in the hillsides along the river.
The other temples we see are similar in scope and breadth. One has a huge, crubmling city built for concubines of the emporer. Some emporers used their eventual resting places as summer homes, including this one. Apparently the servants were all killed upon the emporer's death and are also buried within the tomb.
Riding a motorbike in Vietnam, I now understand what all the honking is about, and I both appreciate other's honking, and having a horn of my own to blow at whomever decides to roll, walk, or push out in front of me on the road. The motorbike ride was one of the highlights of Vietnam thus far, riding through the countryside with the wind in my face, swerving up and down mountain roads, passing by ancient tombs, picturesque river scenes and generally 'riding off
into the sunset' was an amazing experience I'm not likely going to forget. (I may have dumped the motorbike once during an unfortunate 'u' turn situation, but don't worry, the bike and myself are fine and I learned my lesson about using the front brake on slow corners: don't. Don't worry Mom, the situation is already over-with).
Our two days in Hue came to an end, and I'm writing this now on a 'sleeper bus' on the way to the beach resort town of Nha Trang, about 1/2 way between Hoi An and Saigon. Its a 16 hour bus ride, from 2pm-6am. We weren't able to get a 12 hour train ticket, and this is an appealing alternative, although its a bit bumpier than the train and I'm not sure how we're going to sleep with the bus swerving, oncoming headlights, and all the honking that goes with driving in Vietnam. Actually, the worst part is that the bus has to slam on the brakes for the freaking bridges that don't line up with the road. He slams on the breaks, almost coming to a stop, followed by a huge bump. Hopefully by 3am, the roads will be empty
and the driver can stop honking. The seats are basically regular seat backs, but there's a 5 ft. long bed stretching out from where the seat bottom should be. Its relatively comfortable, and I could probably sleep. We'll see.
I'll talk to you all again when I'm on the sunny beachs of Nha Trang. I feel bad, people have been asking for new blog posts. Little do they know this is probably the 5th blog post I've written but because of the internet in Vietnam, I haven't been able to post them! Lol, only the die-hard's will read it all! For the die hards: Thanks for reading!
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