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Published: October 11th 2011
After a 10 hour bus ride south from NInh Binh we arrived in Hue which is located on the coast of central Vietnam. Locals told us we arrived just in time to miss the heavy rains the typhoons brought in. We've enjoyed dry temperate weather since our arrival, the perfect temperature for sight seeing. Hue is interesting because it was the political capital from 1802-1945 under the emperors of the Nguyen dynasty. The biggest attraction in Hue is the Citadel where the emperors conducted their daily business and also where they enjoyed the pleasures of their private life. The Forbidden Purple City was reserved only for the emperor and his concubines and the only servants allowed inside where eunuchs (I guess the emperors were the jealous type). The Citadel is absolutely monstrous, 2.5 kilometers long with a wall 6 meters high. Construction began in 1802 so you can imagine the state of decay it is in today. What's left has survived typhoons and wars and it's still impressive. Joel and I walked around for 2 1/2 hours and still didn't see everything.
The other main attractions in Hue are the tombs of the emperors of the Nguyen dynasty. The first
one we saw was the tomb of Minh Mang who ruled from 1820 to 1840. He is credited with being one of the best emperors for his improvement in education and agriculture. Emperor Mang had 142 children from his many wives, our tour guide joked that this is why he died when he was only 50 years old. Our guide told us his personal idiom about why he doesn't have a wife or children:
No money, no honeys
No honeys, no babies
No babies, no problem
Joel and I got a kick out of that, we appreciate a tour guide with a sense of humor. Emperor Minh Mang's tomb took 3 years to build and over 100,000 men worked on the tomb until completion. The huge gates on the north side of the tomb where opened only once to bring in the emperors body and they have not been opened again since. The tomb of Emperor Tu Duc was next on the agenda, he was the 12th of the 13 emperors of the Nguyen dynasty. His tomb is noticeably different in architectural design, its really stunning. Not all of the emperors have tombs in Hue, some died in
other parts of the world and their bodies were not brought back to Hue for burial. At the end of our tour we took a dragon boat back to town on the Perfume River and enjoyed the scenery and peacefulness of the river.
Unfortunately in Hue we had our most traumatizing moment since being on our trip when we left the Citadel and saw two people lying unconscious and bloody from head wounds on the side of road. It looked like a man on a motorbike had hit a girl on a bicycle most likely because he was going too fast to avoid a collision. Two taxis arrived, yes I said taxis, and some men loaded them up in the back and took them to the hospital. A very sobering experience not only about a country where when you've had a serious accident you're taken to the hospital in a taxi, but also about safety when driving since we rent a motorbike all the time to explore the cities we're in.
Here's a funny story for you.. On our last day in Hue we were scheduled to hop on a bus to Hoi An at 1:00. We had
Our dragon boat that we cruised in on the river.
some time to kill so we decided to trek out on foot and explore a new part of town. We saw a computer store and we went in since we've been looking for a computer charger for our Mac. We saw a Mac computer in the display case and we asked if she had a charger for it and she said no, we had to order it. Joel then asked her how much for the Mac and she said "Very expensive, 2 million Dong". Joel asked her to repeat herself and looked at me in amazement. She was selling the Mac for $100? We sat down and turned the computer on and discovered it was a newer computer than ours by 5 years and it was in really good shape. We asked her if it came with the program CD's and she said no, they had been lost. But she had the password which she gave to us because you need a password to download programs on Mac's and we tested it out by downloading Google chat. We told her we'd take it. She then motioned to a man and told us he'd be back in 20 minutes with the
charger. We looked at our watches worriedly because our bus was leaving in 30 minutes. We decided to wait a bit and see what would happen. Joel looked up how much the Mac we wanted to buy was selling for and it was around $700. We couldn't believe our good fortune! Well more and more time passed and at 12:50 a mere 10 minutes before our bus left we asked her how much longer and she said, "20 minutes". Exasperated and disappointed we raced back to our hotel to catch the bus. When we arrived we just stared at each other and we both said how much we wanted that computer. We wanted it so badly we were willing to stay an extra day in Hue. We asked our hotel clerk what would happen if we caught the bus the next day and she said no problem, we wouldn't be charged any extra fees, she would take care of it for us. Ecstatic we walked back to the computer shop and told the gal we were ready to buy it, we'd changed our bus for the next day. She smiled and made a phone call and told us to wait.
The man returned with the charger and we paid for our purchase and gathered the computer and charger and began to walk out the door. Joel turned around and asked if it came with a sleeve to protect the laptop. After some confusion about what a sleeve was she grinned and wrote down on a piece of paper : Adapter 100 US dollars. Computer not for sale.
I think time stopped for us at that moment. In wonder I clarified, "You want $100 for a computer charger?!?" YES, she said! We walked out of that store completely dazed. Why had she given us the password to her computer? Why did she look for the program CD's? Why was the computer in the display case? And most importantly who is she kidding selling a charger for $100? The phrase, if its too good to be true it probably is, was never truer. But all ended very well. We stayed in Hue one more night and on Saturday night at 11:00 Joel turned on the television in our hotel room to ESPN and unbelievably they were showing the OU/Texas game!! He ran up and down our hotel room shouting with glee
and then hugged the television tightly and tears came to his eyes. I don't know if I've ever seen him more happy. It was just a bonus that OU gave Texas a whooping. So if we hadn't stayed in Hue that extra night chances are Joel would not have seen the game. All's well that ends well.
The next day we caught our bus early in the day and arrived in Hoi An about 3 hours later and we immediately fell in love. Hoi An has all the big city conveniences with a small town vibe. Our main goal in Hoi An is to get tailored clothes and take cooking classes. Our first day we were so overwhelmed with the amount of tailors in the city, literally every block is filled with tailors asking you to come in and look through their catalog. The pressure gets to you quickly. We made a great decision not to choose a tailor on our first day and we're thankful we didn't. We ran into a couple who stayed in the same hotel as ours in Ninh Binh and she told us the horror story of her tailor experience. She went to
All the lights go out and the street is lit only with lanterns, its so beautiful!
a tailor who her hotel recommended and purchased a jacket. She paid upfront and when the finished product came she was very unhappy. They hadn't taken any of her suggestions such as changing the buttons or the length, and because she had already paid she was pretty much stuck with what she got. She said she was going to donate it as soon as they got home. I was sorry to hear of her bad experience but glad to be wary of what could be in store for us. I looked online and found some reputable tailors in the city and trust me when I say shopping around quickly got exhausting. Everyone wants your business and they promise you the best and most want a deposit or full payment upfront. After doing research I decided that we had to find a place that would allow us to pay only after we were satisfied with the end result. Joel had a fitting for a warm winter jacket to keep out the Chicago cold when we arrive, I'll keep you updated on the final results.
Amazingly we timed our trip perfectly to coincided with the lunar festival that takes place every
month during the full moon. All the lights are turned off in the city except for lanterns lighting the street and it makes for a beautiful and exciting experience. We dined at the Mermaid Restaurant on coconut prawns and rice and it was delicious. Later we listened to traditional music and dancing and then found a game being played on the street that was very similar to pinata. There was a huge crowd gathered and you paid 5,000 VND (25 cents) and were blindfolded and given a baton to try and hit a small clay pot and break it to win a prize. The crowd was totally into it and they shouted directions to the players on where to swing their baton, but we didn't see anyone succeed. Joel really wanted to play and he took a few practice swings by counting his steps until he reached the pot and then he went for it.. but he missed! I was too busy taking pictures to offer him directions but then it was my turn. I counted my steps until I reached the pot and then I put the blindfold on and tried my best to re-create the steps. Joel yelled,
My prize for hitting the clay pot
Somebody is very happy with themselves..
"to the left!" and I took a small step to the left, "a little more to the left" he yelled and I did. "Swing the hell out of it" he yelled and I did. AND I HIT IT! I was in total disbelief. I actually hit it! I got to choose a small cheap lantern but I've never loved anything more.
Today I had my first cooking class but that deserves a blog post on its own. Until next time!
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