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Published: September 27th 2012
After my last blog you'll be pleased to know that things have been considerably less eventful since I left Hanoi. This may have been due to the guidelines in my hotel in Hue, which advised that I should not "drink too much, do drugs or influence others". The guidelines also stipulated that prostitutes were not allowed in the room. I still can't decide whether it was a good thing that the hotel had this rule or disconcerting that they felt the need to mention it. However, since then I've seen the same rule in everything from hotels to restaurant toilets and a surprising number of signs asking me not to take my explosives in to museums.
My first stop after Hanoi was the city of Hue, a 12 hour train south of Hanoi. The citadel city of Phu Xuan, 5km north of present day Hue, was the capital of the southern part of Vietnam from 1744 until the end of Vietnam's fainl dynasty, the Nguyen dynasty, in 1945. Hue was also the site of one of the bloodiest battles of 1968's Tet Offensive during which 10,000 people died, most of them civilians.
Hue is a good place to base yourself whilse visiting the former DMZ. You'd probably have to have a good understanding of millitary history to understand some parts of the tour but for me the most interesting part was the Vinh Moc tunnels. The network of tunnels was dug by the inhabitants of Vinh Moc after the US began heavy aerial bombing in the area in 1966. The tunnels are between 15 and 26 metres underground and included sleeping areas, a medical area and even a maternity room where 17 babies were born ( you'd have to dig a lot deeper than 26 metres to muffle my screams!). The local inhabitants lived here for 6 years. The tunnels have now been widened so it was quite easy to move about, especially if you're not very tall. It was hard to imagine living there for so long.
From Hue I travelled to Hoi An, a really lovely town near the coast. There are quite strict planning regulations in Hoi An so there aren't any high rises in the town and some of the buildings are quite old and full of character. There was a pedestrianised town that gave you a welcome break from the traffic. Definitely stay here if you're ever in Vietnam.
From Hoi An I chickened out of the 18 hour train journey and instead flew to Ho Chi Minh with VietJet, Vietnam's Easyjet. On arrival at the airport I went to collect my bags and then had that awful, lonely, sinking feeling when the baggage belt stops, you're the only person still waiting and your bag still hasn't appeared. I found out that my bag had in fact been sent to Hanoi by mistake, right at the other end of the country, and was now on its way to Ho Chi Minh. I had to wait 2 hours in the baggage hall for the plane to arrive, bored, watching one group of staff watch football and listening to another group singing along with one of their colleagues who had brought his accoustic guitar to work. Wouldn't get that in Heathrow.
Whilst in Ho Chi Minh I visited the War Remanents museum- not for the faint hearted with its very graphic photos of the effects of agent orange and scenes from the war. I also visited the Cu Chi tunnels. This network of tunnels had not been widened and you were pretty much on your hands and knees shufffling along in a group, praying nobody would freak out or get stuck. We were all particularly worried about a huge Kiwi guy with huge potential for getting stuck. The crush was on to get down the tunnel before him.
Vietnam has been amazing, definitely recommend it. Next stop.... Phnom Penh!
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