I ended my last blog by saying I was off out to explore Hue. I said that Hue was cold. It remained cold for the duration of my stay, which was only one day and one night. That was enough. I’d gone there on the overnight bus from Ninh Binh, where the weather was glorious and we’d been on the boat, through the caves and within the vicinity of Samuel L Jackson. It was apparent that the shorts and t-shirt combo I was wearing would need to be amended or at the very least, added to. Trainie/pants dilemma reared its ugly head again. I would like to say as time goes on and I’m continuously faced with this dilemma, I am getting more comfortable with it, but I’m not. It’s still as painful on the eye as it was the first time.
I booked into the Google Hotel in Hue with Rachel, who had travelled down on the bus with me. This was not a recommendation either of us had recieved, it was simply the hotel where the bus stopped at. When you get on the buses here in Vietnam, you are given a plastic carrier bag, usually blue or yellow in colour (like an ‘offie’ bag you’d transport your Skol Supers in, or if you were flush an 8 pack of Fosters) to put your footwear in and you are required to walk around the bus bare foot (or socks). Therefore, when you are alighting, there’s a bit of a hold up at the front, where people are taking their footwear out of the bag, to put on before stepping onto the Vietnamese streets. By the time I’d done this and got off the bus, my backpack had already been taken into the Google Hotel by a member of their staff and rooms were being pitched to us.
Rachel and I decided to have a look at the rooms. The first thing I noticed was the smell. They smelled damp. It was damp. It was grey. The beds felt cold and damp too. I asked to see another room. Same. The lady insisted we looked at a third. Reluctantly, I agreed. It was slightly better but still had a muggy aroma knocking about. Seen as though we were staying just one night, we took the room as it was relatively cheap and included breakfast, as do most hostels here in Vietnam.
I got a bike to rent and went off to explore the city. I headed over to the Citadel, which stood across a bridge from the main part of the city. It cost 150,000 Vietnamese Dong to enter. It was quite big. I was tired. Amongst the grounds were various buildings. The history of each was displayed on baords around the site. From what I can remember these grounds were where the Emporer and Rulers lived at some point. Hue was the captial city in days gone by. One of the buildings had three gates. The middle one was used by the Emporer and his close staff. The other two were for other staff members (not in the inner circle) and were also big enough for elephants to pass through. This was the main entrance to the Citadel.
I walked around for about an hour or so, feeling obliged to go into every nuck and cranny of the place. I was absolutely shattered. The thought came into my head ‘Are you allowed to just ‘jib’ this off and go and sit off in a coffee shop?’ Of course you are, and I did. I don’t think there was much else to see that I didn’t take in to some degree. Before leaving, I had some soup noodles. These were the noodles in a packet that one might buy in bulk from Lidl or Aldi. It was all that was on sale here. I got a coffee as well. I remember it being quite expensive and nutritionally dissatisifying.
I headed in the direction of the exit, according to the signs in the grounds and then had to walk around the outside wall to pick my bike up. Mounting my rattling companion, I headed for a coffee shop which looked more ‘up market.’ It was called ‘One Coffee and Bakery.’ Here I stayed for an hour or so. I got talking to a Norweigian lady, who was with her English husband, who only spoke to say ‘Hi.’ She asked was I alone and where I had been and said they lived in England. I think she said Stevenage? She seemed nice. When I had finished my coffee, I got back on my bike and she said she’d phone my mum and warn her that I have been riding a bike here on the dangerous roads. I told her she’d have a heart attack if she knew how the roads were here. We giggled and parted company.
I Google’d some stuff to do in Hue, but was resigned to having an early night and being fresh for the drive to Hoi An in the morning. There didn’t appear to be much to do here anyhow and people I have spoken to since, have also commented about how uneventful they found Hue. It’s not somewhere I’d advise people to go. I think I was at the point where I had seen a lot of historical sites, such as temples, museums and prisons. I wanted a different experience. Hoi An was to provide this according to t’internet. I had some food and made my way back to the hostel for an early night, which was needed.
With the bit about Hue being quite non-eventful, I’ll mention Hanoi prison. I said I would mention it in the last blog and then it didn’t materialise. Hanoi prison was interesting. It was a place where a lot of political prisoners were held during the war and the invasion by the French and Americans. I overheard a man saying that the US still have a flight to Hanoi every month, which searches for those American soldiers who were unaccounted for in battle here in Vietnam. There was a baord showing photographs of Vietnamese and American leaders together in more recent times, highlighting the improvement in relations between the two nations. Geroge Bush Jnr’s grinning grid made the gallery. I had a neagtive bodily reaction to seeing his face. It was an almost involuntary grunt similar to one might make when checking to see if they have been paid, but realising their wages have not yet cleared. A sort of ‘urgh,’ mixed with a ‘tut.’ Here was a New Year message by former President Ho Chi Minh.
There was moulded sculptures of prisoners, chained by their feet to slabs of concrete. This is one below. Amongst the seriousness and tragedy of the place, I felt guilty when thinking that this particular group look like they’re playing ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ and have left their mate out.
There was one particularly narrow corridor containing 13 rooms. Within each room was two slabs of concrete. A prisoner would be chained here whilst on death row. There was just about enough room for the prisoners to sit up. Room number 13 was the one before you were taken to be killed. We discussed how if you were in Room 1, the furthest from the death row room, but still ultimately on death row, knowing there was 12 other rooms you would be in before you were killed, how you would be thinkng. We debated about whether we would rather be put out of our misery from the get-go. It was a depressing but interesting place, showing the brutality of the human race. There was also a Guillotine which used to be used to kill the prisoners. When seeing this, I thought of Morrissey’s song about Margaret Thatcher entitled ‘Margaret on the Guillotine,’ in which the wordsmith sings ‘The kind people have a wonderful dream, Margaret on the guillotine.’
Anyway, that was a few days ago in Hanoi. And then there was Hue, which as described above, was quite dull. We got on the bus headed for Hoi An at about 8am. On the journey I listened to some podcasts and struggled to physically contain my laughter. Some of Russell Brands podcasts (particularly the one where he gets Derek Acorah on the blower) and Ricky Gervais’ ‘Guides To…’ had me in stitches. Two girls from Germany I had spoken to before we got on the bus were equally amused by my hearty laughter, as I was by the content. They would frequently look over and start giggling as I sat bolt upright and cackled away. It was the same laughter as the one in school, where you know if you’re caught by the teacher, you’re in for it. The best kind of laughter.
We arrived in Hoi An and the weather wasn’t great. I felt I’d been sold a lie, that the further south you go, the hotter and sunnier it is. Ninh Binh in the north was a lot hotter than here. We headed for the Sunflower Hostel. This place comes well remcommended amongst travellers. I booked in for 2 nights, unsure of my next move. It looked like it could rain, so the beach was a no-go. We hired bicycles and cycled around the city and over the bridge to nearby island Cam Nam. It began to rain more heavily. We followed the smooth road through the island and happened upon a little bar/restaurant. There was karaoke on. It was Wednesday and about 2.50pm. What was going on? It looked like a family party. We sat down and ordered some food. One of the men asked us to sing, so three of the lads I was with wooed the family with a rendition of ‘Sorry’ by Justin Beiber. I filmed it. I didn’t sing, believe it or not. I had wet socks which put me off. Haha. We left the party and then came to the end of the island. Two ladies invited us in for a drink. She said she was pregant and the father had died on a motorbike accident. If we buy drinks, it will help her and her unborn out. There was 5 of us. We sat down and were soon joined by two Canadian gentlemen who had also followed the road and came to the end of the island on their bikes. We sat and exchanged stories. Disclosing your route to other travellers becomes like a script. I begin to wonder if I am repeating myself to someone, because everyone you talk to asks where you’ve been and where you’re heading. The travelling ‘taxi driver’ questions I alluded to in a previous post. The pregnant lady used my bicycle to go and get us two cups of coffee. I thought she had gone to get coffee in a jar to make here, but upon her return, she was holdng two ready made cups of coffee in one hand, whilst using the other to steer the bike. And she was four months pregnant. Here’s a picture from the end of the island. In the river, there was a dog just floating around with maggots on. Grim site.
Because it was raining, we decided to head for a massage. There was 8 of us. Big business. They were chuffed in the massage parlour. I had had three massages in Thailand, all of which were great. I had one in Hanoi which wasn’t so good, so didn’t hold much hope for this one. But it was fantastic. I even got a pedicure. Saves me cutting my toenails. A menial task at the best of times. If I can get away without doing it for the duration of my trip, I will try. That night, we headed out for something to eat and seen something else disturbing. After finishing our meal, which consisted of local dish White Rose, we heard a bit of commotion between the man who had been cooking and what we presumed was his daughter. He then proceeded to punch her in the face and then continuously hit her with a broom. This was all in sight of the customers and passers by. I shouted over. His wife came between him and his daughter. She was about 14. It was horrible to see and I began to wish I had not eaten there. It disturbed me. The girl looked terrified. After the event, the family (excluding the girl and the dad who disappeared out the back) began to smile to customers and ask if the meal was OK. It was almost like they were unaware that we had seen it. The illusion of the fourth wall.
The next day was beautiful. I resisted a hair cut but did get a shave from a local barber. The barber shop was a little shell amongst a row of shops with wires hanging from the ceiling. A young lad begins the job as an older fella finished off a cut next to me. After he had finished, they exchanged words in Vietnamese and the young lad handed the equipment to the older gent and walked off. The older barber took over. He was a Don. He had cut thousands of beards over the years and went to work with pace and precision. He then took out various instruments and poked my ears. It was a pleasant sensation. He then placed a little spongey brush into my ears and swirled that around. It reminded me of being a kid and watching my Grandad Bill expertly clean his pipe. #meandmybarnet #sortyourswede
We were joined by the French lads we had been on the boat with. We got something to eat and I went to one of the local tailors and was persuded to buy a suit. Now, those who know me, know I love a suit. I don’t find many occassions to wear one these days, but the selection of colours and materials were too good not to indulge. When I’m home, I may have to start dropping litter in an attempt to get fined, not pay the fine and subsequently appear at Birkenhead Magistrates where the use of a suit would come in handy. If this were to happen, any sane judge would send me straight to Crown Court for crimes against fashion. After much deliberation, I opted for this. Thoughts on a postcard. I love it.
I cycled down to the beach alone and took some time away from the hustle and bustle of the town. I spent a bit of time just sat, looking out to the sea, watching each wave gather pace and crash at my feet. I looked to my left and could see the bay curve round in the distance. The sky was a mixture of pink, blue and orange. It was sublime. I meditated and felt content. Water does this to me. It might be why I enjoy spending time in the bath. Maybe it is in the genes. My Grandad Bill was in the navy and spent a lot of time at sea. I had the same sort of thought I had had earlier in the week of ‘I’m here and it’s OK.’ There’s nowhere else I need to be. I am enveloped in a peaceful embrace and fully appreciative of what I am experiencing in this moment. I have to cherish these moments, especially as my mind can alter in a nano-second, as it did when I thought, ‘If there was to be a massive tsunami-type wave out there where I am looking, would I have time to unlock the bike and peddle fast to safety, or would I risk running in my flip-flops?’ I decided I’d chance unlocking the bike and would peddle and then laugh as I catch myself thinking this absurd thought. Back to the tranquility. It has been said that no human can catch themselves not thinking. Have a think about that. Here is a few shots of the beach.
As I ride back over the bridge, the sun is beginning to set. Another perfect opportunity for a photo. Amazing.
I stop by at a cafe I spotted on the way down to the beach. It is marooned amongst trees and sits on the bank of a lake. I order some spring rolls and a Vietnamese coffee and spend time just being. A man sails across the lake on his boat. I wonder has he been working all day? What does he do?
The next day I am excited to go and pick my pink suit up. I give details of my address and get it flown home to England. It would take three weeks I’m told by air mail, or three months by boat. I opt for the air service. I debate whether to get another suit made and even think I could get a matching cane. There’s plenty of opportunity to flaunt something like that in Birkenhead isn’t there? This place would be great to come to at the end of a trip, when you know how much money you have left and what you can spend. Cautiously, I decide against buying another suit. However, when I go to another shop I succumb to being measured for a jacket. I ask them to make it slightly smaller for me, as my exercise regime will be increased upon my return to England. Unless I decide to stay away and get a job somewhere out here.
In the evening, I head out with Rachel, Josie, Nat and Pia (a girl we have met today from England) to an Indian restaurant. Probably one of the best Indian restaurants I’ve been to. The food was delicious. We got a dish each and shared and agreed how good the food was. The others said how they had very few Indian restaurants back home in the States and Canada. It’s not hard to find a good curry in England, thankfully.
Today, as I write it is Saturday 5th March. My bus is leaving at 5pm today. I will stop in Nha Trang for a few hours before continuing on to Mui Ne. It’s going to be a long journey. My longest yet. 20 odd hours. I was devastated earlier to realise my iPad wire is not working and I was on 10%. Luckily I’ve managed to use Pia’s charger so should be able to download some more podcasts. I have a few films on there to watch also. My plan is to stay in Mui Ne for one or two nights before heading over to Ho Chi Minh. My visa for Vietnam will then expire and I plan to head across the border and into Cambodia. Hoi An has been a wonderful place. Absolutely picturesque in parts. The night market is beautiful with lanterns lining the streets, the beaches swoop gracefully along the coast and the shops make boss suits. What more could you want? The weather too, has been phenomenal.
I have been on a bike for the last 4 days which has compensated for my lack of gym time. I actually am missing working out like I do back home. The bike has enabled me to do some exericse and I have covered some miles on the rickety old things. My legs have had a great work out and I have definately felt the burn…..hence the Hot Legs!
I will post this one up and let you know how the mammouth trip on the bus goes. Loving all the comments and feedback. I hope you enjoyed reading this and feel free to share it amongst your friends, if you have any. Don’t forget you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram and if you want, Facebook. I have posted many more photos on Facebook if you are interested in seeing any more. If not, just keep checking in here. It’s appreciated.
I have arrived in Mui Ne, the next blog will be about here. It’s lovely.