Friday, October 13, 2006


It's now 3 PM on Friday, the 13th. Here's my report from yesterday afternoon's bus ride and today's visit of Hue. As suggested by my son Marc, I'll try to be more "descriptive" of the countryside and what people are wearing, etc. Still haven't worked out how to post photos but don't despair!

The bus yesterday took us for quite ahile along the coast of the Aouth China Sea. There were some lovely bays between Hoi An and Danang. We went through the center of Danang, which is a built up city these days, but after that I'm sure what we went along was the old American army base, which was apparently the biggest one in South Vietnam during what they call "the American war" of the late 60s (compared to the "French war" of the 50s). Nowadays, the base has been taken over by the Vietnamese army. There are still a lot of run-down hangars, though, left over from the 60s.

It's funny,everywhere I go here I'm reminded of films I've seen. "Good Morning Vietnam" in the Mekong Delta; also "Apocalypse Now". And seeing the women in their long, white dresses with conical hats and the rickshaws reminds me of "l"Amant" and "Indochine". And more recently, I saw the remake of "Quiet American".

Yesterday on the bus, I went through green rice fields with grey water buffalo and the little white birds (storks) picking at the leftovers from the harvest. Of course, the traffic on the roads is something else. There's a real hierarchy here. First the buses and trucks honking at the cars, then the cars at the motorbikes, then the motorbikes at the bikes! Bikes and motorbikes come out from nowhere and often ride 4 abreadst. Most of the girls wear face masks or scarves. I thought it was for pollution, but my friend Marylynne wrote me it was more to protect their skin! They also wear long, opera-style gloves, supposedly for the same purpose.

What I didn't like was the half an hour stop (out of a 3 hour trip) at a roadside "cafe", where all the "open tour buses" stop. Overpriced (for Vietnam) bottles of water and absolutely filthy toilets, with vendors trying to sell you the same things you have everywhere in the country. In fact, this constant "hard selling" really is annoying here, but I've heard it's even 10 times worse in Cambodia, at places like Siem Reap (Anghor Wat). People are so poor that they come out in troves and don't leave you alone. And there are all sorts of middlemen who take their cut or get their commissionlong the way. However, sometimes you really do feel you're being "ripped off", as a young German couple told me.

This same couple left the dragon boat we were on this morning on the Perfume River. For $1.50, you can take a 6-hour boat trip with about 6 stops at various tombs and pagodas. But once you're on board, they try to sell you pictures, postcards, tea shirts, etc, as well as lunch (which is supposed to be included). I bought the paying lunch (fish and fruit), which was quite good. The German couple got off at the first stop and took a motorbike back to Hue. As for me, I continued down on the boat for another two stops before doing the same thing. But first I had my driver (a 37 year old man who looked as if he was 20 and said he had 3 teenage children) take me to very impression tomb of Emperor Ming Mang).

Yes, believe it or not, I rode on the back of a motorbike for 16 kilometers holding onto this "young" man's waist, wearing no helmet and with my hair flying in the wind. Luckily, he was a very good driver and i wasn't afraid.

After that, I visited the Imperial Palace within the citadel of the city. It reminded me a bit of the Imperial Palace I saw in Kyoto, though, of course, it's much more run down, like many of the other monuments i've visited. In addition to suffering from neglect over the years, it was also bombed by the South Vietnamese and U.S. during the war. However, it's the Canadians and Japanese who are paying for reconstruction. As a matter of fact, I haven't seen that the Americans are investing anywhere here in reconstruction--though they certainly should be!

In answer to Maura's question about French architecture, I saw some in Saigon --Notre Dame Cathedral and the Post Office, as well as some colonial-style buildings (saw some of those in Hoi An, too), but I imagine I'll see more in Hanoi.

There aren't that many American tourists here yet. My fellow travelers seem to be mostly Australians and Europeans --Germans, Dutch, British and Spanish. LOTS of young people backpacking in southeast Asia.

I'm leaving in half an hour for the Hue airport. Decided to splurg on a plane up to Hanoi so that I have time there to visit tomorrow, Saturday. Hope to go to Halong Bay on Sunday.

Bye for now.




At October 13, 2006 12:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi mumymum, we should have known you would ride a motorbike when we took the picture of you on Sebby's one... easyrider in vietnam... hips of kisses... Marco

At October 13, 2006 9:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hilary - I'm really enjoying your descriptions. Very vivid... I feel like I'm on the back of that motorcycle too! Interesting comment about the gloves & face masks; I'd heard that Asian women wanted to keep their skin pale; I didn't realize so many went to the extreme of wearing face masks & gloves though.

What a shame that you're hounded by people hawking things wherever you go. I'm anxious to hear if you'll have the same experience in Hanoi. I hear the architecture is beautiful. Take lots of pictures!



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