Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hoi An and Hue

I know I'm a weirdo because, despite getting almost no sleep, being ridiculously hot and cramped, and arriving late (only 20 minutes though!) I still loved the overnight train ride. Perhaps it had something to do with the company. There was a backpacker from Australia who is traveling from Ho Chi Minh City to Paris by train. Can I mention that my bucket list includes riding the full length of the Trans-Siberian Express?
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Perhaps it was the adorable older Vietnamese gentleman who came dressed in his pajamas, with his wallet safety pinned in his front pocket.
Maybe it was the Vietnamese lady who was always very concerned that I was getting enough food (one baguette is certainly not enough for breakfast, right?!)
I think I'm just weird.
I arrived in Danang, which is about 40 km from Hoi An, I attached myself to a group of fellow travelers and we shared a taxi the rest of the way. The guest house I booked on Agoda had a problem with the room, so they switched me to another guest house a block away. I showered and promptly fell asleep for the afternoon.
Then I rented a motorbike and explored the city for dinner. Hoi An is the definition of a French colonial town. It's lovely cobblestone streets, with all the buildings painted yellow are dotted with European cuisine. They even outlawed motorbikes and cars from the downtown area during the evening hours.
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Since I had changed guest houses, I totally forgot the name of the one I moved to, so I drove around and ended up finding a lovely little spa to give me directions. I also had a mani/pedi, which currently ranks as the top in all the countries I've visited.
The young woman who owned the spa also recommended a designer, because I wanted to get a couple of shirts made (Hoi An is well known for their tailors and clothing designers). She then laid out a plan for where I should go the next day.
I eventually found the guest house.
All of the itinerary sounded good to me, so I ended up following it. I spent the morning looking at designs and fabrics, then getting measured. I ended up buying 3 shirts and a dress. Maybe someday I'll get around to taking pictures of myself in them.
Then I took the motorbike up to the Marble mountains, which were about 20 km north. The marble mountains are karsts (think cliffs that pop up in the middle of flat ground) and they are filled with pagodas and buddhist temples. I spent about 2 hours exploring the whole thing, and I even hiked to the top and took some nice pictures of the surroundings.
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Then I went back to town, had lunch, and got my clothes fitted. It's amazing how good a shirt that is made for you can feel, and of course it fits wonderfully.
I finished the day with a giant hamburger at a deli owned by an ex-pat Aussie, which I couldn't take a picture of because I forgot my camera. Then I went back to the spa and got a free facial and a haircut.
The next morning I was just lazing about until it was time to take the bus (the early bus left at 7:30 am, to which I snorted derisively). I went to the Japanese Bridge in town, wandered the streets, and ate lunch. I desperately wanted to buy some art, but I also knew I couldn't afford it and also didn't want to lug it around the rest of Southeast Asia. Oh well, just an excuse to come back someday.
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The bus ride was ridiculous. It took 2 hours longer than they said it should, the woman behind me was throwing up almost the whole way, and we went through a really long tunnel instead of the coastal road by the sea. I kind of knew the latter going in, but I was still disappointed.
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Hue was the empiriol capitol of Vietnam, from the early 1800's until the fall of the French colonial empire in 1954. It was where the Ngyuen kings reined.
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I decided to do a tour through the hotel which was the bargain price of $12 (although they didn't include admission costs of places, which were almost $20). It was a good tour.
We started by visiting three mausoleums of the emperors. They typically tried to build them before they died, some of them even intended to use them as summer homes.
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We ate lunch at a typical Vietnamese place, which means there wasn't much in the way of service and you had to fend for yourself. The big Dutch family in the group was very put off by this, I have grown used to it, because that's the way things are done pretty much everywhere I've been.
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in the afternoon we visited the former royal palace. Much of it had been destroyed in the 40 years of fighting in the 20th century. What we always seem to forget is that Vietnam was occupied by the Japanese during WWII, during that time they were still part of French Indochina. In 1954 they finally gained their freedom from the french, but then the Vietnam War (what they call the American War) ensued until the country was reunited in 1975.
UNESCO has been slowly but surely helping to rebuild the palace area, which will hopefully be finished in 2020.
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Unfortunately, I'm the idiot who didn't charge the camera battery, so I have no more pictures form the day.
My second day in Hue, I slept in, because I was sunburned and tired and I'm still on vacation, dang it!
Then I boarded the night train for Hanoi, another grand ride through the countryside. This time, I had no fellow english-speaking travelers, only locals with small children who would cry any time I looked at them. Thankfully I had brought along a sleep mask, tylenol pm, and my iPod, so I actually slept for almost 9 hours.
The adventure shall continue, when I feel like writing it.