Thursday, 10 December 2015

A royal visitor in the Imperial Citadel (36 hours in Hue)

The train arrives at 8 pm and the streets are wet, but it's not even sprinkling.

Train stations have free Wifi, so I sit down on the steps and check the distance to my hotel on Google Maps.  The eyes of an over-eager taxi driver watch the screen with me in expectation of Google to display the distance. 1.6 km. His eyes light up and I agree to hire his cab for the ride. The stuff from Sa Pa is heavy !
The first glimpse of Hue roads

The ride to the hotel costs 57,000 Dong; the driver was charming and helpful, so I tip him 3000, which he didn't even expect.  Tips are only started to be known in Vietnam.

I check into the hotel, and again I tell the receptionist that she can photograph my passport but not keep it.

The room is large with a large shared balcony but I never see my neighbours in 36 hours.

The Hotel offers me a tour by air-conditioned bus and boat to see the next Unesco World Heritage site that I want to tick off my list of things to see.  But they also hand me a city information map that shows that the Imperial Citadel and Purple Forbidden City are located right across the river from my hotel and after questioning them further I am informed that there are no walking tours.  Ts Ts. I’ll walk

But my first excursion into Hue around 9 pm is to a supermarket across some bridge (they gave me a map)

a LARGE Vietnamese flag. That must be where the Citadel is 

Tourists on a dragon boat floating lit lanterns
The supermarket has yogurt, Gouda, various other things to nibble on during meals or during long train rides.  I head back, hopefully to my hotel.

If Morin isn't a French name, I don't know what is.  The lights change colours ;-)

After I drop the stuff off at my hotel, I head  to  “where Westerners eat’, as the reception put it.

This corner of town, which also contains the hostel, is booming. Not in a good sense though; but  literally  booming: the bars seem to have a war whose bass speakers can be turned up the loudest to attract tourists.  I on the other hand am not part of the Western party crowd and just want a quiet spot to eat.
If it says BEER GARDEN you can bet it's LOUD
About here I'm offered my first Lady Boom Boom.

Before I'm back in my room, in a slightly more quiet part of town, I will have been offered a total of four (4) female creatures of the night.  That is quite a lot within 40 minutes given that prostitution is illegal in Vietnam.

I might be eating 'where the Westerners eat', but I'm trying a local specialty and drink local wine.

Hue specialty rice pancake with prawns, pork, veggies and peanut sauce.  Nice, except the prawns were cooked last year. But I LOVE this peanut sauce.
The day train ride and my 2 or 3 naps have helped nipping the jet lag in the butt. I’m having dinner at 9:45 pm!

But maybe I’m really too tired:  My request for the bill is answered by the server 3 times with "Whiter Woman, Whiter Woman".  After shrugging my shoulders 3 times, I finally understand that she said “wait a moment”.

Getting proper access to my blog neither works in the hotel nor in the restaurant.  Is Daft Donald having success with his demand to shut down the internet?  But when I sit down on the steps of a hotel next to the Youth Hostel, I find a Wifi network by the name of Tipsy that works properly.


I get back to the hotel, eat a slice of Toast with Gouda (Western pleasures), renew the room for another night (Why are the receptionists already bedded down in reception?), and realize it is already 11 pm and that's why ;-)


I sleep like a log again (what is it about sleeping in Vietnam ?), have a pot of the fab instant Viet coffee but when I try to take a shower  at 6:30 there is no hot water coming out of the taps.   Ah well, wait a while, it's probably just everyone showing at the same time.

The weather forecast claims that the current temperature is 21 degrees Celsius, but when I step onto my share balcony it certainly doesn't feel like 21, more like 14.  It's still early and it should warm up.

After boiling water in the room's giant hot water dispensing contraption and failing to get hot water out of the taps again, I dump all of the boiling water into the tub and add cold to have a mini bath. Of course, 1 minute later the temperature of the water coming out of the tap changes to hot ;-)

Breakfast is served on the 9th floor. A nice touch ;-)

Against the advice of any chicken-flu expert on the world, I devour both not fully cooked sunny-side up eggs. I feel that I can't come to explore a different country and refuse to eat how and what the locals eat. That would be Vietnam through the looking glass instead of jumping right in. My looks, language skills, and preconceived notions (ever diminishing as they may be) already make it impossible for me to experience the Viet lifestyle; I don't have to add to the dilemma  by being squeamish !
After this breakfast with a view, buy a pack of smokes across the street. 25,000 VND !  I've bought cigs in Hanoi for 10,000 !  I drop off my laundry at the reception (they charge by kg here and the price is low), I start walking to see what the Imperial Citadel is all about.

Squirrelicus Vietnamensis (or maybe not?)

Not knowing what to expect, I at first thought that this Bastion is the main attraction

 But the tourist crowds are streaming somewhere else. In this case, following them is the thing to do

What I loathe to do: Follow the crowds

Oh,  this is even better

In for more than I expected ;-) That is one BIG FLAG!

 Everyone is busy taking selfies and ignoring the gorgeous water lilies in the process ;-(

I pay my 150,000 Dong and enter the site. I had no idea it was this HUGE. Too  bad the sun is not out, the colours in these photographs would JUMP OUT of the page.

Koi anyone ?

NO he is NOT taking a selfie, he is taking a picture of a fellow  monk (BTW Hottest Monk I've ever seen ;-)

No idea what this is all about ;-(


Who ever said that smoking is bad for your looks ?  ;-)

The difference restoration can make ...

This is what it would look like without restoration

and it keeps going and going and going ....

a nice place to have a bath

These bloody selfie-takers are everywhere and ruin so many shots

Groupies.  The explanation will follow further down.  More complicated than you imagine ;-)

Finally I get the shot without selfie-takers in it

Crappy modern paintings for sale (?) in the complex. Gorgeous Shutters though.

Entering here cost extra. And one had to take one's shoes off.  
What  surprised me most,  is that this whole  thing is a work in  progress.  In all corners  of this  complex workers are cleaning stonework,  creating new stonework, erecting new wooden structures and buildings after old plans on the remaining stone bases.

They  have boards with old pictures hanging everywhere. This was only in 1949

Talking about Selfie takers: 

THREE (3) times within one hour groups of teenage girls and guys run up to me and start waving their cell phones around.  At first I think they want me to take a picture of them. WRONG.  They want  to take a selfie with me.   Yes, I know that sounds hard to believe and the first time it happened I was kind of flabbergasted.  But I guess I am the male equivalent of a tall blond woman in these parts. 
 As proof of this not easily believable story, I asked the last group to let me take a picture of the picture they took of us.   Strange but TRUE:
I got Groupies !!!!

Walking along an outside path I see large areas that are unrestored

getting close to the exit again

and I'm out

I wish I could photoshop the blue cyclist out of this picture

birdcage anyone?

I'm back in the hotel at 10:15 and at 10:30 leave again to head for the train station to buy my train ticket for tomorrow morning.  1.6 kms each way, but hey, I'm not here to get fat!

The hotel receptionist yesterday already offered to buy the train ticket for me but by now I know how that game is played ;-(

There is a whole caravan of these ...

The camera-wielding tourist sees nothing, but the driver spots me and waves. I wave back.  Why is she not smiling?

Oh, to speak Vietnamese ....

I run into the coolest sculpture

Pride  in one's accomplishments and will to suffer hardship. That's what this says to me. A look hardly seen in nannied western societies these days.

Then there is some small imperial structure on this side of the river

Crusty the dragon

dilapidated stairs to the water


where the dragon boats hide during the day

Kitschy !

This stuff is ON EVERY HOTEL

canals everywhere

I pay 73,000 Dong (CAD$ 4.40) for the 3 hour train ride to Da Nang in a soft seat (they don't sell sleepers for 3 hour train rides).and for my way back to the hotel select an entirely different route (it's nice to have a cell phone where the GPS works even if one doesn't have cell service ! Eat THAT iPhone users ;-)

Hue, the Venice of Vietnam?

Cinderella was 'ere?

I happen to walk through the hospital district.  The  density of  pharmacies as well as vendors of flowers and toys increases dramatically

Back at the hotel I pile all the stuff I bought in Sa Pa into a plastic bag. OMG it weighs a ton, probably half the weight of my backpack. This stuff HAS TO GO; after all the post office is almost next door !  But the counter that sells boxes is closed right now, so I have to go back later.

So I head instead for the street where I discovered free and properly working internet last night.  The Wifi server was called Tipsy and I head to Are You Tipsy Yet?, one of those yuppie traveler's joints in the hip part of town.  While sipping Chardonnay (I wanted the Vietnamese Da Lat) and nibbling on Apple Tart, I upload the hundreds of pictures that have accumulated in the last 24 hours.  

 As usual I eavesdrop on the surrounding tables and am astounded that some people don't even use the Vietnamese words for Hello and Thank You, but then maybe I'm just a pompous blimp that thinks using those words makes me half Vietnamese.
Hue Buu Dien (central  Post  Office)
I just mailed the Sa Pa stuff!   I feel so much lighter already. Almost 3 kg of fabrics out of my backpack.   I just carried the stuff in a plastic bag to the post office and while I filled out 4 forms, the AMAZING gorgeous postal lady produced a cardboard box, packed everything in it, wrapped the whole thing in packing paper and yarn and left indicators where I had to write the delivery address.   FULL SERVICE POSTAL OFFICE.
<yvr logo> I sent something from YVR that I didn't want to carry on this trip 10 days ago and was faced with a more than gruff postal employee that did not lift a single finger while I BOUGHT a box, packed the stuff myself, and used packing tape to secure the box.   Instead he complained that my use of packing tape was substandard. Why do you need packing tape anyway? Canada Post doesn't trust its own self-assembly packing boxes? 

Right after that I picked up my laundry at the hotel. 2.5 kgs of dirty laundry.  To have it washed, dried, folded and even the shirt buttons buttoned cost me 110,000 Dong, i.e. CAD$ 6.65. They even got my SaPa-MUD-ENCRUSTED shorts clean again ;-)

In the evening, I head back to Are-You-Tipsy-Yet?.  I need fully functioning internet, their food was quite good, and the waitress has a gorgeous smile, which she unleashes again when I get there.

A Vietnamese noodle dish with Seafood proves a bit too light on the seafood, but is fabulously spiced.

Since I leave quite a bit of the noodles behind (just not enough seafood to go with them), I am still peckish and order banana-filled crepes with chocolate sauce.  DECADENT, I know, but the times of tasteless expensive food will return in 10 days, so I might as well binge now ;-)

There is no hot water again in the shower (I think I rated this hotel a bit too high on Tripadvisor), so I dump the contents of my portable 3.8 liter boiling-water dispenser in the bathtub and add cold water to do perform a mini-bath ritual.

Before hopping in, I refill the 'kettle', so that I have hot water again to repeat the procedure in the sink  to wash my hair a little later.  Not so bad this procedure; I'm just glad the container holds a gallon.

I  head for breakfast at 6:45 and the hint of sun that I  saw reflected earlier now blinds me when I get the view East from the 9th floor. 

SUN !!! I haven't seen it in so long.  GOOOOD MOOOORNING VIETNAAAAAAAM !

During breakfast I have a glimpse at hotels in NhaTrang Beach, my intended destination after Da Nang.   Hmmm.  I don't like the looks of it !   It doesn't even look like Varadero, more what I imagine Benidorm to look like.  I'm not into a beach lined by monster hotels. 

Hue Buu Dien again
 A thought develops.  Maybe I should skip Nha Trang and partying tourist crowds?  After all, I can fly from Da Nang to Phnom Phen and it would  save me two LOOOONG overnight train rides (Da Nang to Nha Trang to Sai Gon).   On recent travels I found that those seat of the pants decisions or gut instinct decisions provided spectacular results. So spectacular indeed that I never looked back at the original  plan and never reconsidered visiting the original destination.  This may well be one of those ;-)

Be that as it may, the title of THIS SONG (ONLY the title) just summarizes my mood right now.

OMG, that video is SOOOO 80s!  No wonder I have issues having gone through my formative teenage years in those days  ;-)

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