I can’t say that I’ve ever slept on a train before, but for me the experience was somewhat disconcerting. This train would rock side to side, nothing too extreme, a soft rocking. However sometimes the train would also jolt backwards, such as when brakes are applied quickly and they grab. One of my travelling partners almost flew out of her bed from one of these jolts, which I can’t imagine would be a fun way to wake up.
We arrived in Hue late - we should have arrived around 7/8, but instead e got there closer to 9. This may be an example of “Vietnam time”, or maybe it was just late. Nonetheless, that didn’t affect us very much. From the train station in Hue we headed straight for our next hotel.
I didn’t realise how nice our accommodations would be on this trip. When looking at the various tours the synopsis said we would be staying at 3 star hotels, and honestly I’d imagined we would be staying in small cabins with no air conditioning, squatting toilets and thin walls. so far, none of this has been been true. In Hanoi, we stayed a hotel in the middle of the city that was a touch of opulence surrounded by the grunge of the street. Now in Hue, just across the street from the citadel inside the citadel, this hotel is thankfully all on one floor (Hanoi’s hotel was 7 floors high, and the elevator was slow), and the rooms about twice the size of our rooms in Hanoi. Also, no worry about air conditioning - it seems to be standard everywhere, so standard in fact that even our bedrooms on the boat in Ha Long Bay had units!
After pretending to wash and having breakfast, we departed on a cyclo tour. What’s a cyclo, you ask? A cyclo is what you get when you mash together a bicycle with a adult-sized pram. You sit in the front while you’re cyclo driver sits on the bicycle post on the back and pedals you around the city. This turned out to be a great way to view the city, as you literally get a front row seat to everything. Traffic is a much more visceral experience. Our cyclo’s took us to a ramp where we could get on top of the citadel wall overlooking the moat, then to a temple (we didn’t go inside, that apparently wasn’t on our schedule).
My cyclo driver happened to be quite chatty. so throughout my ride, I was getting questions like, “you have girlfriend?”, “how long for?”, and possibly my favourite, “Vietnamese girl very beautiful, no?” This last one actually shows something about the Vietnamese language - to say something as a question, you add the word no (khong, sounds like komh) on the end. In response to, say, asking if they have toilet paper, they could then respond with the Vietnamese word for “have”, which means literally “yes I have”. If they did not have toilet paper, they would say the Vietnamese equivalent of “no have”
They then took us to a garden, where we got to see some of the trees and other plants that general grow in Vietnam, and also the house of the family that lives at the garden, whose house was build out of wood, but without nails. This house followed traditional Vietnamese style, which means it has 5 rooms, and an altar in the centre of the house. The Vietnamese also believe in Feng Shui, so to balance the fire used inside for the altar, they had a pond outside, and further outside, through the gate and across the road lay a river. The pond had one lotus blooming, although there were more in the pond. This may have been the first time I’ve seen a lotus in the flesh!
After the garden we went back into town to a local street coffee vendor. This was meant to be a fresh experience for some, however I think I’ve been having at least one coffee a day here since arriving in Hanoi. Nevertheless I partook, and for some others it was their first experience, either with Vietnamese coffee or with Vietnamese tea, and I finely saw some confused faces. For those who had the tea, they were intrigued to find a rock at the bottom of the glass. For those who had the coffee, I think they were looking for a taste of home, and perhaps not finding it.
After coffee we went to a restaurant for lunch. We thanked and paid our cyclo drivers and went inside. Oh, to get out of the sun! Cyclos have hoods, but we weren’t using them, and by this time I was roasting.
By the time we got back to the hotel, we only had an hour spare before our next activity. Our tour guide sure likes to keep us busy! We were heading out across the road to the citadel within the citadel.
The citadel is one of the places that was heavily bombed by the Americans during the Vietnam war, as the Viet cong had taken station there. It’s very saddening to see so much beautiful history has been destroyed, all in the name of capitalism. Of course, there are areas within the citadel (aka the forbidden city) which were left untouched, and some areas that were being refurbished, all of which we got to see.
The gardens are also a sight to see, with many sculpted bushes, some of them were elephants, some koi fish, but perhaps the most memorable was the peacock, for which I had to do a double-take.
After we’d seen the citadel and most of its attractions, we went back to the hotel to freshen up, before heading out to dinner. Tonight we were to be hosted by a local family, who just so happened to own a coffee shop (meaning we could sit at a table rather than sit on the floor).
We entered through the central door to the house, which was build in the traditional Vietnamese way by the family. The family was headed by their 87 year old grandmother, with her husband having passed away not two months ago. Their grandson translated for us, taking the chance to practice his English, as he is studying towards a degree in tourism. They taught us about the betel nut, which is chewed, mostly by older people now. It may have had a use as an alternative to toothpaste in the past, and helped those who dyed their teeth black to keep them black.
Betel nut is also said to make you feel a little drunk. We were then offered to try it, and naturally I accepted. The type of Hegel nut I had was very bitter, though the intensity of the bitterness died down after a bit of chewing. What’s more interesting are the other effects of the betel nut that I felt, namely a slight numbing of the throat, and a general warming sensation. There was also done feeling of being high, though it wasn’t too intense, just a small heady buzz, which was reasonably short-lasting.
Now that some of us were drugged up and posing with puckered faces, we made our way to the kitchen to see what would be cooked for us, and then out to what would be our eating area, But it’s usually the cafe. Cafes here aren’t strictly about serving coffee, and don’t always serve food. Many serve beer, and this one was no different. Old habits die hard, so I opted to try the local beer, which the old lady reckons is the best beer in Vietnam. Also, one of our number is gluten free, so a bottle of rice wine was cracked open, and a few of us also had a thumb.
Once dinner started coming, it didn’t stop. We started with pumpkin soup, which actually tasted a lot like peanuts our peanut butter - and I love peanut butter. Next were spring rolls, which were very quickly demolished. Shortly after we were provided with a salad visiting of locally grown produce, must interesting of them was something called Jackfruit, which when uncooked (but chopped up) I thought was mushrooms, but it was definitely nothing of the sort! Next we received done rice and caramelized pork with tofu, which I couldn’t help but polish off whatever I couldn’t get my hands on. Following that was water spinach, and then finally pho. I say finally, but actually there was one mute meal left, dessert.
It appears to be common in Vietnam to not have anything overly fancy for dessert, and in fact on this particular evening (like a coupe of others before it) we were served pineapple chunks. I love pineapple almost as much as I love bananas, so I was happy with this.
Our tour guide had been promising to take us to a good bar once we got to Hue, and this night was when he delivered. For those of us who wanted to go (myself and the three Swiss girls from our group), he took up to Brown Eyes Bar in town.
The music selection was… interesting. There’s nothing quite like the transition from singing Country Road to Gangnam Style. We ordered drinks and we played a drinking game that one of the Swiss girls taught us, which seemed a lot like circle of death. At some point we’d put our names down to play pool (playing is free, just inevitably there is a line), and our number came up. For our first game, It was boys attained girls. Our guide has a reasonable break, but not always good enough to sink. After a miss from one of the girls, I proceeded to sink three in a row, causing then to jokingly take my cue away, saying to stop. My next shot was a miss.
After a few matches with mixed teams, the girls went away to dance for a while, and leaving our tour guide and I at the pool table, where the locals saw fit to challenge us. We did pretty well, I think we went on to win three our four games, at which point I swapped out with one of the girls and joined the others on the dance floor. This wasn’t to last long however, as with a full day past and a full day ahead, it was high time we got back to the hotel and into bed.