January 11, 2009

Imperial City

We’re still here in Vietnam, although tomorrow will be our last day in this country.

It’s been such a long day, the days are starting to blur together.


We have a new friend in our travel photos, as you see… that’s Allison on the far right, who we finally caught up with about 3 days after we were supposed to meet, because of a missed connection in Beijing (Thanks a lot, Continental!)

Last night, Tammy, Esther and I took the 8-hour overnight train from Sapa (mountain north region of Vietnam) to Hanoi (northern city). Here’s how the cabins inside the Pumpkin Express look:


If you’re sleeping in the top bunk (which I did, despite the photo) it feels and looks like you’re sleeping in the luggage rack.

We arrived in Hanoi at 5:30 this morning and after a little hunting and a few coordinating phone calls, Allison and the driver she didn’t understand finally found us! We hopped in her cab with our bags and non-English speaking driver and headed off for the airport. We were in a bit of a rush, but with a little bit of a hustle (picture four women running to the plane wearing travelers’ backpacks) we finally made it!

Tired but excited, we arrived in Vietnam’s central coastal city of Hue (pronounced Hway) at 8:10am.

Based on the little bit of research on the train (we read our travel guide the night before) we decided to get a taxi driver to take us to one of the local cafes that offer motor bike tours. I sat in the front of our taxi and convinced the driver to let us use his phone. We soon found a tour led by a woman named Thu (pronounced “too”), She came out to meet the taxi. She’s a bit of a firecracker, that Thu:


and the adventure in Hue began!


After breakfast at her cafe, she ordered us 4 motorbikes for a whirlwind tour of the city.


I was super excited to be exploring via motorbike.

Our first stop: Tu Hieu Pagoda so see my first real Buddhist monks of Southeast Asia!


Then it was off for a view of the Perfume River,


The complex at Tu Duc Tomb,


The Thank-toam bridge in Thank-toam village about 8 km outside of Hue,


The Thien Mu pagoda,


And the citadel/Thai Hoa Palace where some of the palace creatures got a little frisky.


What can I say, it was a loooong day.

Anyway, Hue was once the country’s Imperial city, capital of the country from 1802 to 1945 under the Nguyen Dynasty. There’s a lot to see… and see it we did… but what I think I enjoyed most today was just seeing the countryside by motorbike on the beautiful, sunny day that it was.

My boyfriend for the day was Ben. That’s my driver.


I just want to pause here and say I feel like I’m listing all these names and places really fast. That’s sort of how the day felt, actually. I’ll have to re-visit my blogs later and post galleries of the photos I took, but right now I just really want to get everything down so that I don’t forget what I saw or why I was moved to record it!

After our awesomely exhausting tour of Hue, the ladies and I wandered Hue’s market for a bit before heading back to the area of Thu’s cafe.

Southeast Asia is an amazing place when it comes to fruits and vegetables! It’s not the same old stuff at the markets — there are so many exotic natural foods here that I never even knew existed! Some might even look like I food with which I’m familiar — but it’s TOTALLY different! (Same, same but different) Check out these crazy fruits:

But there are also crazy delicacies I found here that I had no desire to try and sample.


Yep, those ARE snakes and lizards we found in a spice shop. Very expensive we’re told, by the way. Delicious, too — but I wouldn’t know.

Our day in Hue was almost over and we were exhausted. We stopped into a little restaurant where I ate the best chicken curry I think I’ve every had in my life.

After dinner Allison went to an internet cafe while, Tammy, Esther and I went to this unfortunately named salon for quickie 30 minute massages:


I’ve only included it because we laughed about it so much. It was legit — not as our friend Paul from Sapa told us, “cheap and cheerful” — but he warned us to beware of the C&C massages when we get to Thailand.

I was sad to go. I really enjoyed my time on the motorbike and metting Thu. Before we left, she posed with us for one last photo:


This evening, the same day we arrived in Hue, we hopped a plane (one hour) and arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, in Vietnam’s South (formerly Saigon).

It took us FOREVER to find a hotel, since the one we called from Hue thought they had two rooms but actually only had one available and it seems HCMC it very busy tonight. Ugh. We’re all staying in a cute, but tiny room in the downtown area (District 1) and we have to get up waaay to early tomorrow to go see the Cu Chi (koo chee) tunnels. (Yes, it has to do with the Vietnam war. We felt guilty; we booked a tour.)

We should probably slow down a bit and take everything in. Tomorrow night we’re off to see Cambodia’s amazing temples of Angor at Siem Reap and I’m getting a little tired. Got to take it easy, which is hard because I want to see EVERYTHING!

Well, I only have a few hours to sleep before tomorrow’s adventure, so I better sign off.


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