I think I’m starting to get road fatigue. I’ve been out here for nearly five months, and it’s been just short of six months since I had a home. Hue is a nice town, and everyone on the circuit visits it, but I’m having a hard time caring at this point.
Hue is the former imperial capital of Vietnam, where the emperor lived in the 19th and early 20th century. Thus, there are a lot of palaces and tombs and temples related to the royal family around here. Of course, the thing is the French were firmly in control throughout the entire historic “reign” of Hue. The royal family lived the high life and the kings had hundreds of wives and concubines and all that good stuff, but really they weren’t any more legitimately in control of the country than today’s Vietnamese tourists who put on rented royal garb in the palace to make a new Facebook profile picture.
I rode a bicycle around The Citadel on my first full day in town. In the actual palace area, I walked around to the various palaces and monuments. I actually rode my bike to the gate, but a guy immediately yelled at me and said that I had to park it in a lot RIGHT NOW!, or he would call the police. I said that I just wanted to buy my ticket as long as I was at the ticket booth, and then I would park. However, the ticket booth I was at was the wrong one – it was the booth for Vietnamese people. Foreigners had to use a different booth to buy a ticket at a higher price to see the exact same thing. I’ll let Laos and Cambodia get away with this sort of thing since they are so poor, but Vietnam should have stopped this kind of thing years ago.
Anyway, the Citadel and the palace and all were nice, and it was fun riding around, but I was definitely a bit checked out. I guess Angkor is a tough act to follow temple-wise as well.
Later on, I rode down to Thien Mu Pagoda, which was quite interesting. Friendly little kid monks walked around giving thumbs ups, so that was cool in a Fonzie kinda way. Perhaps most interesting was the fact that this pagoda was where Thich Quang Duc lived. He was the monk who set himself on fire in Saigon in 1963. The car in which he was driven to Saigon and that appears in the famous photograph is at this temple as well.
The next day, I rented a motorbike and set out to find some of the imperial tombs, which was a more difficult endeavor than I presumed it to be. I was dealing with three maps between the iPad, Lonely Planet, and a hotel map, and none remotely matched the other. It turned out to be a maze of roads south of town, and decent signs are basically non-existent in Vietnam other than street names. I stumbled upon the largely ruined tomb of Thieu Tri and chatted with a Lao national who had been a marine in the war, stationed near the DMZ. From there, I headed to the tomb of Tu Doc, which was right next to the other tomb in the LP map, yet took an hour or so to find. This was a grander, more kept-up tomb. Tu Doc himself had designed it, and it was finished 10 years before he died. He used to come hang out here.
After a couple hours at Tu Doc’s place, I figured I was good on tombs, even though there are a few others scattered around the countryside. I headed back into town for a hair cut, long overdue. The chick who cut my hair also gave me a straight razor shave, which I was none-too-comfortable with when the blade was on my jugular. Afterward, in a classic Vietnam move, this seemingly sweet lady attempted to charge me $15. The price was listed on the wall of course, 70,000 dong ($3.50). I didn’t have anything smaller on me than a 100,000 note and I knew I wouldn’t get change, which meant I had to argue with her for ten minutes for the right to be overcharged by a little bit rather than a lot. This is the number one complaint I here amongst fellow tourists here. Most locals I’ve met here have been fantastic people, but there is rampant dishonesty and grey-area theft like this all over the place. I’ve been short-changed, overcharged, lied to, or just plain old stolen from more times in my two weeks and counting in Vietnam than I was in the four months prior in six other countries combined.
I suppose I should be fair and praise the Gem Cafe in Hue for being honest and hassle free. They sell water and bottled juices and whatnot for supermarket prices, and it only cost me $3 to rent a motorbike from them.
Anyway, on to the pics!
Behold, the Vietnamese ajuma. Only in Vietnam, this uniform isn’t restricted to middle aged ladies, young women do this too. When the sun is out, Vietnamese women cover up head to toe, and even wear hoods, masks, and huge sunglasses. Most of these jackets are specially designed so that the top half of the cuffs are longer than the bottom to keep these women’s hands covered. If not, they just where gloves. Is it modesty? Nope, total vanity. Korean women and Thai women fear the sun because they want to be as pale as possible, but Vietnamese put them to shame, wearing hoods and masks and gloves when it’s 5,000 degrees outside.
I really wanted to do a DMZ tour, but it sounded kinda awful – it starts at the crack of dawn, it takes 14 hours, and the vast majority of time is spent in the bus traveling the long distances between sights. Thus, the DMZ bar was about the closest I got. I suppose I did cross the former border on my night train from Hue to Ninh Binh.