22.05.2016 - 24.05.2016
Edited 15th September: a few photos added at the bottom!
At some point I promised to come back to update this blog where we left it in Vietnam, which seems like forever ago now! It was indeed a few months ago. Writing from a motel in New Zealand, I'm glad I've got the itinerary and our wealth of photos to refer back to!
After our interesting overnight train journey, we clambered off at Huế station. Naively I just assumed there would be a platform... but instead you stepped off the train (from quite a height) on to grassy wasteland beside the tracks! Off we went in to the city of Huế where we stayed in quite a nice hotel. The city was noticeably quieter and less hectic than Hanoi - it was obviously a much much smaller city and this was quite a welcome change for me (Tim was a little keener on the Hanoi buzz!). After a group lunch we visited the Imperial Citadel, which once housed the ruling emperor's palace, and was badly damaged during the war. There were some lovely flowers and features amongst the damaged buildings, and the fact they hadn't been restored meant they were more authentic.
That evening we met up with a friend of mine who was actually temporarily living in Huế. She had been there for about six months teaching English, and I had kept in touch with her and mentioned we may be able to meet up during our trip to Vietnam. As it happened she was at the very end of her teaching contract and about to leave, but we managed to meet up for a drink with her and her other teacher friends. It was one of the only nights we went out without our tour group after dinner, and we went to a roof bar in Huế which was surprisingly full of westerners (we had seen hardly any around before that point).
The next day was a real hoot. After breakfast we congregated outside the hotel where we were met by our guide and a group of motorbike drivers. We each took a set of motorbike keys at random and found the driver the bike belonged to. Then we hopped on the back and got driven around for the day by our individual drivers. Looking back towards the end of the trip, it was one of our favourite days in Vietnam. We laughed so much and had a really enjoyable day. It wasn't overly comfortable being on the back of a motorbike in trousers and a helmet in the stifling heat but that didn't matter. We were taken off through the city, down narrow side streets, through residential areas along a meandering river, out through rice paddies, and one of our stops was the local food markets.
^ Rice paddies being seeded by hand; the farming was much more rudimental than we are used to with water buffalos and cows being used in place of tractors. We did see some machinery but it was often very old fashioned and required some form of pedal-power (no engines or motors).
^ The local markets outside the city, where Vietnamese people shopped daily for food (not a single tourist in sight, just us). There was a vast array of products on sale, many of which we didn't photograph as some of them were a bit unpleasant to smell or look at! For example, meat and fish covered in what seemed like hundreds of flies. There were also some smaller live animals, such as buckets of toads, sold for meat. Our guide explained that the market stalls were run only by women; men stayed away!
Later we stopped at the Forbidden City. This was once home to the ruling Nguyễn emperors and their concubines. They would choose concubines from the normal population who would then be sent away from their families to essentially be imprisoned in the grounds. After a fun bumpy ride off-road through some pine forests, we stopped for photos by the perfume river and then went on to visit a 17th century Buddhist monastery.
True to form our internet is playing up so I can't upload any more photos tonight but I'll try again next time. Now done - see bottom.
We then took a boat trip down the perfume river, before being collected by our drivers again and driven to a wonderful 5-course vegetarian lunch freshly prepared at a nunnery. Finally we visited some tombs before our convoy weaved back through the city traffic to our hotel. Everyone had a great time!