It was still dark when I woke up to go catch my flight to Hue. I was only half awake when I stepped out of my hotel and on the tiny stairs outside (just 3 steps!) I managed to somehow roll my ankle and collapse in a heap w/ my huge backpack on. It’s pretty embarrassing, falling like that, and to make matters worse, my knee was bleeding pretty good when I got up and my ankle was throbbing. Just great. The only thing the taxi driver had for me to put on my knee was a sheet of paper from his dirty notebook. I rinsed my knee with water upon arriving to the airport, but it ended getting infected, I think, and ended up oozing mysterious gunk for the next few days. Yuck.
Pretty much all the flights to Hue had been full that day, and I had been lucky enough to snag the very last seat… caryn had to stay behind and catch a flight the next day. The seat that I got was business class, and only cost like $20 more than economy. Flying business class was actually pretty cool. I got to hang out in the business class lounge before the flight where you could get free soup, snacks, and drinks. On the flight, the seats were all comfy, we got hot towels a few times, and the food was nicer than economy. At the end of our flight, the shuttle to the terminal took off as soon as the last business class passenger got on board, even though there were only like 10 of us, and left the economy passengers behind to wait for the next one. Wow, so this is how the other half lives?
My brother’s flight came in later that day. It was really exciting to see him. We had hung out for a couple of weeks in Japan, and it was cool to get to hang out w/ him in a foreign country again. It had been a bit of a toss up near the end as to whether he would be able to come or not, but in the end, he was able to do it, if only for a super short 6 day trip. We went out to dinner where he told me about his adventures over the last day (he had spent a day in Saigon on his own. Somehow my brother always gets into some zany situations when he’s on his own abroad.
Dinner was pretty good. In Hue, there are many dishes were you put together your own food at the table. They serve you these super thin rice paper wrappers, and you fill them w/ various meats, vegetables, and other fillings. Daniel looked a bit nervous at first, but I think he ended up being ok w/ the food. The owner of this restaurant was this deaf mute guy who was hella funny as he kept miming these different things to us. After our meal, he made us each a bottle opener made out of a stick with a bolt through it. He set each of our bottle openers on a large 22 ounce beer and then made a karate chopping motion and pointed at the two beers. No way. Was he really gonna open both beers at one w/ one karate chop?!? Yup. Smack! And both bottles opened right up. So cool! After dinner, we walked around town for a little longer, but my brother was super jetlagged, and so we crashed out early.
Caryn met up with us today and we went to go check out town. Unfortunately, it was raining. Everywhere, the streets were filled w/ people riding scooters while wearing huge ponchos or riding bikes in ponchos. Often times, there would be like 3 or 4 people on a scooter, with one huge poncho covering all of them, and only the person in front could actually see out while the rest of the people were completely covered. How scary would that be… riding on a scooter in the rain and unable to see anything whatsoever? It’s crazy, scooters are so popular here, that a lot of the ponchos have a clear panel about half way down the front. Why? So the scooter’s headlight can shine through the poncho at night.
Hue is divided into two main parts, the old city which has a huge citadel with lots of pagodas etc, and the new city which is more modern. Since the thought of walking in the rain all day didn’t sound to appealing, we all rented cyclos and had them cart us around to some of the major sites. It’s funny, whenever I would see a tourist in a cyclo, I would roll my eyes and think that it was such a cheesy touristy thing to do… but really, it’s quite a nice way to spend a few hours. It’s pretty relaxing to just sit back and check out different parts of town. Our drivers would give us brief descriptions of stuff that we drove by, at least as much as they could w/ their limited English, and also showed us how to get into some places that seemed inaccessible.
There are several ponds in the citadel area and one of them was filled with an insane amount of koi. This guy would throw food into the water and all the koi would swarm around. There were so many that some of them were slithering over each other and were coming out of the water in order to get at the food!
Later that day we went to go check out the Thien Mu pagoda. It’s this multi-story tower and is for many people the symbol of Hue.
For dinner that night, we ate at a French Vietnamese restaurant. Caryn and I ordered a set menu and there was an insane amount of food… like 8 or 9 courses. Pretty much all of it was really good, but by the end we were sooo stuffed.
We decided to take a tour of the DMZ, the “demilitarized” zone that used to separate north and south Vietnam. I’ve never really been a war buff or anything, but I think it’s important to learn about such things and also, knowing a country’s history tells you a lot about why the country is the way it is today. I’ve been on some crappy tours in my time, with guides who just droned on and on, or were barely intelligible and honestly I didn’t have the highest expectations for this one. But it turned out that our tour guide was super good. He actually had grown up in this area and had hung out w/ American soldiers when he was a kid. His uncle and brother had fought in the south Vietnam army during the war. He had lived during Vietnam’s communism days where all businesses were owned by the government, and people had to live off food coupons that gave them 1 pound of meat for a whole month. All of the stories he told were very personalized and thus extremely fascinating. Other than knowing that the Vietnam war was pretty unpopular by many in the US and about the protests etc, I actually knew very little about the war, so it was very interesting to learn about it.
On the tour we stopped by many areas that played key roles during the war. First, we stopped by the bridge over the Ben Hai river which used to separate north and south Vietnam. The next stop was one of the highlights of the tour. During the war, the Vietnamese built a lot of underground tunnels where many people would live to keep themselves safe from American bombing. A lot of these tunnels are gone now, but some of them, like the vinh moc tunnels still exist and you can walk around inside them. It’s so nuts… these tunnels are so tiny, you cant really fully stand up and they’re only like 3 feet wide. So cramped! It’s insane to think that many many families lived here for years on end. Each family would get a small “room” to themselves that was maybe like 5 feet by 6 feet wide. Just being down there for the 20 minute tour made me feel extremely claustrophobic and sketched out… what if the tunnels somehow collapsed? And, back when people were living here during the war, they had to always worry about bombs dropping on them and destroying the tunnels.
this is how large each family’s room was
We also stopped by the famous military base of khe san were one of the most important battles of the Vietnamese war happened. Our tour guide told us that sometimes he leads tours here for US veterans who fought in the war. I cant even imagine what that might be like… returning back to a place that must have such insane and horrific memories. All in all, it was a very informative day. It’s interesting that it took going to Vietnam to get me to learn some of my own country’s history!