Hue, a VERY rainy former capital
13.12.2011 - 16.12.2011 68 °F
I've been in Hue for about 16 hours and I think it's been raining 15 of those hours. I went out for lunch and came back absolutely SOAKING. I'm not worried about my clothes - they'll dry - but I had my guide book in my bag and the bottom is all swollen up with moisture. It'll dry too, but the bottom will always be out of shape. Most of you know how much I love to read, so you shouldn't be surprised to learn that that ruined book will always be lurking in the back of my mind. Oh well, on to other topics.
Before Hue, I was in Ha Long Bay (HLB). I can tell everyone now (I've avoided telling my mom since I've been planning my trip) that I was unsure if I wanted to take a boat trip or not. HLB is definitely on most travellers' "Places to Visit" List, but since it's so popular, sometimes "companies" and individuals decide to start up tours on their boats and bad things can happen. This past February, one of those boats sank and killed 12 people on board. I finally decided that I would take the boat trip anyway, but not tell my mom about this until I returned to dry land. Hey mom, I'm fine!
I first saw HLB in the James Bond movie "Tomorrow Never Dies." It showed some absolutely STUNNING scenery! Prior to that, I'd only thought of Vietnam as "the place where my dad was during the war." I should give you my disclaimer now - I never enjoyed taking History classes (who can remember what event or political document caused which war to break out?), so I can ask some pretty stupid questions. After watching the movie, I asked one of those questions. I remember going downstairs to the kitchen and asking my dad if he'd seen HLB while in Vietnam. He said he didn't think so, but asked where in Vietnam it was. I went back upstairs to look it up, then told him, "the northern part, close to China." He gave me a look like "are you really that clueless?" (my dad would be a brilliant Military History Professor!) and said, "No, Holli, I don't think I made it up to that part." At least I understood why pretty quickly after he gave me his answer.
Anyway, I feel like HLB is a must-see for every traveller to Vietnam. For those of you who haven't heard of it (it was just chosen as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World) or seen it, let me show you a few pictures. It's hard to choose from the many pictures I took, but I'll try to limit myself.
My boat, the Dragon Pearl 2
My room, 303
Getting ready for our first lunch on board
A dog on an island - one of at least 3 (dogs, that is)
On the bay
Kayaks at sunset
Sunset of the first day
Dinner in a cave
Carved boat & eagle
Leaving the cave
10/11 of the passengers (one was sick)
8/10 of the crew (2 cooks were cleaning in the kitchen)
There were 11 passengers on board - three groups of 2, one family of 4 and myself. At times, it kinda stunk being the only solo traveller, but by the end of the ride, most of us thought that one of the best parts of the trip was the small size of the group. We ate all meals together and did a really good job of not always sitting next to the same people. Therefore, we got to talk to different people and I think some people will be keeping in touch with each other later on. I was the only American ("The Quiet American," if you will, since I'm shy when with groups where I don't already know someone) among 4 New Zealanders, 2 Brits, 2 Canadians, 1 Australian and 1 Malaysian (who is living in Australia). And for every passenger, there was one crew member! Actually, there were 10 crew and 1 tour guide, but the ratio of Vietnamese to foreigners was still 1:1.
If you're ever planning a boat ride in HLB, I highly recommend Indochina Junks (Dragon Pearl 2, specifically). The website is http://indochina-junk.com/. That's a free plug, by the way.
After a long van ride back to Hanoi and a short rest at my first hotel, I took another van to the airport and arrived in Hue just a short time later. I got to the hotel around 10 pm and was given a juice, a fried egg and a couple of pieces of toast with 2 flavors of homemade jam - passion fruit and pineapple. Both were good, but my favorite was the pineapple. Since I'd not had time for dinner, this was a nice welcome to the hotel. I found this hotel (all of my hotels) on Trip Advisor and it's rated the #1 hotel in Hue. That's amazing, especially considering the room I booked is only $15/night. I checked their website (http://hueninohotel.com/) later and found out that the $15 room doesn't have a window, so when I arrived, I asked if I could upgrade. I now have a large window in my room at the front of the hotel on the fourth floor (no elevator again) for a whopping $18/night. I haven't taken any pictures of the lobby yet, but that's one of my goals for tomorrow.
My room in Hue
The other side of my room in Hue
As you can see, this is defintely an "artsy" hotel. I'm thinking about asking where they purchased the large (pink) painting in my room and then trying to find a smaller one to take/send back to China. It would look great over my dining room table! There's been lots of things I'd love to buy and take back, but I'm hoping to finish most of my shopping on my last day in Vietnam. That way, I don't have to cart things around from city to city for the next 2 weeks.
Unfortunately, I don't have much to tell you about Hue other than that the rain is unrelenting! I wanted to go to an Indian place for lunch and on the map, it's definitely walking distance from my hotel. Even though it's not so far away, two things happened - I couldn't find it and I was soaking wet by the time I sat down to eat at another restaurant (Phuoc Thanh Garden Restaurant, #37 out of 62 restaurants in Hue). I didn't know the rating when I sat down and while I admit I wasn't crazy about the appetizers (not bad, not great), the lemon chicken, veggies and fresh mango for dessert were great. I purchased a set menu and a soda and spent $9.94. Tonight, if I want to brave the cold rain for a second time today, I may try for the Indian place again, but this time I will definitely follow the recommendation of hotel staff and take a taxi!
It's still supposed to be raining tomorrow (it's the rainy season in central Vietnam now, but 82 degrees and sunny in Ho Chi Minh City in the south!). If I can survive the cold wet weather here, I get my reward later. Tomorrow, I hope to be a bit luckier, though. I'll borrow the rain poncho the hotel offered today and I'm probably renting a private car to take me to a couple of the tombs of past emperors, as well as the Citadel (Imperial City) and Forbidden City that were the center of government when Hue was the capital of Vietnam.
I've learned that taking pictures in bright sun doesn't give you the best light, but I'd prefer that to taking pictures in the gray, cold rain. We'll just have to see.
I think that's enough for now - I hope you've continued reading this far and didn't stop from pure boredom - I know I can ramble. Until next time...