This post is a long time coming due to a lack of proper Internet connection. It’s strange, in some places the wi-fi has been selective of the websites it allows me to access. For instance, one place allowed Skype to work, but no websites. This current hotel let me access email, Skype and news sites, but would not load my blog or Facebook. Even though wi-fi is readily available here, it has a mind of its own.
After taking the overnight train to/from Sapa, I decided to jump on the train from Hanoi to Hue. I was thinking about trying out the overnight bus as it was a little cheaper, but decided I’d stick with the train since I knew what I was getting myself into. Ready with a bahn mi tofu sandwich in hand, I rolled out my traveling sheets and set up shop for my ride. It was here that I bumped into Vidya who would become my traveling buddy while continuing on to Hoi An.
Vidya and I hit it off from the start. She is from NY and has also been on the road since October and man, was it nice to have someone to chat with. We totally complained about our first world problems, what it has been like travelling on your own for so long and everything in between including boys, family and food. Lots and lots of talk about food. It was a GREAT train ride and made for a wonderful 4 days afterwards.
Once I arrived in Hue, I gave myself only one day to see the town so I could head down to the beach before Saigon. I decided to rent a scooter (I was trained in Pai, if you remember) to make everything just a little more accessible. Many people tried to flag me down to act as a tour guide for the sites and foolish as I am, I thought I could figure out the streets on my own and kept going. I’ll be honest, it’s more the act of flagging me down that just rubs me the wrong way. I never realized how much my personal space means to me until recently. So anyway, I took off in some general direction and it was here that I met another wonderful lady name Rooni, all within 24 hours of Vidya. Luck was on my side.
Rooni is a local farmer who lives in a small village about 10 km outside of the city center. She stumbled upon me while I was visibly lost and trying to find one of the various tombs for which Hue is known. She took pity on me (probably because I’m around the same age as her kids) and started chatting with me. Her kids are 20 and 18, attending a local university in Hue. They learned English in school and thank the lord, taught their mom who was my savior for the day. The tomb was in the same direction as her village so she told me she would drop me off close by and point me in the right direction. I followed her through the craziest backroads and I must say, I’m now a totally capable scooter driver. I have driven in Vietnam meaning I can scooter anywhere.
When we arrived at our crossroads, Rooni tried to explain to me how to get the rest of the way. While I’m sure the directions would be easy for most, my eyes must have glazed over and returned a look of sheer fright because she just started laughing. I had no idea where I was or where I was going and a prickle of panic was working its way up my spine. Rooni looked at her watch and said, “my daughter will come back from school at 4pm, I am free until then. Come, I take you, but let’s have some tea first.” We went to her house in the village pictured above and talked for 30 minutes about everything that we could feasibly communicate to each other. She told me about her kids, what they were studying and the life of a farmer. I had just finished Outliers where there was a chapter describing the life of a rice farmer so I definitely had great respect for the amount of hard work day in and out by Rooni and her husband. I told her about my family, my travels and explained the differences between American measurements (km versus miles, liters versus ounces). She was particularly interested in this since she heard about 5 families who had moved to California. It was an amazing discussion and experience to have someone open up their house like that.
Afterwards, we set off on a little tour of two tombs: Minh Mang and Khai Dinh. These emperors had some pretty extravagant tombs made. At least the Taj Mahal was intended to be more than just a tomb so its grandeur is understandable. These kings just wanted beauty all around them in death. Rooni then dropped me off at the Thien Mu Pagoda where there were some beautiful views of Hue. She had to take off from here and before she left, I wanted to give her something for all the time we had spent together. After everything I had heard about her kids and how hard they work to put them through school, I asked her how much tuition was for their university. I gave her enough for one month of tuition ($100) and she almost started crying. It was such an amazing feeling and day and I was so thankful for the time we had spent together.
Hue is another UNESCO site in Vietnam with famous ruins from the Nguyen dynasty. Many of those ruins were destroyed by us damn Americans, which was truly awful to see. The Vietnam War is just such an upsetting time in history to look back on and it just sucks to see the damage that we did first hand. It kind of made me feel guilty and embarrassed as I walked through the ruins and I was thankful for the blonde-haired blue-eyed stereotype of Americans. I was masked by my Indian heritage and was pretty happy that I could hide behind it.
They have rebuilt and restored certain parts of the Imperial city but you can see barren portions where the structures were completely destroyed by B52 bombs. There was once an arena of sorts where they would have an elephant and tiger fight. Since the elephant was the symbol of the emperor, they would rig the fight to ensure the elephant’s victory. The poor tiger’s teeth and nails would be removed so his demise was certain. Made me sad. 😦
After a very busy day of all these sites, I met up with Vidya for an amazing Indian dinner. We continued to chat and decided to link up for the 8am bus to Hoi An and booked a hotel for the next two nights. I had no idea what was in store for me, but Vidya, a wonderful fashionista, gave me a little warning about Hoi An’s reputation as a shopping destination. Needless to say, my budget went to hell in the best possible way.