Photo below: Vietnam coming right at you
As we travel I’m dreaming more than I have in several years. For example, there was a man named Paul who I’d known in the past and who was now dead. I met his daughter and then his son-in-law at a used bookstore and they were talking about him and how he’d cared about me a great deal, but I couldn’t place him. The son-in-law climbed up a display and got down a book by Paul. It was a large “art book” and when I turned it sideways I could see Paul's image on the book and then I knew who he was.
I remembered him well and with affection. He had been a good man; a good man and a tragic man like Larry of Larry and Nina. I opened the book and realized it was about seeing – as in seeing/experiencing the essence of things. I bought the book for $25 though it was too big to be carrying in Vietnam. I could tell his daughter and her husband really loved him.
Yesterday we ran into Danny and Marloes (the people from Amsterdam we’d met at Halong Bay) in a market alley off Ta Hien/Dihn Liet Street, where people would ride up on their motorcycles to shop for underwear and what have you. We went to the bun cha place on Hang Manh Street where we feasted on bun cha and nem – what else - and then walked to the Intimex Store. While David, Leslie, Marloes, and Danny were shopping I had an espresso in the nearby coffee shop. Then the Dutch contingent was off to take the long bus ride
Hanoi to Vientiane to Luang Prabang and we walked back to the hotel. Photo: David and Leslie near Hue
Our last night in Hanoi David and I again ate at the King Café, where Leslie and I ate several times in 2007. I think we had chicken with chilis, pork with garlic, rice, and beer.
Here is what I wrote on Trip Advisor about the Camellia 4 in Hanoi (written in Hue):
We stayed at the Camellia 4 Dec 4-13 2010. We first stayed 2 nights at another hotel (Sunshine 2), but Camellia 4 was a better deal (larger room,
quieter area, better breakfast buffet, more helpful staff). The room was $25USD (including tax) for a double and went up to $30 when another person arrived and we changed to a triple. Photo: Roadside cafe, the whole thing carried by one woman
The area was good in that there was tourist infrastructure, but most of the businesses were Vietnamese-oriented. It was quieter than (for example) Ma May Street, but really there are few or no quiet areas in Hanoi.
When we went to Halong Bay a mistake
was made with the room we were supposed to get on our return. The night manager was creative and effective in figuring out a solution to solve the problem - very impressive. All the staff were helpful and in pleasant - especially the two women working the desk, and also housekeeping and food service. Photo: The woman in the white shirt patted Leslie as we passed
None of the staff pressured us re booking tours or onward tickets. In fact, the quieter of the two agents explained costs that a better-known travel agency (Hotels-in-Vietnam) intentionally glossed over. Basically the Camellia 4 agent gave us full disclosure and a good trip. He also responded appropriately to a problem with part of the tour.
We flew Hanoi to Hue. The airport for Hue is at Phu Bai, about 10 miles from the city. Phu Bai, where many years ago the Marine Corps had an air base. One night Jeff and I were in a tent, drinking, and a Sergeant told us to quit. He and Jeff came to blows almost instantly and Jeff not only beat him down, but the Sergeant also stepped on a lighted heat tab, which stuck to his foot and gave him a bad burn. The outcome was that Jeff was sent to Khe Sanh. Phu Bai, where I ran to jump on a plane that was taking off for Khe Sanh,
and once on discovered that it was full of 55 gallon drums of aviation fuel, a doubly bad thing as all planes flying into Khe Sanh were fired on by AA machine guns. Phu Bai, where I went for a plague shot when I was supposedly exposed to plague and of course I wasn’t current on my plague shots. Photo: Thieu Tri tomb
On the road into Hue through light traffic we passed the usual series of small shops, many small temples with the elaborate roofs of Vietnam, markets – Vietnam. Our hotel was the Binh Duong III, a nice place in a backpacker alley too narrow for anything other than motorcycles, bikes, carts, and people walking; and 10 steps across the alley is Cafe on Thu Wheels,
a classic backpacker café. The Binh Duong III is a flashpacker hotel – clean, quiet, hot water, aircon – a solid $20 triple room hotel. Photo: Thieu Tri tomb
Our first full day in Hue, Leslie and I walked across the Perfume River bridge to visit a grocery store where we’d been before, while David stayed at the hotel finishing a paper for school. It was a good walk, though hot, and coming back, a sweetness when a woman walking past us carrying one of the sticks with a heavy basket hanging from each end reached out unbidden and patted Leslie’s hand. It was this same bridge that a few years before a girl riding past me on a bike reached out and slapped me softly/firmly on the chest – the wide Suong Huong (river) flowing below.
We ate this day, as every other day, at Thu’s – so much good food:
banana pancakes with honey of course, omelets, baguettes, pork many different ways, luc lac, pho, nem, morning glory, curry, shakes, café sua da, so on and so forth – all fixed in the closet of a kitchen by the same ancient woman as before, now even more stooped. Photo: A break in the rain at Thieu Tri tomb
The next day it was raining and cold, so we hired a car to visit several of the many tombs around Hue. The tombs are very small tombs surrounded by elaborate buildings, platforms, fences, and gates. The ride into the countryside was wonderful – rainy, green, narrow road, Vietnam. We first went to the Thieu Tri tomb, which isn’t listed in some guidebooks.
It was a little run-down and completely deserted. Perfect. Photo: David at Minh Mang tomb
The rain was really coming down and we slogged through mud puddles and made our way carefully across very slippery paving stone platforms, up stone steps, across more slippery platforms through amazing gates, to mossy buildings with dragon-cornered roofs and across more platforms and run-down mossy fences inlaid with latticed tiles overlooking lakes and beyond them more platforms and buildings and fences. Finally back to the car we were wet and happy.
The second tomb was Minh Mang’s, which was larger, more elaborate, better maintained, and with a few tourists around. It was still raining and cold (for lowland Vietnam), but we went through most of the area and came out pretty wet. We spent a total of about 2.5 hours at the two tombs + time getting there. We had clarified with the woman who arranged the tour that we would go for about 4 hours. The driver, however, wanted to bring it to a stop since we’d gone to the places on the agenda. We talked on the phone with the main driver,
who said that the woman didn’t say what I said she said, and then said, “I want you to help me” (by overpaying), but didn’t want to take a lesser fee for less time. They ended up agreeing to take us to a shopping center … to dry off and warm up and visit to the Big C food court for decent banh, bun bo Hue, French fries, pad Thai, pineapple shake, and bubble tea. Photo: At Minh Mang tomb
The next day we went to the Citadel, the former imperial city – a huge complex of old gates, halls, platforms, and so on. I was there in 1967 when it was utterly deserted. Then in 1968, the VC captured Hue from the
ARVN and executed at least 2,000 people. Marines then took the city back and in the process damaged some of the imperial city, where the VC where holed up. All the damage seems repaired now and of course
there is no acknowledgement of the massacres in any guidebooks. It was another rainy grey day. Leslie pushed us onward and we covered the whole complex. Whew. Photo: Bun bo Hue and some kind of banh
After this trek, Leslie was ready to walk to Big C to get some this and that. Have mercy! Away we went (David staying back at the hotel) for another trek, rewarded by seeing a woman apparently on her firsts escalator ride clinging to the rail with both hands, close to panic. Then Leslie had an encounter with an older woman (one of the few betel chewers we saw) who couldn’t turn off the water in the toilet -
and neither could Leslie, so of course some young women also in the toilet had great fun helping the old people. Apparently Big C is a destination for country folk, because several groups of young people approached us with, “Hello!” and then cracked up laughing. My response of, “Hello, what’s your name?” sent everyone into confusion and laughter. All in all a good time was had by all.