Friday, March 4, 2011

Hue, Vietnam

March 4, 2011—Our train boarded on time, and we found our berth in Car 7, Berths 19 and 20. We were traveling in “hard sleeper,” which meant six berths, three on each side. Our berth mates were three Vietnamese women, but, luckily, our berths were on the bottom so it was easy for me to get in and out. We put our bags away and waited to leave. Since there were only bunks in the berth, we had to lie down all the time. Our train left Hanoi at 7 p.m.; unfortunately, it was too dark to see any of the countryside.

We went to tried to go to sleep early, since there was nothing to do, but our berth mates were having too much fun talking until late in the evening. Our sleep was marginal that night, and at 6 a.m. our ladies decided that it was time to get up, so we had no real choice in the matter.

We decided to go to the Dining Car for some coffee. We had to go through about five cars, but the reward was a place for us to sit down for awhile. We ordered coffee, Vietnamese coffee that is made from a syrup, and enjoyed the very green and lush countryside. It had rained the night before so everything looked nice and clean.

We returned to our car to find that the ladies had put up the two middle bunks, so it was possible for us to sit, almost. One of the women picked up their plastic coffee cups, so we were happy to see that they were conscious of trash, but that came to an end when she dropped them out the window. That was disappointing because we knew there were trash bins on the train. Then the oldest woman started asking us question such as where we had come from and where we were going. When we answered her, she gave us a hard time about our pronunciation and continued to do so throughout our conversation. We just kept smiling and even gave them “Albuquerque” to pronounce, which was quite interesting. If we had it to do over again, we would not take this train.

We arrived in Hue at 8 a.m. and found a taxi to the Romance Hotel. It is a new hotel, and the room was very nice. Yen, the front office manager, welcomed us and gave us tour information. We booked a tour of the DMZ for the next day, and then we went to the room so that I could rest my foot.

In the afternoon we walked around the block looking for a place to have lunch, and we found a small, local restaurant that served hamburgers. After lunch, my foot was becoming sore so we headed back. We relaxed during the afternoon and then ate dinner at the hotel restaurant on the top floor. Our server was the most delightful young woman named Pha. Her English was quite good, and she was very happy to talk with us. The next morning she was back at work so we chatted again during breakfast.

When we booked our tour of the DMZ, we decided to take a private tour, mainly because of my foot. The public tour could have included up to 50 people and would last 12 hours. I couldn’t see climbing up and down the bus steps all day long. Our driver Tien picked us up at 8:30, and we began our two-hour drive to the DMZ. We drove through small towns and a country side full of rice paddies. When we arrived at Dong Ha, our guide Mr. Tahm joined us. He is 57 years old so he was 15 in 1968, and he shared some stories about the area with us.

On our way to the tunnels, we stopped at a monument to the couriers during the war. There was also a statue dedicated to the women in the south waiting for their husbands to come home.
We drove to the Hien Luong Bridge on the Ben Hai River. This bridge divided the north and south from 1954 to 1956, when reunification was to take place. This did not happen and, for a number of reasons, America was eventually drawn into the war after the withdrawal of the French.

Our next stop was the Vinh Moc Tunnels. We had to drive quite a distance on a dirt road through the country side. Mr. Tahm took us to the museum on the site, and then we walked to one of the entrances. The tunnel went down about 36 to 40 feet. We saw alcoves off the main tunnel where families lived. The alcoves were about 5 feet high, 4 feet wide, and 10 feet deep. There was a maternity alcove about the same size. There was also a hospital, a nursery, and a kindergarten. The tunnels were on the shore of the Gulf of Tonkin so they had fresh air coming from the sea that funneled through the tunnels. We went down to the second level, which was about 47 feet. The tunnels were dark but illuminated by lights every now and then. The tour was very interesting; however, I was happy when we exited the tunnels.

After the tunnels, our tour seemed to fall apart. Mr. Tahm and our driver drove us by the beach on the Gulf of Tonkin and then back to Dong Ha where we ate lunch at a nice restaurant. After that Mr. Tahm said that he needed to leave, and our driver would take us back to Hue. Tien drove us back by another road so at least we had a chance to see new scenery. We did get caught in traffic when we came upon a traffic accident. Tien just drove past the backed-up trucks until he pulled up right at the wreck. Then it was only a few minutes before we were able to squeeze on the side of the road to get past the wreck.

We returned to Hue around 3:15 and Tien dropped us off at our hotel. We were very disappointed in our tour and regretted booking the private tour. We felt that Mr. Tahm and Tien were rushing us through so that they would be done early. We continue to learn as we go.

Today we went out on our own and walked across the river to the Citadel, which houses the Forbidden Purple City. The construction started in1805 under the reign of Emperor Gia Long and was completed in 1832 under the reign of Emperor Ming Mang. We saw a model in the palace that showed the complete layout. It was square in shape, was almost 7 miles in circumference, and included around 140 buildings. We enjoyed walking around the grounds and looking at the remnants of different buildings, some in better shape than others. This was well worth our time.
We walked back over the river and ended up eating lunch at the Hot Tuna Restaurant, which was just average. My foot was beginning to ache so we returned to our room. Later we enjoyed dinner at Little Italy Restaurant where we had ravioli and lasagna.
We leave in the morning on the bus to Hoi An. It is supposed to be a 4- to 5-hour bus ride—we shall see.

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