Our early morning pick up at Phong Nha was a pain but it did have the advantage of meaning that we arrived at Hue quite early too so not all bad. From where we were dropped off it was quite a trek with our heavy backpacks to get to where we were staying but it was well worthwhile as the hotel was boutique and fantastic. It had been one of our booking.com last minute deals but this one was an ace. On arriving our room was not yet ready so they served us some breakfast whilst we waited and then showed us upstairs to our room which was huge and first class. The room and its furnishings were excellent and our bedding and towels luxurious – I could have stayed here for a long long time if our demanding schedule allowed it. Back downstairs and the staff were really attentive too so we booked a motorcycle tour of the area for tomorrow but for today we were off out down the river and then onwards to who knows where.
The hotel arranged our boat trip and our guide arrived at the appointed time, he was a little old man on a little old bike and we had to follow him! He did not go too fast but we had been up for ages, so we did not follow too quickly either and at one point almost lost him. He did wait for us, possibly as part of his customer care course, and then directed us to his little boat. It was a dragon looking boat but had just that little bit more dinge than some of the others parked along the riverside but its advantage was its cheapness so we could not really complain. Inside also looked quite well ‘lived in’ but we were okay and at least it seemed seaworthy, which is always good even if we were only traversing a river.
Downriver we sailed, during this time the captain’s good wife tried to show us things in an attempt at selling but her technique was not particularly ‘hard sell’ so we turned them down after looking through her wares, so we had at least both played our relative parts. The river was beautiful and the day was doing its best to look sunny as well so all was good. We reached the An Quang pagoda which was showing signs of needing a bit of restoration but it was still very impressive. Inside the complex was a very old blue car this was the car driven by ‘The Most Venerable Thich Quang Duc’ a buddhist monk, who drove to an intersection in Saigon in it, he then proceeded to get out sit down in the lotus position and set light to himself, burning himself to death in protest of the regime at the time who were discriminating against Buddhists. I am still hoping we get to see some lighter exhibits in this town as well – gulp!
Next door to the pagoda’s grounds was also a cemetery, which again does not make for great viewing or perhaps reading here so we left, boarding our boat and were dropped off at the river stop outside Hue’s Citadel – Kinh Thanh.
This place is massive and has a very impressive entrance to it as well, you walk into it over a huge moat. It is the size of a small town all by itself and even without all of the crafted buildings inside it is worth seeing simply to understand the scale of the construction – very industrious people these Vietnamese. Much of the inside is damaged as it was bombed by the French and Americans during various wars but that said, a great deal still remains. It does need a lot of work but it would be such a large undertaking, we did not walk round the whole place and our feet were killing us.
Outside of the Citadel on the walk back to get back to the bridge to take us across to our side of the river we saw some military equipment that had been captured from the Americans during the Vietnamese War. Not sure, but it looked as though this stuff had been restored much more readily than some of the more precious things housed in the Citadel. I think it is a bit of crowing on their part but they did in some ways defeat a super power so perhaps feel that they have earned the right but no war is good and it would be nicer if they had spent their funds in the Citadel for my money.
Over the bridge we rocked up at a bar not too far from our hotel which had been recommended by the Lonely Planet, the DMZ Bar. This was a nice welcoming place with a cool line in beers that just seemed to keep on coming. Of course we had to keep on ordering them, they do not just appear on their own but it was a very welcoming place as I have already said so it would have been rude not to. Liz, normally a bit more cautious under this kind of bottle-fire seemed well up for a spot of afternoon drinking so we carried on, chatting and watching the world go by, both inside and outside the bar! In particular a poorly equipped scaffolder who for some strange reason, reminded me of hime. It all ended messily with us playing pool against each other and then one of the waiters, who got told off. Then I had to half walk, half carry my poor inebriated wife back to our luxurious room back at the hotel. Our hotel manager was even still up but sitting outside the place playing guitar with a friend as I poured Liz past them and into the hotel!