The excesses of yesterday did not seem to have left us feeling too worse for wear as we awoke for our early morning alarm call with the minimum amount of fuss and after a nice noodly breakfast, our two guides turned up on their ‘wheels of steel’. The guys were a right cool looking duo, a sort of Starchy and Hutch of the motorbiking fraternity. In fact one of them actually looked like Sting, no not the singer from the Police but the much more relevant teacher from our earlier stay at Cianjur (Java), a much more cool kind of guy. We had a very brief safety chat from the biker boys – i.e. one could not speak English at all and ‘Sting’ merely said ‘hello’, so safety chat over, we sat astride our mean machines one of us behind each guide and we were transported down the passage to the road proper.
To say that Vietnamese roads bear a strong resemblance to the old video game ‘Frogger’ was possibly an understatement as the cars, tuk tuks, motorbikes, mopeds and push bikes – along with the occasional lady carrying produce on one of those yolk devices they have over there – made the road seem like an impossible maze. To be honest I think I must have shut my eyes but I knew that we had joined the throng as I heard a distinct scream from my good wife. Once off and running and now part of the game, I realised there was actually a structure to all the mayhem. To this day I am still not really sure what the rules were that day. The main rule seemed to be that being in the biggest form of transport is best but an old lady with a stick in her hand trumps all. Right is the side of the road that you should travel on in Vietnam but this is seen as a suggestion only and lastly, you can put as much on any vehicle as you want providing your vehicle still actually moves and some of these Vietnamese definitely know a thing or two about space optimisation. If I had not been so intent on keeping both hands safely gripping my guide I could have taken some of those photos you sometimes see being passed round on the internet which upon seeing you can only applaud the fellow who is actually keeping the vehicle moving and how they have managed to bypass the laws of physics, in particular gravity. We soon found that nothing works quite the same to clear the head as being ridden towards a 5-way roundabout where everyone has the right of way and all are exercising their rights at the same time.
The first royal tomb on our tour was about 9km or so from Hue and when we arrived it took me a good while to get my arms from round my guide’s waist as my nerves had been somewhat frayed around the edges by the trip out! To get to the tomb proper you walk up some very steep steps and when you get up there it is all very grey, dark granite looking and yet very impressive but the best part is Thien Dinh Palace at the top of the structure. Inside you can see the Emperor’s sarcophagus, the decoration of which was made with stained glass and ceramics all broken into small pieces. There is also a bronze statue of the fellow as well as some black and white photos of him and his family which added to the austerity of the place. adding to the spectacle on the inside, the view from the tomb of the surrounding countryside was most impressive.
As we were crossing a river to see our next target – Emperor Minh Mang’s tomb – I took some photos at a river bridge which was quite busy but I actually managed to take something without getting run over. I hardly had to even jump out of the way as the traffic bore down. Not sure the photos were worth the trouble but there you go … when in Rome! The tomb was down a bumpy gravel track and was built on a much bigger expanse of land than the last one – 18 hectares so I believe (okay I looked it up).
A visit to the toilets when we got there informed us that ‘you defecation free’ which I am not sure was a request or an order really and the loo itself was a bit funky as it had Wild West saloon style swinging doors! Once inside, the designer of this tomb mades really good use of the natural surroundings and the nearby rivers provide water for the ponds which are a big feature of the area. It takes a good while to walk round but is well worth the effort as some of the buildings are quite interesting to see.
The last tomb we were to see before dinner was Tu Duc and this was another where its designer had made use of the water. This tomb was entirely enclosed in a high wall. Inside there was a lot of renovation going on using, what I assume were the original techniques and what could be seen of that which had already been completed was very impressive. Some of the buildings had some furniture which could have done with the renovators touch as well, at the very least it looked as if could have done with a spring clean. Although it was possibly the nicest of the three tombs and was actually made more interesting because of the work being done in it by now we were getting bit ‘tombed out’ so were quite happy when we stopped round the corner of the complex to have some noodles.
Next our guides took us to a bit of a tourist trap as we visited a conical hat and incense stick maker – not sure how the two go together but there you go. They ladies there even allowed us to have a go at making incense sticks rolling the stick in the sandalwood blend which Liz seemed to have an aptitude for but I was useless at. Against my better judgement we bought some of the sticks and I think we have used perhaps one or two of the twenty in the pack before the need for space in our backpacks took over and we had to jettison them.
After our purchases our guides then took us to a Japanese Bridge – Thanh Toan Bridge but this was after us getting lost a couple of times travelling along the lanes next to the paddy fields – to be fair they did all look a bit similar. The bridge needed a bit of TLC really as it looked somewhat dishevelled and there was a bit of rubbish in the stream it crossed and youths hanging about in it! It was a nice change from tombs though so we lapped it up. There was a building next to it touted as being a museum which had a few items of interest too, such as old farming equipment, any old tat really. By this time though we were in quite a bit of agony as we were suffering from Baboon’s bum and I have no doubt mine looked like one too. So it was quite nice when our guides told us that this was the last item before we headed off back into the sunset and back to the hotel.
After yesterday’s excesses of alcohol we decided against a repeat but instead took a more gentle stroll along the river and the dragon boats all lit up are really a cool sight. Along the river there is also a nice park with statues and the like and many locals were just doing the things locals do, hanging and chilling and eating – it was a very nice way to end our visit to Hue as tomorrow we would be moving on to Hoi An.