After a 10 hour night bus ride from Doc Let to Hoi An, I was in no mood to be hassled. I found my hotel, the perfectly situated Hoang Trinh, and collapsed for a beautiful 3 hour nap. It’s good to suffer, it makes the simpler creature comforts more enjoyable.
Hoi An is a beautiful old town, brimming with charm and full of character. It’s reknown for its tailors and seamstresses, and has a reputation for being able to copy any piece of clothing. Which is all well and fine, but I was now down to one pair of shorts, so I wasn’t going to be picking up any 3 piece suits. “Right now”, I’m thinking, “I need socks more than anything else”.
Hoi an was pretty mellow in the end. It is also known for it’s fish wrapped in banana leaf which is delicious. I certainly enjoyed my hotel’s location next to a Buddhist temple and the young lady at the front desk who showed me such hospitality. The great attraction outside Hoi An is My Son Temple, one of the last remaining ruins of the Cham Dynasty. Angkor Wat is the more glorified one in Cambodia, but My Son is very well maintained considering the bombardment it received. Apparently, the US was bombing the pants off it during the war until an archaeologist sent Nixon a letter imploring him to stop. Nixon complied. Fortunately, there still a lot left to look at. I took a day trip out there to get into the jungle a bit and take a look around. The humidity was heavy, but the ruins were in good nick. It’s best to visit My Son at sunrise, before the tour buses arrive. It’s quiet and peaceful at that hour. You can almost imagine what it must have been like there 1500 years ago tripping back through time.
The bus up to Hue took 3 hours, and fortunately I was armed once again with a good hotel rec from my friend Brad from Doc Let. It makes life so much easier to have a reference. In Hue I stayed at Nguyen Tri Phuong Hotel located in the center of the city. For 10 bucks a night it was clean and comfortable with air con and hot water. The highlight of Hue is the Imperial City, a massive endeavor that the royalty of the past used as their own village, per se, akin to the Vatican in scope and concept. A forbidden city of shrines, palaces, and pleasure gardens, the Imperial City entertained me for hours. After watching the groundkeepers use weed whackers on broad stretches of grass, I couldn’t help but devise a strategy for importing lawn mowers.
One thing that I noticed throughout my travels was the desire from the Vietnamese to learn English. At my local restaurant I met two sweet girls, Trang and Jinny, who worked there for free just to meet Westerners and practice English. I spent a great afternoon with them, driving out of town to the main pagoda on their motorbikes, just talking and talking until we ran out of things to say. As soon as Trang asked what kind of soap I liked, I knew it was time to go home.
Before I left Hue for Hanoi, I had the next morning and afternoon to play with, so I decided to find a way to visit a few of the famous tombs that the monarchs of the Imperial City had built for themselves. In the morning a cyclo driver named Ming tried to befriend me, telling me that he had seen me yesterday outside the Imperial City. I guess I stood out. So rather than ignore him as I normally would have done, and as he had expected I would, I asked him to join me for a coffee. I told him I wanted to see some tombs, and he initially told me he’d take me all around on a motorbike for 12 dollars. By the time I walked back to my hotel, the price was down to four. I had a great time getting chauffered to the top tombs, like Minh Mang and Tu Duc, for a song. When he dropped me off at the train station 6 hours later, I tipped him an extra five dollars, doubling his fare. He was ecstatic, gave me a hug, and sat with me for 45 minutes until my train came. If I would have stayed in Hue, he would have become my man servant, no doubt.