Hue is the daddy of Vietnam's cultural and religious centres, and is the home to the royal tombs of the Nguyen Dynasty,plus an array of pagodas and a grand, crumbling Citadel. We arrived here after a mere 5hrs by bus,during which we sat directly behind the chain-smoking driver who stuck his head out of the window every 30 seconds to spit phlegm down the side of the bus. I buried my head in my book and tried to control my gag reflex.
We were staying in the run-down "Sports Hotel". This place couldn't have looked less sporty if it tried. When the rest of the class was running cross-country, this old place was hiding behind the bikesheds, having a fag. With peeling paint and filthy bathtub, it looked nothing like the picture on the flyer.
We wandered around town and visited the citadel.That night, we met up with the Northern lads Richard and Bongo who we'd bumped into at various intervals around South East Asia. We had arranged to go to the "Why Not?" Bar in the centre of town. ("Why not?" "Because it's empty, that's why not, " we quipped half-heartedly as we sat waiting for them, peeling the labels from our local beer).It was 10pm on a Saturday night and the place was like a ghost town.The boys were happy though, as there was a pool table and English football was blaring on the TV inside.
The next morning we hired a couple of moto's (motorbike taxis) and gave the drivers a few hundred thousand Dong to take us to all the major attractions.Liam did the deal on the price,subtly covering his nose to avoid inhaling the fish sauce breath coming from between the driver's rotting stumps that once called themselves teeth.It was quite exhilarating experience, clinging to the back of the bike as he took the bends at 45 degree angles and bouncing me high into the air as we hit rocks. I attempted to keep the little kid-sized crash helmet perched atop my big western head, whooping with delight as I was thrown off my seat. At least I couldn't smell his breath at this speed.
We visited various multi-tiered pagodas, the majestic old tomb of Emperor tu Duc, the tomb of Minh Mang and several temples, surrounded by the biggest Bonsai trees I'd ever seen. The temples were set next to a stunning lake with pine trees lining the banks. Hue was one of the most heavily-bombed sites during the Vietnam war, and our drivers took us to a viewpoint overlooking the river. They did explain the relevance of this detour but we couldn't understand a word they said. It was pretty anyway.They seemed to be speaking Vietnamese, with an English word thrown in every other sentence. We asked them questions but they stared at us blankly. Speaking louder didn't help. In the end we all took to nodding and smiling, neither party knowing what on earth was being said. I could have insulted their mothers and they'd have just beamed at me. We returned to our hotel in the afternoon, wind-swept and dusty from the bike-ride. There was just time for an Italian meal and a quick explore of the local shops before continuing up the coast to Hanoi for our final stopoff in Vietnam...