I woke up when our bus stopped in Hue at 7am -after a journey of almost 12 hours- and started letting all passengers off. After getting our motorbikes and luggage back, since it was still early (but most shops were already open) and we had a lot of time, we decided to go find a mechanic and have them take a look at Silvia’s motorcycle, as the combination of a malfunctioning clutch and a completely useless electric start were making it hard for her to ride in traffic as it would continuously stop and she would have to use the slightly jammed kickstarter.
We popped in a shop that looked like a mix between a motorcycle repair shop and a travel agency where a man with a decent English told us they couldn’t help us and escorted us to the mechanic’s shop and helped us explain our problem (obviously in exchange for a small tip). After a good half hour of fiddling everything seemed to be sorted and just round the corner from the garage we found a place to spend the night, where for 10$ each we got a beautiful front-facing and spacious double room with a balcony.
After dropping off our luggage we started wandering around with our motorcycles, I don’t think we were looking for anything in particular -we might have stopped to buy some water- but I remember a man on a scooter asking whether we needed a guide for the day. It did sound like a good idea and he seemed nice, but we were still wary at first, then he showed us a notebook where he collected all the comments and references of his previous clients, which were all written in many different languages but were all very positive and enthusiastic, so we decided to give the plan a try.
The guide was called some complicated name that included “Van” and “Duc”, but since I can’t remember and our very first travel journal was lost, I am going to refer to him as Duc.
Duc would lead the way with his scooter and we would follow; it was nice to enjoy the riding without having to stress about finding the right way. Our first stop were Tu Hieu temple and pagoda. The temple was nice but both Silvia and I were way more thrilled by the small red pagoda and the beautiful bell we found in it.
I am not sure why- maybe the pretty colours of the pagoda, maybe it was the majesty of the bell, or the inspiring poem, the fact we could play with the bell, or everything combined- we ended up spending most of the time of that visit under the pagoda, it was truly peaceful and beautiful.
We then left to go back to Duc, who had been waiting with the bikes and we noticed another small wooden pagoda by a tiny lake with some big rocks in it, a zig-zaggy bridge would cross to the other side and everything was surrounded by trees. As we were admiring the decorations of the pagoda a monk arrived there with a girl, he was holding a bowl with some dark liquid, some brown spheres and ice and when he invited us to join him and his friend I knew perfectly that inside her head Silvia was saying “no no no” to that bowl full of ice (or “dysentery” as we would jokingly call it) that could have been dangerous for our delicate westerner’s stomachs, but then I could not resist and said we would have gladly joined them. We sat down and started chatting with the monk -he spoke a reasonably good English, unlike his friend that could only understand- while drinking what we much later realised was tamarind juice. It was delicious and sweet and after drinking we ate the tamarinds (the dark spheres) that were in it.
After saying goodbye to the monk and his friend we went back to Duc and our motorcycles and he took us to see the traditional making of cinnamon incense sticks and the Vietnamese traditional conical hat. The conic hat is commonly used in many countries in South East Asia but the Vietnamese one- or at least the authentic Vietnamese ones- have a poem written inside, it doesn’t show at first sight but it can be seen with some backlight going through the dry leaves the hat is made of.
I couldn’t resist and bought a hat, especially because we were told that we could only find the ones with the poem inside in the Hue area (which turned out to be true). Silvia bought some incense sticks and then we sat down to drink some water with some indian movie being broadcasted on the tv the artisans kept switched on in the background.
I just realised that I keep writing about us stopping, sitting down and having some water. Well let me explain this: stopping and sitting down was mainly to observe and contemplate our surroundings, maybe have a cigarette break every once in a while. Water was a constant in the whole trip. Although I might have forgotten to mention it, the weather was extremely hot and humid so we really needed to keep ourselves constantly hydrated.
Our next stop was a fortress nearby, the tomb of Tu Duc (I don’t think that him and “our” Duc were related), an emperor that ruled Vietnam during the second half of the 1800s. What stroke me most was not the tomb in itself nor the architecture and gardens around it but rather the renovation works that were being carried out on the site. There were very few men, with very few tools, throwing cement where structures were broken and shaping it in a very rough and imprecise way; I guess in Vietnam there aren’t many people studying to become restorers.
After wandering around the tomb and the big garden surrounding it we walked to a nearby bar/restaurant/shop where Duc was waiting after having had his lunch. We found him napping so decided we would order something to eat before our next stop.
Once again, on our bikes we followed Duc to the next destination; we stopped along the border of a pine forest and parked our motorcycles. We crossed the forest in the direction he showed us and just as we started seeing in between the trees parts of a river, we saw some structures in cement: the old American bunkers used during the war, just a few steps away from a spectacular viewpoint overlooking the Perfume River. Again the contradiction: beauty and nature on one side, violence and death on the other.
The Perfume River and the American bunkers were our last stop, but before heading back Duc said that he wanted to treat us to the best coffee in Hue; of course we couldn’t refuse such an offer. We followed him to a place, on the street, where the coffee-maker had set up a sort of outdoors bar with some plastic stools, tables, a cover to protect customers from the sun and a market barrow where they had all the necessary tools and ingredients to prepare some delicious coffee. We sat at a table and Duc explained to us that it is common practice in Vietnam to drink tea while waiting for the coffee to be ready, and because of the hot weather, the tea is full of ice. Silvia asked for an ice-free tea; I on the contrary was feeling adventurous and fearless and was determined to do things “the way the locals do”, regardless of the risk of upsetting my stomach with “dirty ice”, I am sure Silvia thought I was pushing my luck there.
By the time Duc came back with the three cups of tea, I had thought out the perfect strategy: I thought that drinking the tea fast would not allow the ice to melt much, therefore decreasing the risk of “dysentery”. And so I did: I almost downed my tea, what happened next was not quite as planned: Duc thought I enjoyed the tea so much that he immediately went to get me another cup -with ice of course! Silvia was silently laughing her head off.
e noticed that everywhere around us there were just men, Duc explained to us that we were sitting just outside of the military station and everyone else around us were plainclothes soldiers, we kept chatting until our coffees were ready.
Coffee also went with ice, and a layer of condensed milk. I am not usually a big coffee lover but that one was delicious; to the point I went for a second round (voluntarily this time), before being offered cigarettes by Duc.
Needless to say that there more than usual we were attracting a lot of curious looks for being two female westerners, each riding their own motorcycle, having coffee at a “locals’ place” and smoking- during the whole trip we never saw Vietnamese women smoking, for the exception of a very old woman smoking a cigar once.
Because Duc had been so kind and a really good guide for our travelling wishes, we told him we would have liked to hire him for the following day to ride with us to Hoi An, the city of lanterns, and show us interesting places along the way, so we agreed to meet again the following morning.
Once Duc left us, as Silvia’s bike started giving problems again, we decided to go back to the mechanic where some more fiddling took place for quite a while and I think the electric start engine was replaced. While waiting, Silvia and I would try and understand and learn about engines or just take pictures of things happening in the surroundings.
After a while we noticed that the mechanic was running an ice-business besides his motorbike repair one. There was this big industrial-type freezer just outside the garage and people would continuously stop by to buy ice. Unwrapped ice blocks would be simply put in plastic bags and sold to the public. In the time we were there we saw so many people buying ice, it was surprising and funny how random this seemed to us. At some point we even saw a truck come to restock the mechanic with ice as his supply seemed to be almost gone.
Once our motorbike-fixing mission was over we headed back to the hotel to drop off our “babies” (the motorcycles) and decided to have a little walk around town while looking for a restaurant Duc had recommended for dinner. We didn’t have to walk much before finding it. The place was very spacious and unpretentious, full of both locals and tourists; the menu was short and every dish on it was strongly tied to the traditions of the Hue area. We ordered a mix of dishes and some fresh juice. Most of the food was incredibly delicious, except for one very typical type of roll that contained dried prawns that had an extremely strong flavour, we ate all of it but it did require some extra will power.
After our great and very affordable dinner we went back to our hotel room, Silvia fell asleep almost immediately, leaving me alone to witness the most brutal thing I saw while on the trip. I was actually in bed, reading, when I heard loud voices in the street, at first I did not pay much attention but after a while they had been going on, I decided to go see what was happening and stepped outside, on the balcony. There was a man in the street, he was shouting and he looked really drunk, or high on some drug I wouldn’t recognise. He was being very aggressive, pushing carts everywhere, throwing bottles, he even went to one of the stands that were selling food and intentionally spilled the content of their jugs on the floor. A young man working in the hotel opposite to ours was trying to make him stop, talking to him from a distance, but the drunk man did not seem to care at all. I had been there observing for roughly 15 minutes before the drunk man kicked some tables in the very entrance of the hotel opposite and threw a jug of water down the entrance hall. At that point the young man disappeared for a few seconds before I could see him dart out of the hotel towards the drunk, with a chain in his hands and start lashing him with such savage rage. I was so shocked, and could feel how intense the violence and anger of the young man were that my heart started racing. The young man kept hitting the drunk with the chain and then with his fists and there was blood everywhere, then he proceeded to tie him up so he wouldn’t leave. Shortly after the police arrived and started talking to the witnesses. Unable to understand the words of the people standing in the street below me, I had no idea of what was happening, so I went back to the room and had some trouble falling asleep.
Thank you for reading my blog so far!
Comments, “likes” and shares are always very appreciated, hope to see you all again when I publish Day 7