Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Days 23 and 24 - Hue, Vietnam

Written by Em

             On the evening of Feb 24th, our 22nd day of the bike trip, the three of us settled in for a luxurious (bathroom on board) overnight bus to Hue - a Coastal city located 750km(about 500 miles) south of Hanoi. After a few rounds of the movie game, a couple of baguette sandwiches and whiskey cokes, we hibernated into our cocoons for the night. Unfortunately for Ariel and I, the back-up bus driver decided to set-up camp in the aisle between us. Almost immediately he began snoring, so we took his lead and eventually drifted off as well.

            In the morning, after comparing notes, Ariel and I confirm the following:

1.      Throughout the night, the driver’s arm/leg crept onto our cots and was repeatedly swatted away.
2.      Every time we threw our blankets off in the night, said driver insisted on tucking us back into bed.
3.      Dan soundly slept throughout the entire ride and awoke well-rested, ready for the day.

We dropped our bags at the Why Not? Hotel (because really, why not?), rented some city bikes and head towards the Old Citadel of Hue, which was the capital of Vietnam until 1945. Located within the walls of the Citadel was a forbidden city where only the emperor, his concubines and a select few were granted access. Much of the city was destroyed by American B-52 bombings, but restoration projects are underway.  After visiting the citadel we cycled 4km down the river to a beautiful pagoda where Dan took an awesome vertical panorama shot of Ariel.
The main gate to the ancient citadel - oddly reminiscent of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China
The flag post - oddly reminiscent of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China
A chained elephant that we discovered in one of the gardens
We were thinking of taking a ride until we inspected closer

Dan's awesome vertical panorama shot

 The next day we hopped on our bikes again for a leisurely ride to the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc who is said to be the last emperor of Vietnam. He was the last leader to rule Vietnam independently. He was vehemently opposed to foreigners, especially Christians, and innovation. Tu Duc isolated Vietnam from the outside world, suppressed all attempts to modernize the country. Ultimately, his policies led to the Sino-French War, the loss of the southern most area of Vietnam, and the beginning of Vietnam’s status as a French protectorate. At least this time the French were the baddies instead of the Americans.
The screen in front of the emperor's tomb - to keep the evil spirits out

During our lackadaisical bike ride we stopped at a small stand to buy some batteries for our speakers. We rode another 2 minutes to the tomb, bought our tickets and were about to step through the entrance when Dan’s eyes bulged, his mouth fell open, “OH SHIT.” As he jumped back on his bike we realized that he’d left our small backpack at the shop, the same backpack which held our laptop, i-pods and Dan’s wallet. Ariel and I sat down to wait in silence, hoping for the best.

We sat and stared as several tour buses pulled up and unloaded groups of tourists. After 15 minutes, we decide it’s taking a bit too long for Dan to return. Ariel agrees to wait at the tomb in case Dan returns while I bike to the shop to make sure everything’s alright. I spot Dan across the street from the shop, surrounded by Vietnamese women sipping tea and snacking on candied ginger. As I approach, they begin to gesture and wag their fingers back-and-forth.

Apparently, just after Dan left his bag, a boy came and took it. The women across the street saw him stopped him and made him give them the bag. When Dan arrived, they returned the bag, everything inside except for the cash that was in his wallet. After a bit of negotiating, Dan got the women to return his money and he paid them a reward. The only thing in question was his passport; Dan couldn’t remember if he’d left it in the hotel or packed it. The women assured us that out of all the things they would steal, it would definitely be the cash, laptop and i-pods. Just to be sure, I biked back to get Ariel and then jumped on a motorcycle taxi back to the hotel. Despite repeated explanations that the two are brother and sister, the women made Dan and Ariel dress up in wedding attire and pose for a few photos while they waited for me.
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 Dan’s passport was indeed inside his dirty pants. We all breathed a sigh of relief as I scooted back to the shop. Again the women re-enacted the bag snatching, their heroic recovery of the bag and the need for another reward. We gladly gave them another reward and went back to the tomb. The rest of the day was spent searching for a temple to thank Buddha and whoever else is watching out for us.

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