Day 11 – Hue to A Luoi – 75KM

24 04 2012

There are somethings that you aren’t prepared for in your life. For example, seeing a ghost or aliens landing. For me today represented a number of situations that I was unprepared for. The first one was as I woke. You don’t expect to be woken by rousing patriotic Communist songs sung at high volume. Nor do you expect your guide to shout “Urgh Communists” ! I was feeling quite tender this morning thanks to the local Hue beer ‘Huda’. Even more so with four hours sleep. So the day started gently, with medicating Ca Phe Se Dat easing my pain. Toan had repaired Rat Bike’s petrol tank with 2-part epoxy. He told me that the petrol tank had been stabbed…I kid you not.

Today I explored the ancient city of Hue. Now, let me tell you that Hue is hotter than Hades. The heat and humidity just sapped the life out of me, but I was determined not to let that spoil my exploration of Hue. I have been riding through Vietnam now for eleven days, rarely meeting other tourists or back packers. So it was a culture shock to run into the tourist trap that is Hue. I heard many different accents today, French, American, Portuguese, Spanish. Then the local guides doing their level best to speak whatever lingo was needed. You have to give it to them for trying !

First stop on the tour (after coffee) was the Imperial Palace. Constructed in the early 19th century and well preserved it is a wonderful way to spend a half day…if it were not for the heat. I had a chat with a couple of girls, a Canadian who is from Costa Rica and a French girl with an Irish accent (Hi Amelie) ! Confused…glad it’s not just me then. On the outer walls you can still see bullet and rocket holes from the Vietnam war.

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Leaving the Imperial Palace we rejoined the crazy Hue traffic. The Trong Tien bridge is truly a Vietnam riding experience. Hundreds of scooters, bicycles, cars and trucks are vying for space on this relatively tiny bridge. It is simply a sea of wheels coming towards you. It just made me smile…because it as so nuts.

We took lunch and a much needed water break. Lunch was an EXCELLENT BBQ pork noodle salad ‘Kim Long‘ alongside the Perfume river.  Spicy pork with watered fish sauce, then with a peanut sauce dressing. I would actually say one of the best meals in Vietnam so far, and in a picturesque location. Rat Bike enjoyed the rest too.

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A short distance down the same road was the Linh Mu pagoda. This impressive set of buildings was built by the Emperor Nguyen in the 19th century to honour an old lady who predicted that he would be the Emperor. It’s location is fabulous too, and mercifully low on tourists. I was fascinated watching the monks going about their business in the temple.

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Coming down the stairs, I managed to snatch a shot of an old lady walking past with her quang (baskets) selling sweet tofu.

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We left Hue to make our way to the Minh Manh tombs. Located about 10KM outside of Hue, they are relatively tourist free. However, it doesn’t stop the hawkers pushing their crap onto you. There are about five stores who mob you as soon as you are sighted. “Hello hello, where are you from” ? It’s a predictable conversation that I endure several times each day. Still it provided Toan with a cheesy photo moment !

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Toan pointed out that the perimeter walls of the tomb are peppered with bullet holes. You can see the different size of the rounds hitting the walls.

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The tombs are impressive and very quiet. The sun was still high and beating down with force, so my enthusiasm to explore was a little dampened. I made my way up and down the stairs to the Eastern perimeter wall. It was so incredibly peaceful, I could hear the birds chattering away, a splash as a fish jumped. Not a human voice heard. Pure bliss, so I took the opportunity to sit in the shadows and close my eyes.

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The ordeal of the vendors was not yet completed. At the end of various properties, women were skulking waving bananas at me ! Then I had to go through the first group of vendors again. Another water break, then pushing on towards A Luoi. Toan took me via the mountain route (National Highway 49). This was a very dramatic and poor quality road. Rising to 2900m, snaking it’s way through ravines and around mountains..it is breathtaking. What makes it more breathtaking are the sheer drops on the road side. What makes it arse clenching is the lethal combination of bumps, sandy surfaces and half meter safety rail (where it existed). In fact I guessed that purpose of the rail is to ensure riders are catapulted into the ravine. I forgot to mention trucks and cars that aim for riders too. Still..always time for a cheesy photo moment !

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Whilst carefully picking our way through a construction site, we had apparently just stopped short of  landslide that had completely blocked the road.

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Amazingly it was cleared within twenty minutes by the diggers, so off we went over what was left of the debris. Obviously the road closure had created a backlog of traffic, which was either screaming alongside me or at me. This included a large truck that came towards me on a sandy corner and decided that my part of the road was better than his…and he wanted it As I’ve said previously…size rules out here. So I was pushed to the very edge of the sandy road. The same sandy road with no safety rail and the 400m sheer drop. It could be generally regarded as an unpleasant experience, therefore requiring a change of underwear !

We made it into A Luoi in one place. First impressions of the town are that it’s very quiet, with a mix of Vankieu hill tribe and Viet people. I don’t think they receive many Western tourists here, as they seemed to be staring at me. The kids all shouted HELLO and waved as the walked or cycled past. We are staying at the Nha Nghi Thanh Quang guest house. It seems a very friendly and family run place..lots of smiles ! Plus WiFi..always a bonus. However the area does suffer with the dreaded mosquito so I am doused in DEET…horrid stuff. The hotel has mosquito nets, so I will be sleeping under them tonight.

For dinner we went to what looked like a wooden shed filled with women. The dinner was a good BBQ chicken and pork, mixed with taro. The owner was a lady who had given birth to ten children, most of which were in the ‘restaurant’. She was charismatic and obviously the matriarc and it was lovely to see the family together. It actually felt like I was a guest in their house, albeit a paying one.

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So, things I have seen carried on a motorbike today

1. A pig
2. Contents of a street side restaurant

Tomorrow A Luoi to Khe Sang.

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