After three nights in Hoi An, we’re ready to move on again, just 70 miles north this time, following the coast to Hue. It’s very strange being in Vietnam for the first time, because lots of place names ring bells from history, but my knowledge of the Vietnam war is so thin, its probably from watching things like Good Morning Vietnam. Like today, when we drove back through Danang, and all I could think of was Robin Williams singing into his microphone on the film. And Hue is another one of those names that I’ve heard of, but don’t know why. Must have been some fighting here at some point!
The road to Hue is quite picturesque, as after Danang it winds through a range of hills overlooking the coast. At the Hai Van pass we stopped for a break, and saw the remnants of an ancient Chinese-style hill fort (like a mini-Great Wall of China, built to control access between two provinces), and 1960’s concrete bunkers, built for the Vietnam war, and with exactly the same purpose – to control access and provide a line of defence against the North Vietnamese (we’re not yet on the line where the two sides faced each other, but the DMZ is only a hundred kilometres or so further). After the bus stop, a Vietnamese lady gave Emily a necklace, and Charlotte a bracelet, that she’d just bought from the roadside vendors. As well as all the pinching, hair-stroking and hand-shaking, the girls have also been given lots of small treats by the local people in Asia. Its very touching to see, as often the things come from people who have so little themselves.
We arrived in Hue at lunchtime, and quickly got a guest house sorted out Binh Minh this time) – we’d been given some recommendations by Madame Cuc, the owner of our Saigon guest house, and they’re all turning out to be great places. Binh Minh is costing us $22 a night for a family room, including breakfast, and we think it is probably the nicest room we’ve stayed in during our whole trip. The bathroom is not only spotless, but modern, and the room itself looks like it was painted yesterday. It’s a million miles better than the dismal, padded velvet-covered walls of Diamonds Guest House in Phnom Penh.
Moving around means making plans, so while the girls enjoyed some playtime in the room, I walked across town to the railway station to book our onward tickets to Hanoi later in the week. The city seems an odd mix of French-colonial and red-flag-communism. Alongside the wide, tree-lined boulevards, and the French-style colonial mansions, you’re treated to hundreds of red flags flying around the city, and posters extolling the virtues of collective farming and modern industrial revolution. You know the kind – women driving tractors, and billboards dedicated to the glorification of the People’s Army.
Later we rented a couple of cyclos, but I paid one of them to go and have a cup of coffee while Sarah was pedalled around town by one of the drivers, while I pedalled Charlotte and Emily around in the other one. The biggest adversary wasn’t fatigue or hills, but the other traffic. The cyclo is obviously well down the pecking order when it comes to moving through junctions, so I had to spend my whole time looking out for other traffic moving into my way, or cutting me up. But I think I had it easier than other cyclo drivers, because most drivers gave me a wide detour when they saw that it was a foreigner cycling his own children around town.
By the time we finished our city tour, an hour and a half later, I couldn’t work out whether I’d done more damage to my nerves or my behind (cycle saddles, which are hard and narrow, seem to be designed to hop on and off easily, rather than to make life more comfortable for a wide-bodied foreigner!) Still, I’ve now got a fresh reminder of what it feels like to work for a living, and sitting behind the seat of a cyclo is definitely physically more tiring than sitting behind a desk.