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Hue

Written on: Friday November 30th, 2007

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

The worst overnight journey of our trip so far, on a sleeper bus that doesn't actually permit you to do much sleeping at all. Unless of course you happen to be Vietnamese or under 5 feet tall. Bundled off the bus we were immediately channelled by some random guy down an alleyway in to a hotel. A little bit tired from our insommnia and finding the hotel to be rather pleasent (and offering satellite TV and a mini-bar) we abandoned our bags and grabbed some breakfast.

Hue (pronounced a little bit like you're celebrating - Huuuaaii) turned out to be a great town and one that we saw from the back of a motor-cycle, not driven by a taxi dude, but idiotically by ourselves. Riding the mopeds in China for 3 hours seemingly qualifies us for a full motorbike licence here in Hue, and seeking yet more adventure who were we to turn them down when we were offered them for $4 a day. Picture the scene - tiny alleyway, a multitude of people wandering up and down it,  and two buffoons attempting a 3 point turn on never riden before motorbikes.

Somehow or other I managed not to kill myself in the alleyway, involving all the Vietnamese hotel owners and associated family members coming to laugh at me and enquire whether I had ever riden a bike back in my country to which I casually retorted 'Oh yeah yeah, every day'. But I'm very happy to say we were both rather adept at it in a very short amount of time. I say adept, but it's probably a lot nearer the mark to say we were very confident, somewhat over-confident, even despite the crazyness of the drivers on the road.

We stopped of at the Citadel, which is where the Nguyen dynasty was ruled from, just more temples really, then enjoying the freedom of the bikes, rode out alongside the Perfume River to Thien Mu Buddisht Pagoda, which like temples also beginning to become quite repetitive. Pleasent as it was we were enjoying the bikes much too much to spend a whole deal of time there, and so hopped back on to the bikes, drove all over the town and foolishly even took pictures of each other as we were riding the bikes. Stopping off at a bar for a snack, a beer and a few games of pool, we were very rightly but very sadly for the people involved brought right back down to Planet Earth. Just outside the bar a terrible accident had happened with two guys on motorbikes crashing head-on in to one another. There was a melee of people trying to divert the hoardes of traffic, and seeing if they could do anything. The emergeny services aren't what you'd really like to them to be if you were going to have an accident in Hue, and took an incredible amount of time to arrive, depsite being based less than a kilometre down the road. By the time they did arrive it was rumoured that one of the men had died. A sobering thought for both of us who declined our next round of beers, quietly left the bar and very carefully returned back to our hotel to drop back of the bikes.

The following day we had booked ourselves on to a tour of the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ which is a 10km wide strip of no man's land with the Ben Hai River running down the middle of it. It was here in 1954 that the country was split between the communists in the north and the non-communists in the south. The highlight of the tour were the Vinh Moc tunnels, a series of more than fifty tunnels that housed a whole community during the Viet Nam or American War as it is called over here. For 6 years families lived as normally as they could in these tunnels, and 17 children were even born underground there.

We passed across the Ho Chi Minh trail, where throughout the War the Viet Cong from the north passed down to the south, evading the American forces, and then on to Khe Sanh, which was an American air base that saw months of continuous fighting during the war. The air base's musuem now shows the fight was futile. The Americans dropped 100,000 tonnes of bombs, averaging 1 every five minutes to try and flush the North Vietnamese Army out, but to no avail, as eventually they were forced to withdraw. The NVA's goal however had been acheived, to divert American attentions to Khe Sanh, while the NVA moved in around the southern cities to begin an offensive there, that became known as the Tet Offensive. Sounds like a bit of a history lesson, but going and visiting these places really makes you contemplate these things and why they were allowed to happen in the first place. Maybe though, 40 years later we still haven't learnt our lesson and Iraq will be another Viet Nam story in coming years.

Back in Hue we had a great last night, heading out to a few bars and a club with a couple of Kiwi girls we had met on the DMZ tour earlier that day. The night culminated in us being ridiculously drunk and holding the Hue Jenga competition. I hve absolutley no idea who won. What we did know is that we had another bus ride ahead of us, only this time, nowhere near as long to the town of Hoi An.