Day 5 begins abruptly for Paul, who finds himself wrested from
sleep into a disorienting world. An official stands at the door
and speaks in Vietnamese: "something-something-something-uay."
"Hue?" Paul asks, but the man walks down the hall. Paul
jumps off his bunk onto the floor of the train. April is
in a different cabin - the result of buying tickets at the
last minute. Outside the window, pretty rice paddies continue
to rush past.
Paul briefly considers asking his cabin-mates where the train
is, but he's confident that they thoroughly dislike him.
The previous night, Paul tried to get into the same cabin as April
by arranging a trade of bunks. After half an hour of broken Vietnamese
and wild gestures, we learned that our offer was impolite because
our upper bunks were cheaper than the lower ones we wanted in return.
We apologized, but by then one of our companions was visibly angry.
Now the next morning, Paul hurries out to see if we've reached
Hue, our destination. But before he reaches April's
cabin, the train official comes back and hands him a cup of coffee.
Still groggy, Paul pays him, and then realizes that the man was selling
"Ca-fey." It turns out that it's six in the morning,
and Hue is still a few hours off.
All this leaves us a bit frazzled and dispirited, but the journey still has
lessons left to teach us. After a while, the man who was angriest the
night before comes by and offers each of us a cup of coffee with a smile,
making us feel enormously relieved.
As we get off of the train, he shakes our hands and seems to wish us
Trademark protection being what it is in Vietnam, finding a popular restaurant
is often made trickier by copy-cat eateries that adopt the same name to lure in
unsuspecting tourists. In Hue, our hotel staff takes this to the next level, by
trying to convince us that the restaurant we're aiming for has moved to a
new location. Tauruses that we are, we fortunately ignore this advice and have
a delicious meal in the original Bo De.
An hour later, our sightseeing is off to a rocky start. We've rented
bicycles and are following the pagoda tour suggested in our Let's Go.
The problem is that for each tourist on this circuit today, there are five to ten
solicitors waiting for them along the route, hoping to make a living by selling
drinks, begging, or charging dubious fees. We'd be hard-pressed
to find a more vivid demonstration of the income gap. The tucked-away
pagodas are really nice, and we even stumble onto a
group of chanting monks, but between the
hawkers and the beating sun, we're losing our enthusiasm. We decide to
It seems like the day's ending and we'll soon have to admit that Hue just
isn't our favorite city in Vietnam. Then a navigational error changes everything.
Since there's just one river on our Let's Go map, Paul figures we can
just follow it all the way home. As the miles roll by and nothing looks
familiar, we get a bit worried, but there's no other river we could
plausibly be following on the map, so we power on as the sun descends.
In the meantime, the people we meet have become very friendly.
We have our first Vietnamese sandwich on the side of the road,
and the lady seems thrilled
when we go back for seconds. The crowd cheers Paul on as he tries to
thank her in rudimentary Vietnamese.
Later, it finally dawns on us that we need help, but we're still anxious
about asking a stranger for directions. We carefully choose a friendly-looking
young man to accost with our map. As he's trying to decipher it, though, four
or five others walk across the street to help us (it so happens
that none of them speak English, so most of the support they give is
moral, but we're quite grateful for it). We soon discover that wherever we stop,
people are eager to talk to us and make us feel welcome. This is an entirely
different Hue, with crowded
markets, quiet river banks, and bright city streets.
This is also where Paul finally captures the elusive four-people-on-a-motorcycle
photo, while pedaling hard to keep up on his bike.
At night, we have a really nice walk among the colorful shops and eateries.
Future travelers to Hue: Don't wait to get lost the way we did.
Just throw your map away immediately
and ride a bike in any direction for half an hour. Odds are you'll
really like this place.