Wednesday, August 9, 2017

August 9 – Behold, the Imperial City

Remember that movie Good Morning Vietnam when Robin Williams is doing his radio show and pretends to be interviewing a soldier in the field and asks how’s the weather? The soldier says, “It’s hot. Damn hot!” Well that was today in Hue. We left the hotel by shortly after 7 am and it was already ablaze outside. For some strange reason we decided to walk the three kilometres to the site, through the city streets, across a long unsheltered bridge, and then alongside a chaotic, busy, hot main thoroughfare, so by the time we got there we were already overheated and exhausted. But hey, we saved a dollar-fifty on the cab ride!

The Imperial City used to be comprised of well over 150 buildings, but it had been bombed to hell during the Vietnam War so, to be honest, there was comparably not much left to see – perhaps 10 buildings in all. The gigantic walls of the city still stand, as do many of the interior walls of the Citadel, but much of the grounds are sparse and empty, so you need to use your imagination. Of the buildings that are left, some have been restored, and they are quite magnificent – especially the main palace.

We walked around for a while, lurching from shadow to shadow, snapping a few photos, but we didn’t last much longer than 90 minutes before we called it and made our escape. By that time, the crowds were really starting to pack in, and I was nearly trampled by a huge group of over-enthusiastic Chinese tourists. The only really great part of the visit to the Imperial City was that the kids and I made up a new song called “Buddha Everywhere” – a lively, skippity number that is sure to get you dancing.

Since nobody had passed out from heat exhaustion yet, we decided to walk back, and look for a place to buy some shampoo and conditioner for our girls. Ana had been looking for shampoo for three days, and she finally found a decent sized grocery store and mall, so we went in and enjoyed the air conditioning while Ana searched for her hair conditioning. Inside the mall was a large, filthy-looking kids play land complete with greasy, finger-marked glass, torn carpets, busted apparatuses, and a strange smell. I couldn’t read the name of the place, as it written in Chinese for some reason, but I think it said, “Germland”.

Our next mission was to find somewhere to change the Thai baht that we had left over from Thailand into Vietnamese dong. We tried a couple of banks and they wouldn’t do it, but a clerk at one of them directed us to a nearby jewelry store, where they happily changed the money for us, and at a surprisingly great rate. So now that we were flush with cash, we hailed a taxi back to the hotel, spent the 75 cents on the fare, and avoided an unnecessary heat stroke hospitalization episode.

We immediately jumped into the hotel pool and decelerated from our morning adventures. We hung up our sweat-laden clothing on every available lounge chair, all of which dried very quickly in the hot sun.  We stayed until our stomachs started demanding food, and then returned to the Hot Tuna restaurant we ate at the previous evening and had another delicious meal.

We still had some time to use up before our scheduled bus pickup, so I decided to go for a haircut. I was looking for one of the iconic street barbers that sets up a chair and mirror in an alley and takes care of your hair, beard, eyebrows, and even earwax all in one sitting. The hotel receptionist directed me to a place a few blocks away so we all marched over there, back in the full sun, and when we arrived I was slightly disturbed to find what looked like a ladies hair salon, so I had my doubts. The young proprietor welcomed me in and told me haircuts were an extravagant 100,000 dong ($5.50) but since we were so bloody hot I couldn’t bear dragging the family around any further so I sat down in the chair and waited for the shears to start snipping. This was no traditional Vietnamese street barber – it was jammed full with mostly female clients and every gay hairdresser in Hue. One of the ladies had six guys at once working on here. It was like a porn video, but without all the sex.

My boy did one pass on my sides, gave me the thumbs up, and I gave him the thumbs down and said, “Shorter.” He shaved the sides and back right down to the wood as my horrified wife looked on. It felt great to me. I never understand why my family gets so worked up about haircuts – even if you get a bad one, you get another chance to fix it in a few weeks. I was quite happy with the results, and definitely will definitely not be in need of a haircut for quite some time, perhaps November.

We still had a bit of time left so the kids negotiated a good rate on leg massages at a spa not far from the hotel, while Ana and I opted for a drink at the backpackers bar. Ana and I never run out of things to talk about so we sat and shared our thoughts on the trip so far, how the kids were enjoying it, and how we thought the Henriques enjoyed their time in SE Asia. We both thought that they would have loved Vietnam, probably more than Cambodia, as it is just further along in its development of tourist infrastructure and is, frankly, a much cleaner place, and still very cheap. But that’s the thing with travel – you simply don’t know about a place until you have been there yourself and experienced it.

We were soon on a bus, and four hours later we were in Dong Hoi. We took a taxi to our hotel, got our rooms sorted and called it a night.

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