We took the train from Dong Hoi to Hue (‘hway’), the ancient capital of the country. Hue is noted for its citadel and ‘Forbidden City’. Those of you who have visited Beijing will recognise this kind of place. Indeed, the one in Beijing is rather grander in all respects. So, when you’ve seen one Forbidden City …
There’s not much else to say about Hue except that it has a great backpackers’ bar, called, amazingly, ‘The Backpackers’ Bar’, run by Hendo, a mate of our friend Shish. The place was full of completely legless Aussies; with ‘happy hour’ cocktails called ‘Leg Opener’ and a vodka flavour of Arse I’ll leave it to your imagination. The ‘happening’ area also has some great bars that give you endless bowls of salted peanuts with your drinks. That night, we had 3 beers, 4 rum and cokes, a bottle of red wine in a bar, peanuts and bottles of water then a bottle of red wine from a shop all for less than 10 quid (16 dollars); where else can you get a bargain like that?!
So, we left Hue and the three giggliest reception ladies in the world. The ‘open bus’ journey from Hue to Da Nang takes you through the 4-mile tunnel underneath the famous Hai Van pass. It’s a bit of a shame to miss the spectacular scenery over the pass but, apparently, the road has numerous shrines to those who, whilst wowing at the view, forgot to keep their eyes on the road. Grimly, it reminded us of the road from Colombia to Ecuador.
We checked in to our hotel. I pulled back the curtains and Helen recoiled in total horror. It turned out that we had an uninvited guest: a spider the size of my outstretched palm, clinging to the curtains. We asked the hotel staff to remove it, lest it be poisonous.
Da Nang is definitely more geared to tourists. It was here that the American forces gathered for R & R on the China Beach and there is much competition amongst the hotels. We opted for a hotel in the middle of town rather than on the beach; most rooms are available for 20 – 30 US$ per night.
We decided to check out the Cao Dai temple, the second-biggest in the country. Cao Daism is a home-grown, Vietnamese religion, describing itself as an eclectic mix of all the best bits of the world’s big religions. It was invented in 1926 by, you guessed it, some joker who had a revelation. It became a very strong force during the war with many people seeking sanctuary in the temples, rather than having to take sides with either the Viet Cong or the South Vietnamese army – a real ‘Hobson’s Choice’. You’ll remember the famous photograph of Kim Phuc, the little girl running naked from a ‘friendly fire’ napalm attack in Trang Bang – she embraced this religion as the only way to get away from the interminable misery of the conflict.
In Da Nang the catholic cathedral is another site worth seeing. You may wonder why I, as a devout atheist, love going to visit big churches, mosques, temples, etc. Good question. Well, I’m fascinated by the limits of human credulity. We sat for a while in the cathedral here to watch the locals at confession. There were two aisles: the left was slow moving but the right dispensed absolution at a faster rate. Sinners moved across the nave to offload their transgressions to the ‘speed priest’ and left quickly to start their weekly sinning routine with a clean slate; you may detect a tad cynicism here.
Something about the roads and people: as I’ve said before, motorbikes are everywhere but it seems the women are the only ones who appreciate the health hazards in the atmosphere: they (almost always) wear face masks whereas the blokes hardly ever do. This is probably just another example of male macho posturing. One other thing: hazard-warning lights are used for one purpose: to indicate to other users that you are going straight ahead at a roundabout or junction. Quite sensible, I think, particularly as the Western use, that of informing other road-users of a hazard, is utterly useless here as everything is a hazard!
The staff here at the hotel are typically underworked. Every morning, during breakfast, there are 4 staff members who do absolutely nothing but stare at us for the whole of the meal. We’re the only guests. You’d think they’d have jobs like replenishing the dwindling stock of bread or providing a second knife (the hotel would appear to have only one knife!) but no, they simply yawn and stare. What a crazy interview it must be to get that job!
In the last two nights we’ve been to the British Council-sponsored, UK film festival. On the first night it showed one of our favourite films – ‘Love, Actually’. Yes, we are that sad! Last night, we went to see, arguably, the worst film ever made. Can you guess? Yes, Yellow Submarine – a superb example of what Acid does to ones perception of ones abilities. The theatre was full of kids, screaming and running around; it was about as painful a cinematic experience as one could imagine. Why the BC chose that film as representative of British culture which would appeal to kids I have no idea. They could have chosen something more appropriate: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for example.
We’re off to Hoi An today – ‘the most beautiful city in Vietnam’. Will it pass the Andy Parkin cynicism test? We’ll see.
Da Nang, 11.9.12
Footnote: Ida and her mother, who we met in Halong Bay, sent Helen an e-mail reminding us of the ‘kijang’ story. I’d mentioned to them that when we were in Bali with the Thomas family, Bob and I hired a kijang (the local name for the candle-power, people carrier) and that we had to push the thing up a hill with all occupants having disembarked. Ida’s mother couldn’t stop laughing. It turns out that a ‘kijang’ is Indonesian for ‘deer’ and she thought that we’d hired a deer and couldn’t work out how to ride the thing. A truly ‘Pythonesque’