Readers' Submissions

Tour De Force Round 8



Back to sanity

Driving back to Hanoi we could feel the stress and strain of the previous few days evaporating. I'm sure China would have had more to offer if we had explored more and I don't want my experiences to be a yardstick for any future Marco Polos. Brett had to fly home the next day and after sending his "courtesy" mail to Miss C, explaining that things would not work between them, we hit the town for a relaxing couple of ales. We were joined by an attractive Israeli woman who seemed to fancy Brett but he was blissfully unaware of the situation and even after I told him in Afrikaans he insisted that he wanted an early night and left. I could see she was disappointed and she admitted that she was available. Strange one that friend of mine! Even on the way to his new bride he told me that he had a Chinese girlfriend back in NZ who had not been at all happy about his plans. He had now decided that he wanted to make things work with her and it would take sweet talk by the truck load to get her back. He managed and they seem to be on the way to starting a happy family. Good luck mate, unfortunately your future travel plans may be slightly hampered.

Saw Brett and his superfluous luggage off the next day with a feeling of regret as he had been a good travelling companion. I was alone again and with 2 weeks left it was time to get my pre planned tour back on track. I wanted to travel along the coastline down to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC or Saigon) and hopefully also try and see the Mekong Delta. I checked out all the options from train to air but eventually chose the bus for a few reasons. Although flying would be quicker, one sees a lot more travelling by road (except for the night trips) and I heard the trains were slow and not that reliable. The numerous tourist cafes offered an unbelievable special for a hop on hop off trip to Saigon (1600 km away) for just $ 21. This arrangement suited me to the ground as they would be stopping at the places I wanted to see. My main deciding factor was also the price as my funds were now very limited due to the unexpected costs of China. The lack of ATMs bothered me as the next one would only be in Saigon, but I reckoned that by sleeping on overnight buses I could save a bit on accommodation. OK the buses weren't the greatest and they normally tried to squeeze as many people into the smallest bus (until we bitched and made them get better transport) but at $ 21 one can't expect luxuries. Armed with a few cold beers and the remainder of Brett's Jim Beam, I was ready..

Hello Hue

Situated in Central Vietnam, Hue has many interesting sites and also has a chequered history. Uncle Ho was born in the area and it also became the Capitol for a while under French rule. Some of the fiercest fighting in the Vietnam war took place here and during the Tet offensive the citadel changed hands numerous times. One can still see the bullet and shrapnel marks on many buildings. The Citadel itself is a massive square 10 km across with 4 large gates and moat 4m deep and 23m wide. Inside is the flagpole of Hue with the largest flag I have ever seen which can be seen almost everywhere and served as a reference point whenever I got lost. The Imperial city, based on Beijing's much larger one, and the cultural museum are well worth a visit. The latter especially is housed in a beautiful wooden building with superb items of history and carved furniture. Vietnam really has beautiful furniture and the prices are very reasonable, but I hate to think what the freight charges would be to get them home as they weigh a ton. Also did a walkabout off the tourist beat and sampled litres of the locals Bia sitting in their small Bia Hois. I don't think many Westerners do this as I was treated with extreme courtesy and wonderment by the locals, my beer being replenished before I had even finished by young blushing daughters. Had some of my best evenings in Vietnam here in Hue, sitting in a Parisian style cafe overlooking the Perfume River. As the sun sets the cool wind coming down the river has a sandalwood smell and the Trang Tien Bridge changes colour every few seconds. Sipping my Tigers and watching the sights while being serenaded with old French and Vietnamese songs was an experience I will treasure forever. The cafe which was slightly upper class also attracted some stunning women which made the moment even more special. The waitrons were always amazed with my beer capacity and would ask with amazement "you want another one??" One girl in particular took a shine to me and became my personal assistant. I noticed her buying something from a vendor and she came over to me and plopped something into my mouth which felt rubbery and had a crunchy centre. WTF is this I thought as visions of my doggy meal flashed through my mind. The old crony selling the stuff and a few locals were chattering away and laughing while looking at me. The girl asked me if I liked it and even though I personally thought that I was eating bull's testicles I nodded and she promptly gave me another one before I could see what is was. Got that one down forcing a smile and listened to the locals laughing. Next thing I had a plate full of the things put in front of me and at last I could see what they were and breathed a sigh of relief. Turned out to be oval shaped pieces of jellyfish with a small shrimp inserted inside and thereafter they tasted much better. I had not been eating well due to the fact that it was so hot and with consuming so much beer one loses one's appetite. Stumbling back to the hotel that night my stomach now demanded sustenance and I knew that I would not find much open at that late hour. However there she was, my Angel of mercy, faithfully manning her little stand as she had done since 6 that morning with same beaming smile that I still treasure today. A few packets of crackers and some cheese got me through the night, but I knew that soon I would have to start eating more. After having spent a few days in Hue, I now had to get moving and jumped on the bus for my next leg of the journey…..

(To be continued…)

Stickman's thought:

I don't know about this Vietnamese food.