A Travellerspoint blog

Hué’d believe it?

Imperial palaces, majestic temples and an elephants fifth (or sixth) leg


Our first overnight train to Hue proved to be quite pleasant compared to the Chinese trains although Rach did have a pretty traumatic experience with the toilets that decided to flush up instead of down! The Vietnamese also kept in line with the habit of getting up at early o’ clock so we had plenty of time to watch the beautiful scenery whizzing by.

Hué is the old capital of Vietnam and the capital of the ruling emperors. So the idea was to see as much of the old temples and the Imperial City as possible in our two days there. So after a quick recovery from our sweltering walk to the hotel we hit the mean streets of Hué in search of our first cultural hit of the day. We had formed a rough plan and it wasn’t long before we were staring up in awe at the beautiful seven tiered pagoda of the Tu Dam Temple. It rose up from the dust and noise of the street like a beacon of solitude and we quickly dived inside. It was truly peaceful and we had a great time looking around. The monks didn’t seem to mind us and left us to go as and where we wanted. It was great.

We then saw another temple, Bao Quoc, and this was even more stunning than the last with a beautiful front gate that was slowly being reclaimed by nature. We even got treated to a private showing of one of the temple rooms by a very eager monk! As it was getting late we decided to call it a day and headed back to the hotel stopping by on one last sight the “Notre Dam” cathedral. It was stunning from the outside but once closer we could see the signs of decay such as the smashed windows and peeling paint.


After a brilliant nights sleep, listening to the rain and praying that it wouldn’t continue through until the following day, we woke to a sky as clean as a whistle. The Imperial City beckoned and promised us a great time. And it delivered. For the price of 150,000dong ($7.50 US) we had a massive city (quite literally) to explore. There were temples, throne rooms, theatres, gardens, ruins, and much more. That it is in such a good state is due to the thoughtful (if controversial) restoration of many of the buildings that were obliterated during the various wars that ravaged the country. There was also an elephant randomly in the grounds that had the most enormous willy we’ve ever seen; it literally was dragging on the ground!


On a side note during our time in Hué we noticed that there were a lot of tourist restaurants that offered “authentic” Vietnamese food. We ate out at a typical Vietnamese street side restaurant and with the help of a local had an amazing meal that cost less than a quarter of the price of the said restaurants.

On another side, side note Hué happens to have the dubious honour of being the first place in Asia that we have seen a traffic accident, something of a miracle considering the way they drive. Luckily it appeared to be nothing more than a bloodless knock on the head.

So our time in Hué has drawn to a close and we’re now headed on to Da Nang to get to the suit making centre that is Hoi An.

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • Don’t be scared to go a little more out of the way from the usual tourist temples. You never know, you might get a private viewing.
  • When eating out don’t be fooled into eating at a restaurant. Just sit down at a busy collection of plastic stools on a street corner, ask the price and eat like a king for less than a dollar!

Posted by rexontheroad 18:27 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Paying to see a dead body

Heroic women, Ho Chi Minh and a graduation


We have a bit of a secret to confess. We’ve fallen in love with Hanoi. Out of the Asian cities we’ve visited it is probably our favourite. It’s a perfect mix of real Vietnam with just a hint of fresh tourism. When we think about what we’ve actually done in Hanoi there’s not a great deal we can list. Instead we’ve enjoyed the people-watching, the wandering and stumbling across some fantastic things.

That isn’t to say we haven’t tried to go to the sights. Yesterday we planned to go to the Vietnam military history museum but again were caught out by the sudden increase of prices from our version of Lonely Planet. We ummmed and ahhhed and decided not to bother so we headed five minutes down the road to go to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. Unfortunately Rach was scantily clad in her vest top and shorts so we were sent away with our heads bowed in shame. Time for plan C.

Rach had been perusing our map on the city when she came across the Women’s museum. Intrigued she checked the guidebook and discovered it was a collection of exhibits focusing purely of the women in Vietnam and the contributions they have made to its history. After a short march we discovered there were a lot more exhibitions then we first thought. Not only did they have sections on the women who had fought for their country either in a military sense or political but also areas dedicated to revealing a woman’s place in the current culture. It showed the different styles of Vietnamese weddings and how they would bring up their children. It was fantastic to see a museum dedicated to the gender that’s generally looked over in Vietnamese history.


In the evening we drank as much of the free beer as we could and got involved in a game of arrogance with some of the other backpackers. We headed out for dinner back to our favourite street restaurant and as we’re so cool we attracted a few middle-aged westerners, like moths to a flame, who followed our example and pulled up a plastic chair.

The next day we marched determinedly back to the mausoleum, this time with Rach covered in a longer sleeved top. There was a bit of a queue to get in as they gather you in a large group and lead you through together. It’s like a race though and you have to power walk to get through. It’s incredibly strict and there are no cameras allowed, no dawdling and definitely no talking. We near sprinted around his glass coffin but we were astonished by what we saw. Ho Chi Minh didn’t look real; he actually looked sort of plastic. We have no idea how they are maintaining his body but it does look good, he just looks like he’s sleeping.


Approximately thirty-nine seconds later we were back out into the grounds and spent a few hours relaxing and enjoying the sun. We decided on our way back to the hostel to drop in on one last sight; the Doan Mon Gate and accidently stumbled across a graduation prom for Vietnamese students. Three words; They. Looked. Sensational. Rach was actually a little ashamed of British prom dresses because the girls’ outfits here were stunning. We watched for a while as the graduates spelled out letters with their bodies and posed for photographs. It was a brilliant surprise to find.


Now we’re about to get on the overnight train to Hué and we wonder what it’s going to be like. Will it be the same as the Chinese trains?

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • Whilst Hanoi has a lot of sights you can pay to go and see, it’s a brilliant city just to walk around and watch the world go by.
  • Make sure you have your shoulders covered if you go to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum or you will be turned away.

Posted by rexontheroad 22:17 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)


A prison, a bridge and lots of free beer.


So we arrived in Hanoi and it being pretty late went out and got some delicious food at a street vendors. We had been recommended to do this by some friends from our previous tour and they said that it would be amazing. Long story short after some pointing and broken attempts at Vietnamese we got what we wanted; some rice noodle soup with beef and squatted down to eat. Yep you heard right, squatted. All the outdoor street vendors very kindly provide tables and chairs, it's just that they happen to be tables and chairs for the vertically challenged. It was, however, a brilliant experience being sat on the street corner with all the mopeds flowing past, honking their horns, the sound, the noises and the smells. For the first time we felt full after a meal out and after we collapsed into our beds it wasn't long before we succumbed to the darkness of sleep.


The following day we decided to go out and do some sightseeing (as you do when in a foreign country I guess) and headed straight for the lake Hò Guom. It was a lovely little place and after having seen no proper parks for so long it made a nice change. There was also a beautiful little temple called Ngoc Son off to one side of the lake. On checking it out Alex once again realized his celebrity when he was asked to pose with two young women. Whether it's his chiseled good looks or his body of steel we'll never know.


After the comparative escape of the walk by the lake we reentered the fray and braved the roads to get around and explore the city. Crossing the road in Vietnam seems to be a matter of trust. All it takes is a simple step off the kerb and a determined, constant forward movement, trusting the mopeds not to hit you as they part like water around a stone. Surprisingly it feels quite safe and as long as you keep moving without making any sudden stops you greatly increase your chances of not being hit.

After having wandered around for a little while (which is pretty rewarding in itself) we came to the Hanoi Hilton (Hoà Lo Prison). It was an incredible place and much of the signage was in English so we got to find out a lot. It was used at various times as a prison by the French for Vietnamese communists and later during the war it was used by the Vietnamese to keep downed American pilots. There was a stark difference in how the different lives of the prisoners were portrayed. The communists had undergone a brave struggle surviving the brutal punishment of the harsh overlords, whilst the Americans had been treated with civility and respect and, for them, was a home away from home. So no political angle whatsoever.


The rest of our time for the day was then taken up by several failed attempts to get into whatever was free. Sadly most of it was shut but luckily as we said before wandering is entertaining enough in itself. We took in markets, lakes, rickety train bridges, stalls, crazy traffic, street sellers and more! It was great. And then, even better, once we got back to the hostel that we’re staying in, it was happy hour. Happy hour at our hostel means unlimited free beer for one hour. Bring it on!

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • At $5 a night Central Backpackers isn’t bad, especially with free beer and breakfast too. Check out Rach’s review of the hostel and the Prison.
  • When crossing the road in Vietnam, wait till there are no cars coming (ignore the mopeds) and step out. Then just blindly carry on at a steady pace. Do not, we repeat, do not stop. That is when the accidents happen.

Posted by rexontheroad 21:31 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Alex breaks the loo

Sticky fingers, a change of scenery and a tough jigsaw

We had a bit of a problem with our water throne this morning. The toilet cistern lid managed to slip through Alex’s fingers and upon collision with the floor instead of deciding to remain in one piece tried to spread itself into as many different corners of the bathroom as possible. The situation arose because the toilet cistern wasn’t filling so Alex was having to use the shower to fill it. So really it was all the hotels fault. Obviously. However we doubted that the hotel would see it this way and so after a quick search and rescue mission we’d located the vast majority of the lid and piled it onto the bed. Alex then pulled out his ever trusty superglue and attempted the nigh on impossible task of emergency reconstructive surgery. Sadly there were none of the sterilising options available that are normally present in an operating theatre and so there was a lot of skin left behind on the toilet lid as the glue really did what it said on the label and actually dried quickly. This also meant that the moment of truth came around very soon and it wasn’t long before we were staring at the finished article complete with stylistic cracks. Our hearts trembled as we separated it from where it had attached itself to the bedspread , we hoped against hope that it would hold as we placed it back on the toilet. Luckily it did and now it just needed to hold until we came back at the end of the day to collect our bags. Erk!

We had most of the rest of the day to kill before our flights to Vietnam so we decided to head across from the mainland to the island. There is a ferry that takes you across for HK$2 which is really cheap. We had read somewhere that this is one of the top ten short boat rides in the world. This is not the case. The skyline was definitely interesting but unless there’s a giant rampaging lizard of some kind it is like every other big city skyline in the world.


After disembarking we formed our plan of action and set off in the direction of the eight hundred metre long escalator that makes it way up the start of Victoria Peak. Once we’d gone up far enough we made a turn off and made for what was billed as the famous Man Mo Temple. After struggling to find it we had a brief look around. It really isn’t all that impressive as a temple but the history behind it runs very deep and as such it is often held in quite a high regard. However it definitely wasn’t a place to spend the entire day and so we meandered our way back through the streets trying to put from our minds the thought that our superglue ruse might have been uncovered. We eventually made it back to our hotel to pick up our bags. There was a tense moment when the receptionist came out to greet us and for a second both of our hearts dropped when he started talking as we were walking off, but he was only wishing us on our way. We had gotten away with it; as they say he who dares, wins!


There was then a quick bus to the airport before a relatively pain free entrance onto the plane in readiness for Vietnam. We were originally planning to go overland via train but we hadn’t planned ahead and got the multiple entry visa for China. Flights was the stress free option as opposed to hanging around waiting for visas to come through and then two days of travelling. It was a little more expensive but actually in terms of timings will probably work out better for us. And so it was that we took one last look at the bright lights. Not too sure what to expect when we touch down but either way we’re sure it will be something to look back on.

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • At this point we well amend one of the rules in The death of a comrade, super glue can also be used to fix toilets.
  • The Man Mo Temple is an important landmark and if you have time worth seeing but don’t bank on spending the whole day there.

Posted by rexontheroad 19:35 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Starring in a flashmob

Hong-Kong, flashmobs and a sneaking hand


And so it was that we reached our final destination of our time on the tour in China and indeed our last destination before heading off to South East Asia. The night was a fairly typical sleeper train journey with everyone a little too tired to be staying up too late. Joy, our tour leader, had however prepared a little surprise for everyone; a small card with a lovely personal message in each one. She really has been an amazing guide and we owe so much to her.

The arrival in Hong-Kong was a little strange; first we had to go through the usual tight Chinese security but you had to go through it to leave the country?! After this we then had the Hong-Kong immigration to get through but on the British passports this was a breeze and soon we were South of the divide. We could see the difference straight away. Everything seemed just a little cleaner and as a massive bonus nobody was spitting on the floor! It wasn’t until we noticed a sign warning all those coming over the Chinese border that this offence carried a $5000 penalty that we realised this was probably why.


The city itself generally felt a lot nicer and it was nice to see some familiar sights as well. As everyone said it was just the right balance of Chinese and British. It was a lovely setting for our final farewell to the rest of the group and we had a sad last meal together before going off to see the light show and the Avenue of Stars. The light show was a bit disappointing in all honesty, not enough light really. Still the Avenue of Stars was fun. It’s a bit like the stars on Hollywood Boulevard except it’s all the Chinese film stars. Alex ran off like an excited little child and found Jackie Chan and Jet Li before trying to pick a fight with a statue of Bruce Lee. Not long after that we were once again impressing the locals with our Gangnam style dancing except this time we did it as a flashmob adding the element of surprise to the mix.


Sadly it was to be the last time that we would perform and after a sad goodbye in one of the hotel rooms we departed from our group for what we thought would be the last time. During the day we did all sorts ranging from applying and getting our Vietnamese visas, being molested, visiting the Hong-Kong History Museum, being molested, moving hotels, being molested and oh yeah did I mention being molested. Alex went to get the visas and whilst he was gone Rach decided to run out and post some cards. It was as she was waiting at some traffic lights that she could feel the stare of the slime ball next to her. She looked over and if you can imagine a Gollum like creature with scabs covering his arms you have him in one. He leered at her and being a sensible girl she faced away and waited for the green man. It was then that she felt something touching her leg. She jumped back and realised that he had his clammy claw out and was pawing at her leg. She started out across the road and he started following her so she ran off successfully losing him in the crowd.

As you can imagine it was a pretty stressful day so we were looking forward to a nice evening out with a couple of our group. Turned out that there were more people than we thought were going to be there and we went out again with almost the entire group there. It was really nice and we had some Vietnamese food (ironically) and then went down the night markets before sipping on some cold beers.


Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • The members of any group can make or break a trip. We’ve met plenty of people who have had crap tours because of a crap group.
  • Be careful who you stand next to at traffic crossings. You never know who might be going to touch you next...

Posted by rexontheroad 23:42 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

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