Hue (I) Micracles / Getting There

Weltschmerz on the 13. (laptop had broken down), oh so beautiful a world the day after…yesterday afternoon and today was my day of miracles. I am writing these lines on my last day in Hoi An, the stop after Hue, but I am way behind with my articles. Had hoped to find more time in Hoi An, but instead I met a lot of people who drank a lot of beer, and who would I be to stand back? So I am still behind with the articles. Pictures are all selected, but writing takes time. And then there was the laptop’s breakdown, from which it against all odds recovered! At the moment the display works as always. I’ll be careful and expect the worst, but maybe a daily prayer will help. And against all remaining odds, I just entered any of the many cafes in Hoi An for a lunch and a place to write, did a WiFi scan just because I always do it and expect nothing…and there was WLAN!!! Not announced anyway and works nonetheless. Who cares…I have all I need. Including a bus ticket tonight to Nan Trang. Bus is not my favorite. But the train operates only today again after 5 days of repair works on the railways. And even now only with a reduced schedule. I could not get hold of a ticket. Planes are all full several days in advance. So I have to stick to the bus. Different company now, let’s see if that will be better than the trip to here.

Getting to Hue

But I am way ahead…I would still need to describe how I got from Hanoi to Hue.

After our world-saving session we went just to bed. The train pulled out of Hanoi a minute ahead of schedule. All great. And some hours later, around 2am it stopped in Vinh, a scheduled stop. But it never started again. Whenever I woke up I saw the very same scene out of my train window. And would not change until 7am. Around 7:30 or so we stepped out of the train to see what’s wrong and got intelligence that there were damages to the railways due to flooding. Oh great…nobody could give the faintest estimate how much that would delay us. Everything ranging from hours to days. Official information was somewhere between scarce and non-existing. Rumors made their way amongst the many western travellers. Frank and I got out in search for drinks and food, which was easy to get from the many stalls on the platform.

When we came back to our car Frank’s girl-friend was the only one left there, saying they had been motioned out of the train. Obviously, the officials wanted the foreigners to leave. We still saw some locals sitting in the simpler cars, but that was probably only a matter of time. What should we do? We left, too, and joined the groups of confused foreigners strolling up and down the small railway station of Vinh.

Now, Vinh is by no means any attractive place. Lonely Planet at least lists it, but describes it as “uninspiring”. People got the valid idea to ask for a partial refund for the train tickets and so we lined up but soon noted that these lines were rarely moving. I handed my ticket over to Frank and set out in search for transportation options. LP said there was even an airport with flights to Danang, which is just 30km away from Hue, our intended destination. Busses would probably run, too. But nobody was able to tell us so far what the road conditions are. If rail tracks are flooded, why should the street still be OK?

I had a motorbike bring me to the Vietnam Airlines office. But they could only tell me that there is no service to Danang any longer, only to HCMC (Saigon). And that flight was long full. I walked back a few hundred meters to the public bus station, where a very friendly official in fairly good English snatched me off some hawkers, who were about to try to get me on their busses. He told me that roads were generally OK even if the railway was flooded. Sounded more like a common known problem here… I figured out that the next bus to Hue would leave around noon for just 72,000 Dong and wanted to buy tickets. But tickets aren’t sold in advance, only ten minutes before departure. Uups…that would mean no reservation and, thus, an overfilled bus as likely many locals would go for public busses, too. Sounded all quite bad… Another motorbike brought me back to the railway station (after a detour and me trying to convince the guy that he is going wrong, but he spoke no English at all, when I made him stop a girl on a bike practising her bit of school English helped out telling him where to go).

HU_20070808_095550.jpg: Lines there had moved a bit. It turned out that a fear of mine came true: All our train tickets were group tickets. Likely bought by a travel agency en gross and sold piece by piece out to the guest houses. So now groups tried to collect enough tickets to get a group refund. Frank had hooked up with a group seemingly organized by a young Vietnamese, who I heard speak German, English, and French fluently and I guessed her to be a tour guide. Well, great, she sorted things out for her group and us and after some hours we got 250,000 Dong refund. Not bad…

Next problem: How to get to Hue now? Some people had somehow organized minivans for various prices and were now in search for people to fill them up to share costs. In the end Frank, his girl-friend, and me had to split up: I got the last seat on the bus organized by the Vietnamese ‘tour guide’, who had organized for our refund. The other two got on another bus. The tour group of the guide turned out to be just her family, living in Germany, visiting apparently Vietnam for the first time in many many years. That explained her fluent German. The rest of the family spoke a bit German, too, but wasn’t great. Other people on the bus included a Swiss-Dutch mixed couple with a young boy, with whom I also spoke German. Plus one Spansh lady, the only one I had to speak English with. Speaking so much German was quite a change and I found myself answering German questions in English until after some time I got used again to using my native tongue.

HU_20070808_121039.jpg: The bus ride was fairly smooth except for occasional torrental rains. And the fact that the young cousin or whoever he was, a fat lazy guy trying to sleep or doze all the way, banged around in his seat next to me, sometimes his head come to lie on my shoulder. In the beginning I kicked him carefully with my left elbow, but over time I kicked harder and harder, amazed that he wouldn’t wake up. 6 hours to go…

HU_20070808_141640.jpg: Somewhere half-way between Vinh and Hue flooded fields under impressive clouds.

HU_20070808_155553.jpg: We did only one stop (not even toilet stops!) and that was on the former demarcation line between North and South Vietnam. It turned out that the family’s father was a soldier in the war and wanted to see the memorials here. A very valid request. We others certainly had a look, too. 2 days later I would do a guided tour to the DMZ, seeing also this place again, but the pictures today are better. A Dutch, who I told the story of the Vietnamese family on the bus, living in Germany, reminded me that many Vietnamese went to former Eastern Germany after the war to work there as kind of payment for services from the Eastern European countries during the war. That had slipped my mind, but it would likely fit to the famiy I had met, though by that time it was too late to ask.

The picture shows a replic of the old bridge built by the French, crossing the Ben Hai River, which was the demarcation line between north and south.

HU_20070808_160003.jpg: Loudspeakers on the northern side facing south. On the river shores there was a fight with words and colors. I learned later that the bridge was half painted in one color and half in another, just to make sure that both sides appear different.

HU_20070808_160633.jpg: A huge flag pole on the northern side under dramatic clouds. Also the height of the flag poles on both sides was a constant competition as each side wanted to boast the highest.

An hour later we arrived in Hue. The Spanish lady and I got off while the others skipped Hue and continued further south to Danang. We had no hotel reservations, shopped around a bit and finally found a very reasonable priced, but otherwise uninspiring place on one of the main tourist roads. After a shower we headed our for dinner, where we booked the next day’s Perfurme River Boat tour, which includes visit to temples and tombs. The last drink we took in another place, “Cafe on Thu Wheels”, where we learned that they offer guided motorbike tours to all the attractions around Hue, which is likely to be the much better choice than the boat ride…too late, we had paid already. But if you come to Hue check out the Cafe on Thu Wheels first before booking any tour there.

Today’s Lesson: Roads withstand floods better than railways.

Categories: Asia, Hue

Originally Created: 08/14/2007 07:58:28 AM
Last Edited: 08/14/2007

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