Hue, Dong Hoi, Vinh & Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Just last week, we arrived at Hue Train Station and were surprised that the whole town was bathed in glorious warm sunshine. A taxi to the area where we wanted to stay cost a couple of dollars, and the hotel was really exceptional quality for $9/night, with Satellite TV which included the HBO Movie Channel & Sports Channels, as well as air conditioning, hot shower, mini bar and nice fresh décor and bed linen. Just around the corner we had bars and restaurants galore, with one of them becoming a favourite – “Ushi” – a Dutch bar with a free pool table.

“Ushi” for around a dollar, sold German Bratwurst Sausage on a fresh crusty Baguette, which when covered in a good splurge of mayonnaise and mustard was totally addictive.

The ancient Citadel is still intact, and the gardens and pagoda’s were worthy of an afternoon stroll.

We also arranged a boat trip to the ancient tombs and pagoda’s of the Nguyen Dynasty of the 19th Century. What a disappointment to awaken that day to biting cold, mist and rain. Stacey and Mark swerved the trip, but Michelle and I soldiered on, buying 2 cheap rain Macs to try and keep us dry.

Michelle really loved her Mac, and thought she was Batman. Stacey also took an instant like to these Mac’s on our return, and we had to have it surgically removed before we could head further North to Dong Hoi.

Dong Hoi was just a 2 night stay. It’s another typical Vietnam town with not really much going on. The weather was slightly better, but that was it. We hired the motorbikes again, and set off in the direction of the caves, where for $3 we could take a river boat journey and enter the caves. Quite fascinating and really quite spooky.

We have been having a bit of a bad time of it in Vietnam so far, so this was quite a good wee jaunt away from all the bollocks that we have been having to endure. The scenery is always breathtaking however, and reminds us a lot of Scotland.

On our return we actually spent a night in the cold, sterile surroundings of a posh hotel bar. There really was no other alternative, and we tried to keep our chins up while the insipid Celine Dion was played Live in Concert on a large wide screen TV. Who the fuck actually buys this shite? We started to slit our wrists as we planned the next move. We would head to Vinh followed by Ninh Binh and then finally reach Hanoi after 5 or 6 weeks of moving North from way down South. The plan had worked in that we had avoided extremely long journeys, and had really covered quite a bit of Vietnam. It’s just a pity that we were never really finding any place that really blew us away. Vinh and Ninh Binh were just much the same as the other working towns in Vietnam.

On arriving in Vinh, we walked along the road to find a hotel, and when we did, we started to get a bad feeling about the place. We clocked a price list on the counter, and noticed the hotel had rooms available by the hour. We had a think about this for all of a couple of seconds then bailed out. We found somewhere decent almost straight away, having walked across a building site.

That night we found ourselves again in a depressingly clinical posh hotel for beer and food. What is surprising is the number of middle aged package tourists in these hotels. What on earth do they get out of these trips? Admittedly, it was just too cold to sit on the streets and eat with the locals, but it is really the only way to get to know the place and experience the authentic local food.

So you can make allowances for a couple of nights in these hotel bars, but this is what these people seem to be doing for a fortnight’s vacation. Ninh Binh was much the same, although we did manage to find some decent street café’s where the food is cooked in front of you in sizzling woks. On these cold dark nights, hot soups and hearty broths really warm you up while your fingers are stuck to a frozen bottle of beer. We found a nice wee bar, and the waitress told us the price was 10,000 VND for a beer. This is a decent price, so we stayed and played cards and had quite a few. It was a great night, until the bill arrived and was double what we were expecting to pay. This became an out and out battle with the owner, the owner’s wife and a couple of staff members. At 20,000 VND, this would have been the most expensive beer we had bought in Vietscam. It was a completely outrageous demand, and by this stage, we were all just fed up of the constant lying and cheating. Stacey was having none of it, and took the lead to resolve the conflict. After 10-15 minutes of complete bedlam, the owner relented and accepted the 80,000 VND for the 8 beers.

We were now in a hurry. We were ready to just head to Laos and get the hell out of Vietscam, but really, how could we leave after getting so close to Hanoi and Halong Bay. It is freezing and miserable, and all the shite just get’s you down, but we were so close. We decided to brave it out, Hanoi is a major city, and hopefully there would be plenty of stuff to do and keep us stimulated. The plan we all seemed to be forming, was to get this over as quickly as possible, avoid Sapa and the North West, and fly straight out of Vietscam to somewhere nice and hot.

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