Sunday, 27 March 2011

Drunkenness, tombs and 2nd place

Sunday 27th March 2011

MP3 track of the day: Worst hangover ever – Offspring

Weather: Wet, cold but not windy


Picture the scene; I hope your not eating at the moment. Last night I went into my dorm to discover that a large group of British lads had moved in, and were now my 'room mates'. I apologised that, in the morning, I would be up rather early for yet another tour. Their reply was not to worry about it; they also apologised because their plan, for the evening, was to get completely wasted. All through the night drunken talking occurred and, rather more unpleasantly, people being sick could be herd coming from the on-suite toilet. I can forgive one of their group members. A guy named Ben had a bad case of food poisoning; it was the other three that annoyed me. Luckily, before they had turned up, I had used the shower in preparation of my tour. When my alarm eventually went off I skipped using the bathroom in favor of getting reading quickly and heading downstairs.

Due to my embarrassing fellow countrymen, I had left my dorm quicker than planned and I now found myself, downstairs, with plenty of time to kill. I ate my free breakfast – consisting of two bread rolls with butter – before using the downstairs restroom and then, finally, I found myself watching the news. I saw that London had hit the headlines with riots on the streets. I wondered where all these protesters thought the British government was going to get all the money that they required. I suppose we could sell our gold reserves … oh sorry, Mr Brown had already done that.

My tour was running late. Tours always run late within South East Asia; I don't even bother inquiring as to where my tour is until at least thirty minutes after the start time. I waited and I waited, wondering if it was worth bothering with my tour. The Australian GP was being shown today at 1pm and Hamilton was on the front row. Looking outside it looked cold and it was raining; eventually, with the tour being forty minutes late, I asked the receptionist to find out what was going on. I was surprised, considering I hadn't purchased my tour ticket here, that they phoned up the tour organiser and sorted it all out. Apparently my tour organiser had forgotten about me … however they were sending someone to pick me up.

In a flash my pick-up came … and it was a motorbike with no secondary helmet. Just encase my facial expression didn't show it I asked my hostels receptionist to translate, to the motorbike driver, that I was not getting on 'that' and I would follow him on foot. That didn't seem to be a problem and so, finally, at 8:45am (my tour was supposed to start at eight) I found myself following a crazy motorbike driver, to the harbor front, on foot. Having been to the harbor front before I knew that it was only a five minute walk away and so, soon enough, my motorbike pointed to a dragon boat with a Vietnamese guy waving at me.

I was glad to get on board; it was pretty cold, and wet outside. The 'dragon boat' was two narrow boats joined together with a large open-plan main floor. At the rear of the vessel a closed off area could be found and to the front were two dragon heads erected on the ends of each of the narrow boats. The boat had seen better days, however it seemed to be able to float. I chose one of many plastic chairs and sat down. The tour guide was a short Vietnamese guy who looked incredibly young. As we set off I found out that he actually wasn't a tour guide, more of an assistant. Our tour guide was ill and so he had taken over.

I actually felt sorry for him. Looking at my fellow tourists there were some rather odd people among us. Most were normal however there was an Irish bloke who had been drinking, and continued to drink, before he even boarded the vessel. We also seemed to have our fare share of green peace working, none-pesticide eating, 'call me Squirrel' naming hippies. I sat next to one hippie, afraid to offer him a sweet encase it contained a chemical or something that used to be alive (I'm sorry but all the packaging's in Vietnamese). It wasn't long before we were off.

If you didn't give your full attention you wouldn't actually know that you were moving. Let's say our pace wasn't exactly 'Formula One' fast and even an asthmatic ant, with heavy shopping, could move faster than us. Looking out of the window I soon discovered that the world turned quicker than this 'dragon boat moved'. Our tour guide started to introduce himself, and the tour, however I couldn't understand a word that he was saying.

Our captain beached the boat into some poor Vietnamese persons garden and we found ourselves, in a single line, walking between lettuces and cabbages. I crossed the road successfully and found our tour guide at the gate to a house. As this tour was only $5, entry tickets were not included. 10,000 dong (33p) wasn't a lot and so I paid the fee and went in. A German couple thought entry prices were included; when asking the tour guide he turned around, shrugged his shoulders, and said 'I don't know' in a rather sarcastic way. Nice to see customer service is top priority once more within South East Asia. The house was rather boring; as it wasn't what I had come to see I decided not to listen to our 'English speaking' tour guide and instead take photos before our group dispersed. The main building was your typical ancient Chinese wooden building found everywhere within Vietnam; it did however have a garden growing all sorts of fruit. Fortunately we didn't stay long and I soon found myself tip-toeing through lettuces once more.

Once back on the boat I wasn't the only one who had thought our 'first tourist site' of the day lacked excitement. Two nut eating, tree saving, boat blocking hippies decided to perform a waltz right in the middle of the isle, and in view of everyone. I just pulled my hat over my face as I couldn't watch. Fortunately our next attraction wasn't too far away, Thien Mu Pagoda.

Built in 1601 our tour guide told us that we had forty minutes to look around the pagoda. Looking up the hill at the seven story, hexagonal, tower I didn't think that forty minutes was necessary. It wasn't until climbing up to said tower that I soon found the complex was slightly larger than I first thought. The site ended up being a rather long rectangle, with temples in the middle, and gardens on either side. As most of our group headed into the main temple I decided to explore the outside, trying to get a little time to myself. It didn't work. I walked past all these similar, Chinese style buildings, to find a fountain marking the end of the rectangle. I then turned around and went back to the main temple, which didn't have a lot to see inside. The interesting thing about this Buddhist center is all to do with one of it's monks, Thich Quang Duc. For those of you old enough to remember the Vietnam war you may remember seeing an image – that 'shocked the world' – of a Buddhist monk, within the center of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), burning himself to death. Thich Quang Duc was his name and he came from this pagoda. A copy of that famous image could be seen here, and so could his Austin Car. By now my forty minutes were up; I was rather glad to make my way back to the boat as it was very cold and very wet. We had to move the boats cargo (i.e. us) to the center of the vessel, to get the boat away from the shoreline. It would appear that the captain had rammed the muddy riverfront good and proper.

We were soon on our way again. Like before our speed was so impressive that a piece of litter, floating within the water, managed to overtake us. Our next stop was the first of four tombs, 'Hon Chen' tomb. Costing only 20,000 Dong (66p) to enter this would be the cheapest entry fare, of all the tombs, for the day. There was a good reason for this; 'Hon Chen' was situated up a steep staircase and consisted of two buildings and a small concrete ledge (there was also a 'wc' which, at that present moment in time, I was very happy about … I don't think the 'wc' pre-dates the tomb). As you had to take your shoes off to enter the main temple I declined and just looked from the front door. I then went across from the main temple and stood, leaning on a concrete wall, looking out into the view. Due to it's height the view might have been pretty spectacular however, given the amount of rain – plus rain clouds – I couldn't see that far. Our time was up and we soon found ourselves making our way back onto the 'Dragon Boat'.

The crew hadn't been idle; the seating arrangement had changed from lines of plastic chairs into tables with eight plastic chairs around each. I sat down to find that, on our table of eight, there were two plates of noodles, two plates of rice and two plates of tofu. Looking at the rest of my dinning partners I could sense that we were all thinking the same thing. We were all hungry and, looking at the portions, there wasn't enough to fill all of us up. I took my small bowl and chopsticks, making sure I only took my fair share (well I may have taken a little more), and I delved into the noodles and tofu. I only managed to fill half of my bowl when, the food on my table, ran out. Once again I looked around the table and I could see that we were all still hungry. We all joked about it and then, fortunately, a lady came with a fresh set of noodles, tofu and rice. We ate that just as quickly as the first lot. All of us felt a little better, but I was still not full.

During our meal the dragon boat had been chugging away, trying to cover up ground to the piece rubbish that overtook us earlier. After eating it wasn't long until we arrived at our next tomb, 'Minh Mang'. I paid the 55,000 Dong (£1.60) entrance fee, thinking that this better be good. So far the tour hadn't delivered what I expected, that was until I saw this tomb. Located within fifteen hectares of woodland stood the second Nguyen emperors tomb. Built between 1841-43 it stuck to traditional Chinese methods and, once more, had a rectangle feel to it with grounds on either side. Firstly I was presented with an open, stone, courtyard, with a Chinese small temple up some stone steps. Once through this 'outer temple' you could see the main temple across a narrow bridge. Once past the main temple stood some small gardens with another bridge leading to the tomb of 'Minh Mang'. The tomb was off limits however the complex had been outstanding. A very Chinese feel with beautiful grounds all around. I left that temple happy.

It was now time to change transport. I found myself on the exact same coach, with the exact same driver, as I had for the demilitarized zone tour. I almost found myself sitting in the same chair as we drove to our next tomb, Khai Dinh. This tomb – which also cost 55,000 Dong to enter – couldn't have been any more different to the last. Instead of the traditional Chinese wooden feel, this complex – built on the side of a hill – was mainly constructed using European styles and white stone (though it had become black over time). Emperor Khai Dinh was on the throne towards the end of the Nguyen dynasty and this tomb was built between 1920 and 1931 (when the French were there, hence the European influence). It was an astounding piece of work with two stone obelisks located half way up. Emperor Khai Dinh's tomb was located within a huge stone building at the top of the stairs. Once I had made my way to the back chambers, I found said tomb with a golden sculpture, of Emperor Khai Dinh, sitting on a chair above. It was all pretty impressive though it was time to leave. I made my way back down the stone steps looking, once more, at the obelisks and stone Chinese soldiers. Once through the main gate, and down the dragon lined stairways, I got back on the coach.

Three out of the four temples had been seen. It was 3pm as we drove towards the final tomb, Tu Du. However, of course, there had to be a shop thrown in and so, with only yards until we got to the final tomb, I found myself within this open-sided store. I had twenty minutes to view the 'tac'. I didn't like the paintings, I didn't want a hat or incense sticks. In fact, the only think that took my fancy was a Mars bar. I rejected purchasing one as I didn't want to spend any money at this tourist trap. I decided that I would purchase a Mars once back in Hue. Finally the coach driver opened the coach doors and I dived in, thankful for getting away from the continuing sales pitches of the Vietnamese women.

My guidebook stated that the tomb of Tu Duc was “... The most harmonious of all the mausoleums, with elegant pavilions and pines reflecting in serene lakes...” and I couldn't agree more. Another 55,000 dong (I had now spent nearly 200,000 dong on entrance fees ...£6) and I found myself walking along a red tiled, and rather slippy, path. The path bended this way and that, through pine tree forests, until I reached a man-made lake. There were two pavilions leading down onto the lake which, though they looked lovely, were more of a benefit due to the cover they provided from the rain. After drying off a little I ventured into the main temple complex which was the standard Chinese design. I moved through quite quickly, as I didn't have long, concentrating on exploring the grounds. I managed to find the tomb of Tu Duc and the tomb of his first wife … which were located as far away from each other as humanly possible (though I bet he could still hear her nagging). Most of this complex was ruined, with Chinese gates located all around the site. This gave the site an authentic feel and it was nice just crossing broken walls here, there and everywhere.

To quickly it was time to go back onto the coach. The tour was supposed to end at 4:30pm however here we were still out at five. I arrived back at my hostel around 5:30pm thankful to find the drunken British mob had moved on. I got my computer out to find that Mr Hamilton had finished second. I was ecstatic and these were valuable points on the board; I'm a little worried about Vettle's pace though … Hamilton can beat him to the world title. I'm very excited about the Chinese GP; I've sent 'Booking F1' my Hanoi address so hopefully I'll get my ticket soon. I spent the evening chatting within the restaurant and eating Fish and Chips (which consisted of two big pieces of fish) before heading for an early night. Luckily the 'British mob' had been replaced by four drunk 'Kiwi's'. I was thrilled. Fortunately there was no one being sick, however loud talking could be herd into the early hours and one Kiwi did say 'bro' a lot … which got very, very annoying.

So tomorrow I move onto Hanoi. Hue, culturally and historically, has been brilliant. The tour today was the usual rushed affair (around the main sites), leaving plenty of time for the standard 'tourist trap' that all tours consist of. The demilitarized zone can be missed however the tombs, and the citadel, are a must … I just wished the weather had been better.

Toodle Pip!

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