Day 23: Hue (pronounced Hway)

Saturday in Hue (pronounced “Hway”). It’s slightly above the normal amount of sweltering as there’s very little haze today so the sun’s almost fully out. If it ever DID actually came out, I imagine we’d all simultaneously burst into flames, demon-style. Scorchio. Done.

Hired a bike from my hostel for less than a pound and spent all morning pootling up and down the Perfume river to pagodas and other assorted Points Of Interest. The way you know that they’re points of interest is not because they’re pointy or – sometimes – interesting, but because they’re marked out on a badly-drawn map, and they’re teeming with tourists and people trying to sell stuff to tourists, such as embroidered conical hats and Lipton’s Lime iced tea. Tried to explain roller derby to a Vietnamese girl who kept smiling and saying “Yes, yes” even though she had no idea what I was talking about. Ate mostly in restaurants in the main backpacker area, or back at my hotel where they served cheap beer and even cheaper ice cream.

I’m staying at the Google Hotel, a 10 minute stroll to the backpacker area. The staff are friendly (I get high-fived every time I come back) and my upgraded room’s a dream, so long as the dream is of a neat double room with clean linen, antless walls and a warm shower. There’s even a mini fridge to keep my water cold, except that the electricity turns off to save energy when I leave my room. I like the idea, but maybe I like cold water on a hot day even more.

Cycle hire is cheap and a good way to get around, even if it means risking death by using the terrifying roads. The driving in SE Asia is entirely outside-the-box. There are rules, but they’re often deemed not to apply. You drive on the right, for example, but that’s unless it’s more convenient to drive on the left into oncoming traffic, or on the pavements into unsuspecting pedestrians. At traffic lights red means stop, obvs, but not if the road ahead is clear, or if you think you’ve got a chance of punching through the flow of traffic, or if you’re in a rush, or if you don’t really want to stop. Motorbikes drive 3 abreast in each lane which makes crossing the road a real adventure. There’s a knack to it: you’ve gotta be assertive, step out into the road, own your spot. The traffic parts to accommodate you, the red sea motorised and terrifying. But it DOES part. They may drive in crazy paving ways but also this driving style is normal and everyone’s used to it. They’re not over-fast or aggressive drivers like in Thailand or at home and they’re always ready to swerve out of the way should anything go amiss (unless they’re texting or cooing to the baby on their lap or chatting to their mate on the adjacent motorbike). I saw a tshirt in Hoi An that had traffic lights and the slogan “Green = I go. Amber = I go. Red = I still go.” Sums it up.

Hue (still pronounced Hway) has a lot to recommend it. It’s the honeymoon capital of Vietnam. It’s got a pretty river, a crumbling citadel and a buzzing night market that catera mostly for Vietnamese tourists. It also has Matthew, high-powered banking type with a flexible budget, a wheeled backpack and a taste for valium (you can buy it over the counter here, apparently). Matthew is concerned that his Clinique facewash will run out before he can replace it in Singapore, is troubled by the bastardisation of the English language, and can give you a step-by-step breakdown of your personality into Myers-Briggs categories at 20 paces. Makes for interesting conversation. And people-watching.

Hue was a nice place to be but for the traveller with time constraints, it’s a two-day kinda place. A city is a city is a city, right? The citadel – a walled complex of the remains of the old royal chambers – is interesting and atmospheric, but it only takes a day and us tight-on-time people can’t be hanging about, especially when we’ve got PHONG NHA FARMSTAY waiting for us!

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