We’re up early for a tour again today but feeling a lot better than we were for the Paradise Cave yesterday. Our breakfast comes out and Murphy’s relieved that he actually got the noodle soup he ordered this time, at least until about five minutes after he finishes it and he’s sweating his balls off.
Our tour driver isn’t picking us up until 8:30 so we run around the corner to a little Vietnamese Airlines office and grab three tickets to Hanoi for dinner time. Tried to do it online last night but VA wouldn’t accept any of our credit cards for some reason. Back around the corner and our private driver‘s there, and it’s Ha again.
Since we’re going straight from the tour to the airport (Ha will drop us off there) we check out with Lynn and get our bills. It seems like a shitload of money, more line items than we expected but doing the math it was really only about $60 for two nights’ stay, two tours, a drive to the airport and a bunch of beers and cocktails, which is pretty ridiculous. Lynn looks at us as we’re looking at the bills, making sure everything’s okay and Jamie points to me and says “It’s okay, he’s rich.” and Lynn says “Yup, he’s Big Buddha!”
It’s a short drive to the first tomb we’re visiting. None of us are hungover or sick, it makes a big difference when you’re out in the humidity and the sun and climbing stairs. There’s an emperor inside, the joint has a really classical look and feel but reading the inscriptions it turns out it’s only from the 19th century, in fact there are even pictures of the guy.
Carved into the stone are these dragons with googly-looking eyes attached, they look like something out of the Muppets. We start making cartoonish voices pretending to be them and laughing till we’re crying. The dignified tour groups around us look unimpressed with our behaviour.
We stick around for 15 or 20 minutes then jump in the car and we’re off to a second tomb. Between the parking lot and the tomb itself is a gauntlet of drink and banana merchants using a range of tactics, a popular one being the sad looking child in the middle of the path holding up bananas. One very aggressive vendor almost blocks our path, her arms extended with bottles of water, “Water, you buy from me!” “No we’re okay” “No you buy from me” “Maybe on the way out, okay?” She steps aside and as we’re 30-40 feet down the path she sells “I remember you!! YOU ONLY BUY FROM MEEEEEE!!!” She’s gangster.
The second tomb initially isn’t nearly as impressive as the first, mostly wood rather than stone and it just doesn’t seem like as much work went into it.
As we continue walking it gradually opens up more and more and it just seems like the place never ends. Gates lead to new walkways, bridges and waterways and it’s really much more extensive than the first. The actual tomb itself is sealed up except for one day a year – not today apparently – but even without going all the way in the place is pretty decent.
We walk back along the edge of the waterway rather than directly through the temple and it’s really strange, here’s a restored historical site that seems to be protected but against its walls are a couple of very small-scale chicken farms. The chickens are really weird-looking too, tall lanky things without much in the way of feathers.
After running the gauntlet (and not buying anything again) Ha meets us in the parking lot, the AC in the car is glorious, we’re on our way to the third site of the day, a pagoda of some sort. When we get there it’s raining, some greeters offer us umbrellas which Murphy and Drisdelle grab, I’ve got my raincoat so I’m fine. We aren’t part of a tour group of any type so we really have no idea what this thing is all about but it looks cool. There’s a little complex around it with a few other buildings, we do the loop.
The rain lets up, after 10-15 with my raincoat zipped up I take it off and because of the heat and humidity I’m just as wet as I would’ve been if I hadn’t been wearing it, except with my own meatjuices rather than refreshing rain. Gross. Okay back to the car and the AC.
Our final stop of the day is The Citadel, a moat-ringed walled city in the middle of Hue, which like the tombs we visited dates from the early 19th century. At the front is a larger section of the wall flying a huge Vietnamese flag, Ha steers our car across a little bridge, through a gate and drops us off inside the walled section. He’s not allowed to park there so he kind of gestures towards the area he’ll be when we finish up. This place is huge, we were told to give it at a minimum a couple of hours. We start walking.
We step into some of the different buildings, some containing Buddhist iconography, others with memorials to the imperial families that used to reside there, exhibits of imperial-era relics like palanquins, dresses, household items, as well as cafes (with ice cream) and art stores. This is another place that feels like a weird collision of the ancient and modern worlds, with photographs of scenes that seem like they belong five hundred years in the past. Another example of this unusual blending of old and new is a row of small, regular-looking cannons labeled “Holy Cannons”.
One wall contains a series of maps. Upon closer inspection I notice they all seem to be late 19th- to early 20th-century maps of China with Chinese script. There’s no mention of the current territorial disputes in the South China Sea but several notes around the maps emphasize the position of China’s southern boundary as shown by Chinese maps.
It’s a confusing place, asymmetrical with lots of nooks and crannies to cut into and get lost around and sure enough we lose Drisdelle after about half an hour. We saw him walk over a little bridge and through a gate but when we follow him through the gate there are three different gates from there and no way to tell where he went. We look around for about 15 or 20 minutes then come across a beautiful shaded little spot selling beer, surrounded by a lily pad-filled pond. Our reasoning kicks in. “If someone was trying to find the two of us, where’s the first place they’d look?” “They’d look in the best place to get a beer.” We order up a round and grab a couple bags of chips, kick off our shoes and enjoy the scenery.
Still no sign of Drisdelle so we order up a second round, but after that we figure he may have just left so we should probably keep trucking.
We leave The Citadel and a couple minutes from the exit we see Ha waving to us. He walks up and indicates that Drisdelle’s waiting for us, we see him sitting on a curb watching traffic so we try to sneak up to him for an undefended Tickle Fight Strike but he catches us the three of us in the act.
We’ve hit all four of the places on our itinerary but there’s still a few hours left before we need to be at the airport so we stop at a little cafe called the Stop and Go Cafe. I order up some chili beef thing which is one of the best meals I’ve had on the trip, and we all get a few cold beers. There’s a weird sign at the entryway about how this business isn’t associated with a bunch of other businesses with similar names, like “Stop & Go” and “Stop (Coffee Cup Symbol) Go” and “Stop/Go”, things like that.
Ha takes us to the airport, we drop him a tip for driving us all over the place for the last two days and we sit down at the “Stop (Coffee Cup Symbol) Go” cafe to kill a couple of hours before our flight.