Back on motorbikes in Hue

March 9, 2007 - Hue, Vietnam

From Hoi An we moved on to Hue, 4 hours by car making stops for a toilet break at a typical touristy shop, China Beach to take photos, and for lunch at a restaurant on the water. In Hue we suffered through rather long tour of the Cidadel that was less than interesting. We stuck to our plan and passed on the group dinner and ventured out on our own again. I had read about a vegetarian restaurant run by a Buddhist monk so we went there. The street numbers were not sequential due to a renumbering at some point so it took us a while to find it tucked away in a small alley. It was only mediocre and wasn’t the payoff we had expected after the long search. So we headed to a cafe we passed earlier, Cafe An Thai. We figure we would drop in for cake and coffee. I will let Terry explain...

[Terry: Cafe An Thai: I didn’t experience this in Cambodia, but in Vietnam, especially when Mark and I walk alone without the group, we were stared at. Not in a good way. I read in a guide book that when an Asian girl is with a Caucasian guy, it is assumed she is a prostitute and she may get stoned... Mark and I laughed about it but decided no PDA and we were careful to appear like two fellow friends walking together... but we still got stared at. Mark tortured me by reminding me that Vietnam still is a communist country and pointing out every person staring and teased me that they were reaching down to pick up a rock. But all kidding aside, Mark and I were a little wary. So we get to this Cafe An Thai, a cute brick building lit with lantern lights. Mark and I were looking for a place like this. A local place with no other tourists. The waitress hardly spoke any English which we love! We ordered two hot coffees and ice cream. Local prices, really cheap. We were loving every moment of it and I was taking pictures of the place like a good tourist should do, when Mark said everyone in the restaurant were staring. Just pure staring without a break. They didn’t even look down to eat. They kept chewing and staring. That made us feel uneasy but made us giggle uncontrollably at the same time... which of course drew more attention. We felt like two monkeys in a zoo. To make things worse, Mark pointed out that everyone was served these complimentary nuts (looked like pumpkin seeds) except for us, which made me furious :) We were stared at and discriminated against! But there was no way to complain or tell the waitress that we want the seeds too since the staffs were all avoiding us.]

When the Vietnamese coffee came, we didn’t know how to drink it. The cup was served in a bowl of hot water and with a bowl of ice. We weren’t sure if we were suppose to pour the water into the grinds or into the coffee directly. Then there was the ice which I had no idea what to do with. Terry got the courage up to ask the waitress and but instead of teaching us she just took Terry’s coffee to the kitchen and brought it back without the bowl of water. So I told Terry, “you need to communicate with foreigners with gestures and slow speech”, and preceded to show her. With gestures and simple speech I asked if we were supposed to pour the water into the grinds and explained that I wanted to do it myself. But instead she just took my coffee to the kitchen and brought it back without the bowl of water. We sat there defeated and stared at drinking our coffee which tasted like instant coffee made with 1/3 the water. But the ice cream was good. I played it safe with coconut, and Terry took a risk and ordered the “peas” ice cream. It actually wasn’t too bad. What Terry failed to mention was the reason we were laughing. Terry wanted a photo of the people staring at us. When I asked how she was going to take one without being noticed she told me she would pretend she was looking at the photos in her camera. She didn’t think it through because the blinding flash went off when she took the photo. Reviewing the photo she just took, Terry zoomed in to the people’s faces and started laughing at their expression which got me to laughing too. The couple’s expressionless face never changed. We got very punchy. We figured we had overstayed our welcome, paid the bill, and left.

Terry and I were really looking forward to the optional motorbike tour the next day. It is the highlight of the majority of travellers on this tour. Back on the back of the bike, we were able to take photos and video. Our drivers navigated through the narrow passages of markets, past vast open areas of rice fields, through small stone archways, and more. The children would run from the schools and their house to stand by the road, say “Hello” and wave as we passed. Some would reach out their hands for a sort of “mid-five” (lower than high-five). Most of the adults would pay us no mind, but we did see the occasional smile. Sometimes almost a chuckle as the sight of an 11-foreigner convoy through the countryside must have been quite the spectacle. We stopped to see how conical hats (cone-shaped) were made. I woman with one arm was making the hats and apparently her hats are well known. The guide said she can complete 1-3 per day and she was selling them for 20,000 VND or about 1.33 US$. Later we stopped to see how insence sticks are made, a stop at a nunnery for a vegetarian lunch, and a stop to see a kings tomb. We boarded a boat, cruised down the Perfume River, stopped again to see even more temples and pagodas, then back on the bikes again.

We returned to the hotel long enough to get our luggage and head for the train station. We had a 13-hour trip ahead of us via an overnight train. Terry and I bunked with Dave and Namita since we had plans to play cards. We learned how to play “Euchre” and listened to some music on the lap top. Then we crammed 8 people in our room and we opened the cobra rice wine and we all had a taste. Check out the video.

[Terry: The vegetarian lunch at the nunnery was amazing. I had to be a little less than polite to get the shot, but I got a great photo of the nunnery with a nun walking in front of it. And I have to admit motorbikes are fun and often the only way to ride to narrow rice fields. Mark is only too happy to hop on the bike. The overnight train was awesome. Eating yummy pizza on the train was even better. Before we boarded the train, our group stopped at a sandwich place (their peach muffin cake was so amazing). Dave and Namita had pizza the night before and loved it. So we decided to buy a small pizza along with Mark’s tuna sandwich he just purchased for the overnight ride. Our group got in the bus headed for the train waiting for the sandwiches to be delievered. Our pizzas came with no problem. After much waiting, our leader announced that we had to give up the sandwiches... and the bus started moving. Everyone in the group looked disappointed and some even looked horrified at the thought of no sandwiches. One of the group, Lisa, had just told us a story of a traveller riding a train to China some years ago and I forget the details but the gist of it was that the traveller couldn’t get food for 55 hours due to the fact that he/she didn’t have the correct currency and couldn’t exchange it in the train. Of course the sandwich lady showed up just in time, a few seconds after the bus started moving. We had so much food and snacks that Mark never touched his soggy sandwich. Surprisingly, we all slept well and we think it was the potent snake drink. Mark has the short version of the video since he said it would take too long to load the whole video. Once we get back from our travels in August, we can try to email the full videos to our group. I am really going to miss Namita and Dave...I am going to think of them every time I use a fresh towel... or see a parsely :) ]


Lone lotus bud
Koi in a feeding frenzy
11-foreigner convoy
Pigs for sale
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