Oh, and, unexpectedly, Hue. Stupid bus company.
02.12.2010 - 03.12.2010 22 °C
The next day, after our return from Halong bay, we had a slice of leftover pizza for brekkie, before heading downstairs, where it transpired that we had breakfast included at our hotel. So, two breakfasts it was! Susie had a desert, by having a banana pancake, while John had an omelet.
We then set off, very full, on attempt 2 to see Uncle Ho! When we arrived this time, the presence of guards, scanners, hundreds of tour groups, etc, alerted us to the fact that HCM was available for viewing. Hurrah! After getting a little lost, and then being put through an airport style scanner, where you weren't allowed to take water through (more security than the land border we entered through, where a guard just had a little rifle around in our bags!), we had our camera taken off us, and then we joined a queue ready for our sighting! As we headed in in our line, past LOTS of armed security guards, we were told off for talking before we'd even entered the building! Then we thought we'd better be quiet! We were walked into the Mausoleum, where we walked past lots more security guards, in\\to the room where Uncle Ho himself is (except for the 3 months of the year when he goes to Russia for maintenance of course!). In the room there were 6 security guards around the sides where you can walk, and 4 more in the central bit, surrounding a glass coffin/case with the big man himself in. He is is lying down, and looks rather fake and waxworky really, but would do you expect when he's been dead for 40 years??? Apparently, so we found out later, his head looks big, because of how many times they've had to re-embalm it, but because he's dressed it's not all that obvious. It was the most surreal experience, but a definite must do for anyone in Hanoi!!!!
We headed out, past all the horrible gift shops that would have HCM turning in his grave, if he was in one, and then went to the 'Hanoi Hilton', an old prison that is now a Museum. It was built by the French, when Vietnam was under their control, and has since been used by the Japanese, and by the Vietnamese against the Americans (when it held mostly American pilots, including John McCain), when it gained the nickname it now holds.
The Museum was interesting, but most of the prison has been knocked down now, and the Museum was so biased that it made for irritating, if funny reading. Lots of talk of the horrible oppression of the French and Japanese (which, don't get us wrong, we're sure was awful), but only a little bit of information about it during the Vietnam war, and that was highly complementary to the Vietnamese. The exhibits actually said that it gained it's nickname because of the good conditions...apparently the Vietnamese don't get sarcasm!!
Some slightly scary models demonstrating conditions under French oppression
After that, we headed back to the city centre. We went to try and find somewhere to exchange the books that we had finished reading, but despite finding two places were unsuccessful - one didn't seem to exist (it turned out it has moved recently) and the other one sneered at our books, since one was a hardback and one a photocopy, and refused to give us any money off the books he had to sell, despite having about 1,000,000, and pricing them waaaaay too high (even an old, tatty copy of Rebecca was $3, and most were $5 or more for second hand books), so we gave up. We then went and had lunch at a little cafe, which was boring and average, and then chilled out for the rest of the afternoon, reading, using the internet and just chilling by the lake.
Finally, we set off at 5pm for our fistr overnight bus experience to Hoi An. We were picked up in a car, and taken to the bus. It was completely mental, and had 3 lines of bunk beds, and had about 8 rows of them. We were the first on the bus, and so had the pick of the beds...after trying about 10 each, we made the controversial choice of two of the ones at the top at the back. We made this choice because they were flat and had the only opening window on the bus! We waited for about 2 hours until everyone else made it to the bus, and then eventually set off at 7:30pm. We had the last of our leftover pizza for dinner en route, and then settled down for the night.
We're not going to lie, it wasn't the best nights sleep either of us have ever had. But we did both sleep (yes, even Susie who never sleeps on transport), and probably just about got our 8 hours, during the 11 hours or so we tried to sleep! It was very bumpy, but our seatbelts held us in, and the choice of beds proved worthy, as the bed being flat made a lot of difference!
We arrived in Hue at 9am, feeling a little dazed and sleepy but not too bad considering, expecting to catch a connecting bus straightaway (that was what we'd been told!), but it turned out we had a 4 hour stopover. Grrrrrr.
Oh well, we decided to make the most of it and to explore Hue. We had tasty noodle soup for breakfast, then wandered over to the Citadel, which is where the capital of Vietnam was for a long time (don't ask me when or for how long, I don't remember!). We had a tea, and then walked all the way around. It was really impressive, but we decided not to go inside.
Instead we wandered along the river to the local market, where we window shopped for a while, before going back to have lunch...a very Vietnamese caesar salad and chips. Yum!!
We then went back to get our bus...it turns out when you're told the bus will be there at 1, that's just accounting for Western stupidity, and so that actually means 2:10...Since we'd been there since 12:30, we were slightly annoyed, but we bought some oreos, and Susie made John play fun fun cards games (that he strangely didn't enjoy!), which kept us both entertained (if stressed on John's part) until the bus came.
Another four hour bus journey later (still on a sleeping bus...this is where we realised how good our choices had been - these beds only went down to a 45 degree angle, and we both struggled to sleep much. We arrived in Hoi An, finally, at 6pm, 25 hours after we started the journey. Pheeeeew!!!!
The hotel we were dropped off at wanted $18 a night...screw that, we started to walk down the street, when a lady on a moped called to us "you come to my uncles Hotel, only $10". Brilliant, we thought, only to have her drive off and leave us to guess the way, and keep driving past, shouting "England" at us. Very confusing, and then by chance we did end up in her Uncle's hotel! It was very nice, and they were all very friendly. The lady who'd taken us to the hotel (kind of) then came into our room and told us about her dress shop. We decided to go and see the next day, since Susie did want one dress. We then went and had a surprisingly tasty dinner at a restaurant a couple of doors down - Susie had very spicy but yummy chicken with chilli and lemongrass and John had some other chicken dish! It was the nicest Asian food we'd had since Cambodia! Hoi An was off to a good start! We then went and collapsed into bed, glad of a real bed!
NB - Sorry for the lack of photos at the minute, we'll upload them soon. We're having camera-computer connectivity issues at the moment!