30.12.2008 - 04.01.2009
Arrived into Hue and it was pouring.....! We stubbornly pushed past the tuk-tuks etc and walked out into the downpour - arriving like drowned rats into our hotel later! Hue is a pretty town with a river flowing through - the main attraction being the Imperial Enclosure area which is the Vietnam version of the Forbidden City. Sad though to see the amount of decay happening to it - the wet season is pretty tough on wooden buildings.
New Year was pretty low key and we scuttled back to our hotel as soon as the new year started as we needed to be up at 6am for our Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) tour. We'd splashed out and hired our very own South Vietnam army veteran for the day to show us round the locations. The DMZ was the area between North and South Vietnam and
many of the key battles in the American War were fought here.
Stopping at a catholic church riddled with holes on the way to the zone it was sad when he broke down in tears, as he lost a lot of good friends during the American War.
He had lots of good stories such as at Khe Sanh Combat Base - otherwise known as Hell to the US GIs. It sounded absolutely horrendous...with the Viet Cong regularly sending in missiles. Our guide really brought it to life for us with his tales....drug taking was a regular occurence here with many perishing because they didn't react to the air raid sirens. The GIs had only 2 minutes a week to speak to their families in the US and he told us that often they never actually managed to get any words across to their families as they couldn't stop the sobs....
Also went to the Vinh Moc tunnels....these tunnels weren't fighting tunnels like the Cui Chi tunnels in the South.....these were built next to the China sea and was the main inward location for the VC arms from Russia.
From here the arms would be transported down the Ho Chi Minh trail to the south. We had a fabulous time scurrying through the tunnels appreciating being on a private tour and ignoring the signs saying 'No Entry' and heading off down unlit tunnels with only our torches! Despite the massive bomb craters we saw, from the extensive US bombing campaigns, the US never managed to penetrate these tunnels. Amazing ingenuity.
Because he fought with the US, our guide has been treated harshly by the government/police, monitored ever since leaving a 'reconditioning unit' following the war. Getting work was very difficult. He has written 15 letters to the US to try and get recompense or move across, but apparently they had all been ignored. In fact, our tour was conducted under a shroud of secrecy as officially he was just our non English speaking driver.
Also went off to the Royal Tombs of the Nguyen emporers and the infamous Thien Mu Pagoda....
Hoi-An was a bit of a tourist circus - just a town of silk shops (check out the exact replica of Fi's Ted Baker dress below!), tailors and cafes and restaurants - not much for us hardy backpackers.
Nonetheless a pretty riverside town full of canals and flooding roads....
Nearby are the mystical ruins of My Son which we were lucky enough to arrive at for sunrise thereby beating the tour buses. Sadly the site did suffer in the war, and the area is still mined.
Everything in Vietnam is separated into 'Tourist'' and 'Non-tourist' - public transport, hotels, restaurants, prices, areas of town etc etc. This is good in that everything is very easy for the tourist and you dont have to think much. However, it was starting to irritate the hell out of us, as we were not speaking with any locals unless they wanted to sell us something, were subjected to attempted overcharging a lot, were not seeing the real Vietnam and generally our minds were getting stale and bored with the ease of each day. I know this sounds odd - but when you backpack the day-to-day logistics and banter with the locals is great fun! Decided to take action and rerouted away from the tourist run along the coast and headed into the Central Highlands instead. The bus ride to Kon Tum was fabulous...in with the locals and the scenery was stunning. We were actually following the Ho Chi Minh trail up, climbing up through winding valleys and through small villages. The foliage was lush, green and dense and we did wonder how the US GIs must have felt heading off on their patrols in terrain such as this.