Days 76 to 77: Hijacked At Hué

July 31st, 2001

Day 76. I spent most of the day relaxing at Hoan Kiem Lake and getting prepared for what I knew was going to be a long and painful overnight journey to Hué, the Vietnamese capital in the nineteenth and half of the twentieth centuries.  While there, some local boys came up to me and thought they’d give me the gossip on Vietnam.  They said that people from ‘down south’ were not particularly friendly which sounded strangely familiar as a northerner living in London!  Climbing onto the coach to Hué in the evening I realised that the words air-conditioned had a similar meaning to those in India, it solely meant that the windows opened!  I made the best of it and tried to sleep.

Day 77.  I didn’t get that much sleep as Vietnam’s main single lane “highway number 1,” is being widened and repaired, but at least the scenery out of the window was quite pleasant and I was quite enjoying it until.....

…… About fifty miles north of Hué we came to one of the frequent standstills caused by the roadworks.  Here there was only one lane open for one direction at a time as the other had just been laid with fresh tarmac.  Unfortunately there was no traffic light system, partly due to the fact that there was clearly no electricity supply within miles, so no one really knew when to go down the mile stretch of single track road.  As such we had been waiting for quite some time but still no longer than twenty minutes.  At this point things started to go a little wrong as the driver and co-driver thought they could speed things up a little.  The co-driver got off the bus and started to move the stones blocking access to the newly laid tarmac, the driver then proceeded to drive down it until he was forcibly stopped by a number of people standing in the road.  These people were clearly upset especially as the bus had run over a large stone crushing it into the new tarmac, however what followed was unbelievable and completely uncalled for.

A man with some sort of civil engineering measuring stick walked up to the bus and towards both driver and co-driver who were by now off the bus.  Then without saying anything the guy started to punch the driver which seemed to be the trigger for the other twenty or so people stood around to join in.  The driver and co-driver managed to run but were still being chased by people trying to punch and throw stones at them but eventually they escaped with us losing sight of them.  In the mean time the group of ‘workers’ had grown in number with some trying to ‘liberate’ our luggage from the locked compartments on the side of the bus.  I made an effort to hide my hand luggage under the seat just in case they came down the bus trying to grab anything which could be easily taken.  Another guy then jumped in the driver’s seat and tried to drive the bus but I got the distinct impression that he couldn’t drive as after a few minutes of fiddling with the handbrake he took it off by kicking it.  At this point a backpacker at the front shouted out “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”  I don’t know what shocked the ‘hijacker’ more, the thick Brummie accent of the guy which made the sentence sound extremely unthreatening, or the fact that for the first time he realised that he was trying to steal a bus with about thirty westerners on it!  He quickly jumped off but left us rolling towards the edge of the road where there was a drop of about ten feet.  Luckily we stopped just before we got there but this left the French couple in front of me trying to console their daughter who was in a flood of tears, but to be honest, most of us were a little apprehensive at this point to say the least.  Our safety was further threatened when a young Vietnamese girl at the front of the bus started to get man handled by one guy, it was difficult to know exactly what to do.

At this point a small group of us who thought it was time to assert some control over the situation got him off the bus.  Then from what appeared out of nowhere our driver rushed back onto the bus with the co-driver quite a way behind him however, he wasn’t so lucky, he was caught by what was now little more than a mob.  Someone punched him in the throat which sent him immediately to the ground.  At the same time someone tried to drag the driver off the bus but he hung onto the steering wheel and when the guy tried to get the bus keys, rather than let him have them the driver launched them into a field next to the road.  In the meantime a man wearing an army type helmet, a bit like a pith-helmet, casually drove up on his battered old scooter.  He was dressed smartly so we guessed he was in charge and was going to exert some sort of authority and sort everything out.  However, he casually placed his bike on its stand, walked up to the co-driver who was still barely conscious on the floor and without hesitation kicked him in the face with all the force he could muster.  There was a simultaneous gasp on the bus, followed by an eerie silence.  This was broken by a girl asking rather rhetorically “Did you see that?”  But all of us were thinking the same thing, we couldn’t have possibly seen that, we were seeking reassurance of what was happening because it was all so unbelievable.  We thought that the guy had broken the co-divers neck but he didn’t seem to care and just as he had arrived, he casually got back onto his bike and drove off.

A number of us had by now had enough, most of the men and some women got off the bus and walked over to the group who started to back off.  We thought that a large group of westerners on the road might draw the attention of the many passers-by and would in turn make the ‘mob’ uneasy and disperse.  It seemed to work and amazingly if not miraculously the co-driver seemed OK apart from a swollen face, a possible broken nose and a few very wobbly teeth.  He did have missing teeth, but I’m not entirely convinced that these were not missing in the first place.  After a further twenty minute stand off our driver handed over $30us at which point we were allowed to go on as if nothing happened.  It was unbelievable.  All the workers seemed to want was to ‘save face’ for the heinous act of someone driving on their new road was a punch and a bit of cash for each of them.  This seemed to be the way to rectify it; pathetic.

Unfortunately, we could not set off straight away as the driver appeared to have ‘lost’ his keys so it took another ten minutes of searching in the field he’d thrown them before we were able to set off again.  As we did a huge feeling of relief came over everyone, myself and the guy next to me turned and looked at each other and said almost simultaneously, “I’d wish I’d taken a photo of that!”  I still don’t understand why the people were so violent, why did no one get the police?  The driver said that you don’t get the police as they would want to be paid off, but wasn’t that what they’d just done anyway?  Eventually arriving in Hué I’ve found a hotel and am having a long rest after the longer than expected journey.  I told the guy on reception what had happed en-route and he simply said, “Hijacked in Hué” and then giggled.  Yeah, thanks for the sympathy!

Day 74: Communism Put On Ice

July 28th, 2001

Day 74. Maybe it was the karaoke that caused my restless sleep which in turn led to the reason I woke up at 2am one foot lower than I’d gone to sleep.  My bed had broken.  While trying to fix it I managed to knock a huge piece of plaster off the wall, I’m thinking that I might be leaving this place soon.

The humidity today was really high and I really needed to cool down so I figured that the best place would be Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum.  As I was about to enter the mausoleum I suddenly realised that I was wearing my Elastica ‘Vaseline, 100% petroleum Jelly’ T-shirt which has the words emblazoned in bold print on an image of a tub of Vaseline.  If people here knew what it was on about they might have thought that I was being disrespectful particularly as the old man was probably covered in the stuff to stop him from drying out!  If I’d have thought I’d have got a picture of me next to him and sold it to the company as a marketing idea.  “Vaseline, helps preserve nine out of ten dead communist leaders!”  Inside it was, as hoped, nice and cool but really dark with what seemed like orange street lighting.  Then came the really freakish moment, there he was, Uncle Ho looking like he had just fallen asleep.  It was really quite bizarre to be looking at someone who had died before I was born.  Tactlessly and in true British form, a British bloke in front held up a 5,000 dong note and said, “Hey look, it’s him!”  As we filed around, the many Vietnamese could not take their eyes off him, not even to look where they were walking.  Children stood staring with mouths wide open while parents tried to hurry them on.  He looked quite a weak, small and feeble man, strange to think that he actually beat the American war machine but I suppose ideas will always conquer brute force and ignorance.  It did seem however quite a bizarre idea to keep your ex-leaders in a box, maybe we should do this with Margaret Thatcher, even before she dies!

Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum, Hanoi

I’m not too sure whether placing this guy on display is a sign of respect or not.  Were people here to show gratitude and regard for a great leader, or were they here as I was, to see a dead bloke in a box, a kind of freak show.  I have the suspicion that even for the Vietnamese the latter may come into it a little.  This method of honour seems solely to exist in Communist countries and maybe it mirrors their social structure; ideas frozen in time, lifeless, expressionless.  Someone told me that in the evenings the box lowers into a chilled room but pops up again in the morning ready for the next series of visitors.  I couldn’t stop thinking about the kids’ toy ‘jack-in-a-box’, ‘Ho-in-a-box’ has a certain ring to it.  Just outside there was a nice middle-aged American couple having a bizarre conversation.  The lady said to her husband, “so where do you think Ho Chi Minh is buried” to which he replied “I don’t know I’ll have to ask the tour guide.”  Speechless!

Day 75: Evil American Imperialistic Puppets

July 29th, 2001

Day 75. The plan today had been to leave for a trip to the beautiful Halong Bay with its karst island formations with thousands of vegetation covered limestone peaks projecting out of the turquoise blue waters.  Sadly the rains in the north have been pretty bad causing blocked roads and cancelled boats including mine so I have to hope that I’ll be able to see similar scenery in Thailand.  I headed out to a museum which was not mentioned in my guidebook but an American traveller had mentioned this place to me in the restaurant last night and he had made it sound quite interesting, it was the ‘Prison de Hoa Lo’.

Guillotine in Hoa Lo Prison.

This prison was built by the French and was used to interrogate and execute those who opposed French rule.  Prisoners were guillotined here right up until 1954 when the French were finally removed from power.  The stories here are particularly anti-French and portray them as exceptionally nasty rulers.  Even if this were over exaggeration, the methods of control and suppression on display looked like they were from a different age.  But then I began to notice things in the descriptions which to me seemed dubious if not made up and simply used as excuses for propaganda.  One example was a petrol can which was on display as an item of torture.  The sign stated that someone would stand on the canister with their arms tied with a rope fixed to the ceiling and then the petrol can kicked away.  I’m sure this kind of torture did go on but why a petrol can?  The can itself was not an item of torture, a stool would have been easier to kick away but neither of these were torture devices.  But the image of the rusty old battered can I suppose looks worse and more threatening than a little stool.  I got the impression that in most parts of the museum old objects were found lying around so they just came up with uses which would be in fitting.  Other claims I had certain reservations about included a feather with a note next to it, “Feather which was used in the killing of many prisoners by tickling under one arm.”  Tickled to death, always thought this was just a phrase and not physically possible.  I think my favourite was the “alcohol factory” the French had in town, producing spirits and beer which was set up to deliberately poison the people of Vietnam.  I would argue that the French are doing the same to everyone with Kronenbourg but who am I to argue!  Even saying that, there were some pretty barbaric methods used against the Vietnamese and some of the older generations still quite rightly have a dislike for all things French.

No revenge at the Hanoi Hilton.

After walking past a couple of guillotines I entered the ‘American section.’  This showed the conditions that the American Prisoners of war were kept in during the ‘American War’ as they call it here or the ‘Vietnam War’ as they call it in America.  Contrary to what American POWs stated happened to them, and to what is generally accepted throughout the world as a gross infringement of the Geneva Convention, the museum stated and showed that American POWs lived here in a life of luxury.  It gave examples of the fantastic treatment POWs were given during captivity in what the Americans sarcastically renamed the ‘Hanoi Hilton.’  I found it hard to believe that in a place which contained all the tools of the French torturers, they would not use these in retaliation for the thousands left dead as a result of US actions.  After all there are few rules in War if no one lives to tell.  All the cells contained arm and ankle clamps which would force you to remain in a seated position causing immense back pain and injury, it is well documented that these were used on American POWs.  But I suppose the winners are allowed to write the history whether it’s the truth or not.

Arm & Ankle Clamps.

I put my life in someone else’s hands and jumped on a motorbike taxi to Ho Chi Minh’s museum.  This was again filled with serious anti-French sentiment, and to a lesser degree American.  One thing which stood out here was the unfortunate use of the word propaganda.  In English, although not strictly correct, we generally use this word to describe false information through media, publications etc.  So when they gave information as being reported by the ‘

“Propaganda brigade of Vietnams Liberation Army” to me it implied that people were been given miss-information about what was actually happening!  But reading the information this was actually not that far from the truth.  The museum contained a number of unusual things which as with the prison the curators had interpreted in their own special way.  An example of this were the victory medals given by a number of countries after the Vietnamese victory over the Americans.  One of these medals was said to be from Britain but on closer inspection I could see that it was a medal not given by the British Government as implied, but a medallion with the image of the British philosopher Bertrand Russell on it who opposed the war.  I think he actually gave this as support to the Vietnamese people during the war as he did in fact die before the war ended so things didn’t quite add up.  But throughout all of this propaganda, one short phrase stood out more than any other.  It is bizarre in its formulation but wherever and whenever the Americans are mentioned, the word American was nearly always lengthened to “The Evil American Imperialistic Puppets.”  I find this really quite funny as it puts a series of bizarre images in my head including the idea of remaking all of the Vietnam War films with the Muppets.  Jim Henson presents, “The Muppets Apocalypse now!”  I have an image of Kermit slowly rising out of the water covered in camouflage while buildings explode behind him in the night sky…..  Actually, if an American irritates me I now know what I’m going to call them!

There was one display describing how the French ‘imperialists’ lived compared to the Vietnamese and was basically saying, ‘look, this is what we have, living in straw houses with no water, disease etc, the French have made us live like this while they have stone houses with good furniture and home ware’.  This general difference in living conditions was obviously true but it was not entirely subjective.  Yes the new wealth was not shared as empires were all about exploitation.  However, during the French occupation many Vietnamese were living in the just the same straw house conditions they had before the French came.  The French just bought and expected to keep their standard of living with the creature comforts they had at home.  I don’t think they could be accused of forcing people out of new stone built mansions to live in straw huts as this was not true, they should only be accused of not improving conditions of the general population.  Nowhere does it point out that over 25 years since the re-unification of Vietnam and 50 years since the French left people are still living in those same squalid conditions while their own leaders live in mansions, something for which they blamed the French.  Whose fault now?

Still these museums are good to see, they give a foreigner an insight into the way a country sees itself, their way of thinking.  On the surface it does seem amazing that the Vietnamese believe what they are told without question or fear.  Before I left the museum I was treated to a display of traditional music, dancing and singing.  To be honest I wanted to walk out halfway through before my eardrums burst but thought I’d be polite and stick it out.  In the end I bought a tape of the music just so I could play it to others so they’ve an idea of what Vietnamese torture is.  Even if this was all the Vietnamese did to the American POWs during the war it was surely enough to enact the Geneva Convention!

Hopping off another motorbike taxi I entered the Military Museum in which by now I was expecting lots of propaganda and I wasn’t disappointed.  There was a plane which allegedly shot down fourteen American aircraft and statistics of thousands of American aircraft shot down during the war.  It could be true, but I have a feeling most of the planes shot down were from the South Vietnamese forces, and the number did seem a little high for one aircraft.  It was very hard to find any mention of a war against the South Vietnamese, ironic as that’s how it fundamentally started and ended.  But I suppose it makes sense to blame a third party as blaming half of the country to which you are now unified would only cause more hate and fighting.  I decided to leave after looking at a series of weapons with notes describing how many people were killed with each one and the details of how it was done; a little too sick for my taste.  On the way out the headline of a picture caught my eye, the heading read, “Sunken American Battleship 1971.”  On closer inspection I could see that it was in fact a small twenty man landing craft which had been beached more than likely after landing!  You believe what you want to believe.

Day 78: Bogy Picking Cockroaches

August 1st, 2001

Day 78. After the stressful events of yesterday I headed for the tranquillity of the Forbidden Purple City, the old royal palace at Hué.  It was extremely quiet, partly caused I guess by the fact that there’s practically nothing to see here.  Of the main buildings in the centre of the complex only a handful remain.  Sadly wars with the French in 1947 destroyed many of the historical buildings but just for good measure the Americans finished them off in 1968.  Having said that, the North Vietnamese weren’t entirely blameless in the destruction of the city and did not do themselves any favours in Hué.  During the 1968 Tet offensive the Vietcong captured, occupied and withdrew from Hué, however during the occupation they carried out summary executions, torture and mass killings of what is suggested to be about three thousand of the local population in what is now unsurprisingly called the ‘Massacre at Hué’ in the west and a ‘great victory over the Americans’ in Vietnam.  It’s hard to imagine what the complex would have looked like but from what’s left I would say that although it was probably impressive it would never rival Beijing’s Forbidden City.  As with many of the old buildings and monuments in Vietnam they are clearly trying to repair and rebuild the site but the damage is great and the vast majority of the buildings need to be rebuilt from scratch particularly as most are and were wooden.

Forbidden Purple City, Hué.

On the way back to the hotel I met a kid trying to sell coins of ‘old’ Vietnam denominations.  While I was talking to him I asked him whether he should’ve been at school to which he said that he would be going later.  I bought a couple of coins off him as I thought they would make nice souvenirs.  I got a one Dong coin which is worth one five-thousandth of one pence not to mention a one Háo which is one fifty-thousandth of one pence; now that’s what I call inflation.  There was a one Xu coin but that was just getting silly!  With the coins he handed me a little piece of paper with contact details just in case I wanted more.  On it was his date of birth showing that he was six years older than me!  He was only about four foot and I’d asked him if he should be at school and he went along with it, doh!  It was so embarrassing.  On the walk back to the hotel I spent my time saying no to people trying to sell me T-shirts with “good morning Vietnam” printed on them, it must be at least ten years since that film was made; let it go!

Just before midnight I was woken up with something crawling on my face, ticking my nostril.  I quickly brushed whatever it was off, which felt quite large, and heard it hit the wall.  After switching the light on the thing I’d brushed off was now flying back across the room towards my face.  I quickly moved out of the way and it landed on the bed.  The offending article was (past tense!) a shiny brown cockroach the length of a pen.  One had done the exact same thing to me in India, but that one was more of a foot squashingly friendly size and there was no way I was going to stand on this one to kill it.  It could have had my foot!  I sprayed some of my mosquito spray on it which turned out to be quite effective but resulted in quite a horrific slow agonising death.  But to be fair, it should not have tried to climb up my nostril in the first place!  DEET seems to slowly peel the outer layers of the poor things hard casing off, it was horrible, it was insecticide!  I’ve now put my mosquito net up, not for the mosquitoes, but to keep out the bogy picking cockroaches.

Day 79: Naked Dead Guy!

August 2nd, 2001

Day 79. I decided to go on the demilitarised zone (DMZ) tour today.  To me this is a bizarre concept particularly as the country still seems to be adversely affected by the “American War.”  The first ‘sight’ of the tour was a hill called the Rock pile, it’s a small rocky hill that is only accessible by helicopter and was used as a US marine listening post for the surrounding area during the War.  Couldn’t quite call this tourist site though but the next mountain was a bit more of a famous site, the nicknamed Hamburger Hill.  This was named so by US soldiers as anyone who fought on it was literally made into mincemeat.  Locally called Ap Bia Mountain and ‘Hill 937’ by the American military (its height above sea level), it was a well fortified position of the North Vietnamese Army which the US wanted to take.  Although the US took the hill the battle was costly with seventy US dead.  As a result, the battle was considered the turning point of the war as people back in the US were horrified at the increasing number of casualties, soon after President Nixon announced the first troop withdrawals.

It was really hard to understand our guide as his English was a little sporadic but our attention was suddenly grabbed in the middle of his commentary when we all clearly heard him say in his broken English accent “Ooh, Naked dead guy!”  Was this part of the tour?  Had they put a naked dead guy on especially for us?  Nope, there really was a naked dead guy at the side of the road.  The tour guide said that this may have been caused by arguments which often occurred here or maybe the result of a robbery.  The trouble was, he said, that the death penalty can be used for robbers so they have to destroy all evidence which could link them to the robbery.  So after the robber takes all of the guy’s valuables he then takes his clothes just in case any blood was left behind, and to make sure that the victim doesn’t say anything the robber kills him.  To me this seems to be a great argument against the death penalty as it appears to be creating more deaths than reducing them.  It’s the same as the statistics that more armed robberies occur in countries with an armed police force, doesn’t take a genius to work it out!

We continued on as if we’d seen something quite normal and visited another ‘famous’ landmark I’d never heard of, the Khe Sanh Combat base.  According to our guide this place was the turning point of the war, contrary to Hamburger Hill as my guidebook states.

According to our guide thirteen thousand US troops died here which I think may have been a bit of propaganda as in the eleven years America was in the war approximately fifty-eight thousand soldiers died.  He was saying that roughly a quarter of these died in less than one month out of eleven years!  Mmmm, it was probably several hundred but not tens of thousands.  It was a strange place though, even to this day the chemicals used to deforest the area and make a clearing for a runway were still working.  Parched bright red, orange earth ran the distance of the runway, not a sound could be heard, none of the usual sounds of insects or other wildlife, everything here remains dead after all these years.

56.  Khe Sanh Combat Base.  Vietnam.

We drove back down the ‘Ho Chi Minh Trail’ passing interestingly bizarre sights such as mopeds with live pigs strapped precariously to the back of them lying down as if sunbathing.  Following the route we passed through a special tax free economic zone near the Laos border where there was an ‘internal customs’ separating this region from the rest of Vietnam.  Obviously the locals want to buy stuff on the free side and take it into the taxed side without paying any duty.  To do this you could see people jump off busses before the border, then stuff ‘contraband’ into their jackets, trousers and anything else they were wearing.  This was done to the point where they looked like either a giant sumo wrestler or the Michelin man, how they thought no one would notice I’ll never know.  They would then run around the customs blockade, through the thick jungle and then back on the bus on the other side.  I was quite amazed at how many packets of cigarettes you can conceal on a person.  This all had to be seen to be believed.  These guys are true athletes and they should have this ‘sport’ in the next Olympics.

A little further we came to a tribal village which we were told had seen very few westerners and would not be used to us.  As we were being told this, in the distance a small child wearing a Manchester United top walked past a satellite dish!  Illusion destroyed.  Amazingly, it turned out that due to the way in which the tribe is funded, no one has to work or even cook in this village.  They are given aid due to the help they gave during the American War but our guide said this and I was starting to question his truthfulness.  It was a messy, smelly, dirty place but it did have some interesting rules.  Men and women can sleep with whoever they wish, whenever they like, however when a woman marries she has to stop sleeping about but luckily for the bloke he can go on as long as he wishes.  I wonder who made that rule up!

Vinh Moc Tunnels.

After a brief stop at the old north south border on the Ben Hai River we at last headed for a sight I had heard of, the Vinh Moc Tunnels.  The Vietcong had used these for shelter, as hospitals, for storing arms and for transportation around the north south border, they were entire towns underground.  These tunnels were really interesting to walk around particularly knowing the significant role they played in the north winning the war.  We were then told the story of a town we were going to pass through, I think it was Quang Tri, but as the guide was prone to over exaggeration I figured that although there maybe truth in it, numbers of deaths etc would be somewhat over embellished.  The guide said that the when the Vietcong took the town they killed everyone including women and children as they could not be sure if they either supported the south or were in the army.

If this did occur it made me wonder that surely the lack of military uniform and the age might have given it away.  The guide told us this story in a very matter of fact way with absolutely no emotion as if it were normal to do this “for the sake of the north” as he kept saying.  We headed back to Hué seeing a few more ‘famous’ sites including a bullet and mortar ridden catholic church just south of Quang Tri, this was the only building left standing in an area which was blown up by the Vietcong and then carpet bombed by the Americans.  There were many mixed stories from this place which included it being a site of a fierce land battle between the Vietcong and the US in which the Americans sought refuge in the church but to no avail.  Another story says that it was the ARVN, the South Vietnamese forces, not the US.  Either way, it’s a sad story to think so many people were killed here.  The guide said that the fact that the church was left standing was a sign from god, whereas I thought it was a sign that the church was made from reinforced concrete and the buildings around it not!  Also looking at the church, ‘surviving’ would not be my word of choice, the expression ‘vaguely upright’ would be!

Ruined Catholic church, Quang Tri.

As we continued on our way there was another ‘road rage’ incident.  This was roughly in the same place where events took place two days ago and it has a similar storyline.  As we were waiting on our bus at one of the many traffic controls we could see someone throwing large rocks at a man who then managed to run off.  Then just as we were driving off our guide said, “Oh, big knife!”  The man had run into a road side ‘restaurant’ and grabbed a large chopping knife and was running back towards the people throwing rocks.  We drove off quickly and the rest was left to our imaginations but I hoped that the man caught up with the guys throwing stones as I’m convinced these were the same people we had trouble with.  The tour had been interesting and had taught me a lot about Vietnam, not for the sights, but the aggressive attitudes between people which appear to stem from the distrust created by the battles of the past, differences which still don’t appear to be resolved.

Day 80: Temple ‘Water’ Torture

August 3rd, 2001

Day 80. I headed out on a boat trip on the Perfume River to see the temples and burial chambers of the emperors of Vietnam.  Our boat was a typical Vietnamese river boat, ridiculously brightly coloured, extremely unstable with a leaky hull which worryingly the ‘captain’ spent most of his time emptying of water rather than looking where he was going.  However, the scene was idyllic, floating down the river passing locals fishing and working on boats.  It would have been more idyllic if it were not for the huge lorry engine with a twelve foot long propeller shaft used to power the boat along; a little noisy should we say.  As usual everything was a little run down but now at least most temples and tombs were in the process of being repaired thanks to the “tourist dollar.”  This has more than a little irony as it was the “war dollar restructuring process” of the 1960’s and 70’s which caused the damage in the first place.  The first stop was Thien Mu Pagoda with its famous tower and suicide monk.  In 1963 Buddhist monk Thich Quang drove to Saigon in the now immortalised light blue Austin car, covered himself in petrol and set fire to himself.  His protest was against perceived injustice of the regime of President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam who would not allow the monks to celebrate important festivals but did allow Catholics to hold theirs, interestingly Diem was catholic.  I remember seeing this terrible image at school but never knew what it was about until now, it was a complete surprise seeing it here.

Thien Mu Pagoda, Hué.

One of the next stops on the tour was the Tomb of Tu Duc however the mooring point was about two kilometres away from the entrance.  The idea is that you pay a motorcycle taxi to take you there.  Being in the middle of nowhere they could charge whatever they liked and so were asking for 20,000 dong, just under £1.  As usual the French amongst us simply refused to pay and set off walking but I decided to wait until everyone had gone and then bargained as I knew there would be no one else coming for a while and they would want some money at least.  So I got there and back for about 10,000 dong which was a bargain.  The vast tomb complex is really quite impressive with an artificial lake surrounding it with not only the tomb of the great little Ducker himself but also tombs and temples dedicated to his wives.  By the time I left the tomb complex the French group were just arriving and needless to say they did not have enough time to see the temple which was fortunate as they were not prepared to pay the entrance fee anyway.  They turned around and set off walking straight back to the boat where we had to wait fifteen minutes for the buggers.  This was particularly annoying as they didn’t even have the courtesy to say sorry but just complained about the prices.  But to make me happy, the group were caught out by the next trick to be played on them.

Monk Thich Quang’s Car.

Food was included in the price of the trip so we all sat on the floor of the boat cross legged while in front of us the captain’s family, who all lived on the small boat, neatly set out our meal as we sailed down the river.  I noticed that we all had a canned drink next to us which I knew from previous experience would not be included in the price as the tour itinerary just said food.  After I finished my meal the French guy next to me asked if he could have the drink placed in front of me.  Maybe I should have told him about having to pay but after waiting 15 minutes and being rude enough to tell the bike taxi guy to “fuck himself” I thought, no.  So, after the meal the captain’s wife came around asking for money for the drinks and he had to pay double!  Made me laugh, inwardly of course, I think!  It was particularly gratifying as the drink was the same price as the bike taxi ride!

Tomb of Tu Duc, Hué.

After seeing one final Goon Show sounding tomb of Minh Mang I was pretty bored of temples, I must have seen thousands in the last two months, we set off back to Hué for Dinner.  Irritatingly I had trouble getting a restaurant as most were very busy with tourists and would not let a single person sit down as I would take up too much table space!  This was the first time this has ever happened but luckily a Swedish couple saw what was happening and said I was with them, so I jumped on their table and managed to get fed to the manager’s clear disgust.  After the Swedish couple left I noticed another backpacker was in the same predicament as I had been so I told the manager that she was with me, he was not happy!  She turned out to be a completely dappy Welsh girl with a slight hint of madness.  We sat there and got drunk on the unimaginatively named Hué beer making sure we took up the manager’s time and space.  Walking back I realised that I’ve now been travelling for eighty days, the original time I planned.  I’m starting to believe that extending the trip was a good idea after all, but that could be the Hué rice beer talking!

Day 81: I Shot Americans! (he said)

August 4th, 2001

Day 81. I travelled a little way down Highway number one to Hoi An but as I had a couple of hours to kill before setting off myself and the Swedish guy from Dinner decided to head into town for breakfast.  We hopped on a cyclo (cycle rickshaw) to the centre and made polite conversation with the rider, well it was polite until the Swedish guy rather tactlessly and pretty randomly asked whether he took part in the war.  I was really embarrassed and felt that the guy might have been upset at this question.  However, the guy just took his hands off the handle bars, made them into a shape as if holding a rifle and said “Yes, I shot Americans!”  He accompanied this by making childlike shooting noises and pointing at some (possibly American) tourists as we rode past.  I put my head down and hoped no one would recognise me!

As usual the bus was thirty minutes late but the journey was pleasant enough and quite uneventful considering previous road journeys, no overnighter, no hijacking, no dead people, cool.  We arrived quite late into Hoi An as although the journey was not far, the road had wound its way up and down mountains, we also had to stop while all “us foreigners” bought entrance tickets to the world heritage city.  As such when it came to finding a hotel they were all pretty full and had to pay an expensive $12us a night, but it was raining heavily and it had air-con and TV.   But the price soon came down as a little later there was a knock on the door, the manager was standing there with a rain drenched German girl.  She was desperate for a room and there was nothing left in town.  I was asked if I would share with no price change.  $6us a night, how could I say no to that.  Sadly I wish I had as not only did she snore, she had somehow managed to rip one of her big toe nails off, which was now pointing at right angles to her toe and looked horrific.  She was afraid to do anything with it which unfortunately involved not washing it, god she stinks!