I wake up to someone shaking my shoulder. If you’ve ever met me, or tried to wake me up from sleep, you’ll know the death stare that automatically washes over my face as I open my eyes to see a staff member standing over me. He’s balanced himself between two bunks and is hovering over one of the random aisle passengers. I’m almost certain that he used his foot to shake me awake.
Once my eyes open he just stares at me for a few seconds and finally says “where you go?”
I respond with “Hue” in a tone that is probably unnecessarily sassy, but you don’t wake this girl up. I like my sleep. Between getting elbows and knees throw at me all night, the honking, and being woken up by the smell of in-bus cigarettes, I’m surprised I’ve slept at all.
But I really have. All things considered, I’ve slept quite well. It’s 6am and the bus is due to arrive at 10am. Not bad. I try to go back to sleep to pass the time. God help the bus guy if he tries to wake me again.
I wonder how Tamara feels about all of this, but it’s hard to ask her when she’s sitting diagonally and far away from me. I wouldn’t want to wake any of the floor sleepers. I assume, and hope, that she feels the same way about it that I do. That it’s crazy and annoying, but also cost effective and part of the backpacking gig.
At 7:30am I can’t do it any longer, I have to use the on-board washroom. I’m terrified. I bring my tooth brush and tooth paste just to make the trip worth while by multi-tasking. Most of the floor sleepers have gone, so walking back there isn’t as hard as it would have been an hour ago which is a plus. The moment I open the door I feel like crying it smells so awful. The floor is wet, which I later realize is even more disgusting than I originally thought, because there’s no running water. I hold my breath, pee as fast as I can, and brush my teeth dry. I use some bottled water to rinse out my mouth when I’m back in my bed. Never again. I think it possibly would have been less disgusting if I had just peed right here in my tiny bus chair.
I sometimes find it hard to get used to cultural differences like this. None of the Vietnamese people aboard the bus are told which seats they can or cannot sit in. None of them seem phased by the crap wifi connection or the lack of water in the bathroom, or the fact that we don’t make any pit stops for 14 hours to use a clean one. Even the people who have to sleep on the floor don’t seem to mind, but I’m still not even convinced that they pay to get on the bus. I’d sleep on the floor if it was free, too.
Obviously in Canada a bus like this would go bankrupt or be sued in a matter of days, and there would be screaming fits at every boarding with such a repulsive bathroom and no leg room. In some ways though, I envy how relaxed the locals are about everything. How nice it would be not to mind! I think it’s really just the false advertising and the outward lying that irks me. They know they can get away with it because once I get on that bus, they’ll never see me again.
At the end of the day, I get to where I’m going, and I do get to sleep on the way, and that’s really all I need. Only 5 more sleeper buses to go before we’re in Saigon!
We get off the bus in Hue to the usual crowd of eager taxi drivers and hotel staff shouting prices at us. An Australian couple has already booked a place to stay and knows it’s only a 10 minute walk away from the bus station. We go with them to find the centre of town and to hopefully find a place to stay of our own. Their budget is a little more than what we’d like to pay. Once we hit the centre, a man sees our backpacks and tries to poach us to his hotel. He seems really nice, and the place is only $5 a night so we go with him to check it out, saying goodbye to our brief Australian pals. The rooms are clean and the staff are really friendly, which is so refreshing after the experience I’ve just had with all the bus staff, so we stay. I’m pretty sure it’s called the Google Hotel, which makes it even more awesome.
I order a bowl of noodle soup for breakfast, expecting it to be like Pho, but am pleasantly surprised to find that it has even more vegetables than usual, and a different broth. It’s only 35,000 dong ($1.60) and comes with a free tea! Bonus.
Tamara and I rent bikes. Bicycle bikes, not motorbikes, because I’m still terrified to try driving one in any sort of traffic. Plus it’s better for the environment! (That was for my brother, who thinks I’m going through an “activist phase” because I don’t like pollution). They’re also way cheaper, at only 30,000 dong ($1.50) compared to 100,000 dong ($5) plus gas for the motor bikes. Thriftin’ it up.
We grab a map and bike over to one of the main attractions in Hue, the citadel. Entry tickets are 105,000 dong ($5.25), so I give the ticket lady 505,000 expecting change back. She puts my money in the till and asks for another 5,000 dong. I’m confused, because it should be easy for her to just hand me 400,000 back. I ask why and she rolls her eyes at me and starts punching numbers into a calculator to show me why she needs another 5,000 dong. She thinks I’ve only given her 500,000. I try to explain, and she aggressively waves her hand in my face then holds it out for more money. Knowing that 25 cents is too nominal to continue arguing over, I give her another 5,000 dong and get my ticket. It’s really not about the money, it’s more about the frequent rude treatment I’ve been getting from people here. I don’t like being waved off like I’m some idiot, especially when I’m right!
It takes us over an hour to walk around the whole citadel. Some of the ancient buildings are restored, and some are still in ruins from damage during the war. I like the contrast. The beautiful Buddhist architecture is pretty fantastic, too!
After the citadel we bike over to a market and go for a walk through the stalls. We’re not looking for anything in particular, but who doesn’t like a good market?!
Unfortunately, this is not a good market. We’ve been pretty deprived of fruit and veg over our last few days in Ha Long Bay, so I’ve been craving some. I see a fruit stall with some apples and decide that I need one. I ask the price of one apple, and am told it would cost me 20,000 dong ($1). For one apple?! I try to bargain and offer to pay 10,000 and get a firm reply, “no”. She waves me away. Okay geeeez!
On our way through the skinny pathway between stalls, I have at least two ladies push me out of their way. Like real pushing, with their hands, against my body. Rude. We wander upstairs, where we find nothing but clothing which a) won’t fit me and b) I don’t need. We get absolutely swarmed by vendors saying the usual “you buy from me” “where are you from” “hello hello” “come here” “good quality”, and someone even pulls on my backpack to try and get me in the direction of their stall. We are followed around by them for the two minutes we manage stay before rushing back downstairs. It’s too much. Tamara notices that one of the women had been following us from the point we entered the market until we made it upstairs to her stall. It’s relentless and makes for an un-enjoyable shopping experience. I can handle a bit of a hard sell, but I don’t appreciate swarms of humans.
We go back to where the fruit is, hoping to find a different stall with lower prices or at least a vendor who is more open to bargaining. We keep getting quoted 20,000 per fruit. Apples, mangoes, mangosteens, oranges, all of it. That’s crazy. I look for bananas, hoping I can get some for a reasonable price after having bought three for 5,000 dong in Sapa, but none of the vendors have any. How can there be no bananas?!
Tamara and I find a woman selling sugar cane juice for the refreshing price of only 10,000 dong. We decide to share one. She pours it into a small plastic bag with some ice, sticks a straw in, and secures everything with an elastic band. I’ve never had a bagged beverage before! The juice tastes delicious, as you would expect from sugar cane, but I’m happy there’s some ice in there with it to water it down a bit. In attempt to get out of the market, we round a corner and find a whole street full of banana stalls! Hallelujah I love bananas. I wonder if they’ll cost 20,000 dong each, too. I stop at the first stall I see, point at one small banana and ask the price. The vendor pulls out out a 50,000 dong ($2.50) bill to show me. FIFTY thousand for a banana?! Will it give me eternal youth? Her and her neighbour pal start laughing, pull out some smaller and more bruised bananas, bag up two of them, and quote me 10,000. This I can stomach. The bananas are still larger than the ones I had in Sapa, and are not overly bruised, so I buy them. We get the heck out of the market, and see a fight break out between two women just as we’re leaving. It gets physical, and other vendors are trying to pull the women off of each other, but we don’t stick around to see who wins.
Outside at our bikes, I step away to find a trash bin for my banana peel, because I’m a hippie and I don’t litter. (This is for my little brother, who says I’m going through an “activist phase” because I don’t think pollution is cool.)
When I come back, Tamara is talking to a woman carrying mangoes in a basket, and selling slices in large quantity bags. I fear the answer when she asks the price, but for a huge bag of what I’m guessing is about three mangoes, it’s only 20,000 dong. We obviously buy them.
Our last sightseeing spot for the day is supposed to be a pagoda, but we never find it. Instead, we stumble upon a building that is now a school for monks. We walk up a flight of old stone steps and through a gate, where we can see some young monks making some crafts and singing. Just across the way from the school, is a small graveyard dedicated to some of the monks who have passed away. The school has only been open since 1940, so it’s not a huge graveyard. Tamara is shocked to see the “nazi” symbol on one of the gravestones, but I explain that it was a Buddhist thing first, and is a symbol of peace. I wonder how many people get confused about this in Asia; my guess is a lot!
I write about my day twice but for some reason wordpress loses my progress both times. I can’t re-write the same thing too many times, or I’ll spend so much time writing and not enough time experiencing Vietnam! I must remember to start copying my writing into a note.
The struggles of blogging from an iPhone are real.
Tamara and I find a random and really cheap vegetarian restaurant beside the river so we bike over for dinner. She orders a dish called “sautéed figs and sesame”, but when it comes, we’re absolutely sure it’s chicken and peanuts. We ask the lady what this chicken-looking thing is, and she claims it’s the figs. A “special fruit that only grows in Vietnam”. Good thing Tamara isn’t a real vegetarian. The sesames are also most likely peanuts. I know they can taste the same, but they’re the size and shape of peanuts and everything. They also have something called “meat spring rolls” on the menu, so that’s questionable. Maybe those aren’t “real” meat either, but just some magical figs. I won’t lie, my food is pretty good, and especially for 30,000 dong I can’t complain. My dish is a little more straight forward though. Just cooked pumpkin and tofu with some rice. Simple yet enjoyable.
We bike back to the hostel where they have the best Happy Hour I’ve ever seen in my life. Nothing says competitive rates like unlimited FREE beer between 5pm and 10pm.