Tet (Vietnamese New Year) in Hue.
22.01.2012 - 26.01.2012
Not wanting to get stuck in Hanoi due to Vietnamese New Year, a group of us decided to take a bus to Hue, heading further South through Vietnam. We arrive fairly early in the morning, and are ambushed by a guy trying to make us stay in his hotel. Tired and not in the mood to wander around comparing prices, we decide the hotel seems to be worth $5 each. Happy hour means free beer from 5-6pm. However this evening the hotel owner says we can join him for free beer all night as, unbeknown to us, we had arrived on the actual Vietnamese New Year's Eve.
Keen to get out and do some sight-seeing we visit the Imperial City. The impressive walled structure houses various buildings and temples, some reconstructed and some left to crumble. Although this construction does not compare in sophistication to the intricate refurbished Chinese temples, it's grey simplicity has it's own beauty and charm.
Back at the hotel we drink with the hotel owner, and get to have our first taste of sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaf. Directly over the road from our hotel is Brown Eyes bar, supposedly one of the best and liveliest bars in Hue. Coinciding with the happy hour in Brown Eyes we are well watered, and provided with good music for dancing. Just before midnight we run into the streets, trying to find the best spot for the fireworks. Finding a decent view is difficult as the fireworks are blocked by trees and buildings. As we run around it begins to rain. We pass fires lit in the streets with Vietnamese people burning fake money, and calling out 'Chuc Mung Nam Moi'.
A group of young kids are performing a dragon dance in the street, outside a bar. There was certainly a buzz of excitement and friendliness around the streets. It felt like the Vietnamese people were happy that we were sharing this experience with them.
Vietnamese New Year's Day
The hotel owner convinces us to hire a car, and he will be our personal guide taking us to the Thien Ma Pagoda and out into the rural villages around Hue. Around the Pagoda many Vietnamese are visiting the temple for New Year, lighting incense and stroking the giant turtle for good luck.
We visit a small Farmer's Museum further out in the country-side. We learn about how the rice is farmed and turned into various produce for food.
The last stop is the family home of the hotel owner. We are introduced to his family and sit down to drink beer and eat more sticky rice. The atmosphere is a little awkward as none of them speak English, but they make us feel welcome with smiles and continual toasting to the New Year. As we drive back to Hue I notice how all of the houses have their doors wide open, the family's calling over to their neighbours or just sitting in their front rooms. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming, and I am glad I have had the opportunity to experience this day of relaxation for the Vietnamese people.
DMZ (Demilitarized Zone)
On Tuesday I take a trip to the DMZ thanks to two guys I met on New Year's Eve who rented a car and driver for the day. This trip takes you to several museums, attractions and sights related to the former border between Northern and Southern Vietnam. The best part of the trip was the Vinh Moc tunnels, a intricate set of underground channels built to house an entire village of Vietnamese people during the war. Rooms were built, including a hospital area, toilets and bedrooms, to ensure the people could live underground for about 2 and a half years. 17 babies were born in the tunnels. The space was too small to stand up in, making it feel claustrophobic and eerie. I wondered how people could stay in such a cramped space for so long.
There were sections of the tunnels that tourists were not allowed to enter, as there was no lighting and you wouldn't know what animals were now living down there!
By this point in Hue I had started to get suspicious about the hotel owner. After befriending us, and offering us copious amounts of free beer he had started leaving us almost in charge of the hotel. It was as if he just wanted to find someone to look after it whilst he went out to do his own thing. A couple of times he would leave us with the keys. This seemed amusing at first. But later he would leave the hotel whilst we were out and lock it up. This meant we would often get back and be locked out. Luckily we discovered the main door was easy to unlock, if you just gave it a firm shake (although I no longer trusted that my belongings were safe in the hotel). It certainlywasn't called 'Funny Hotel' for nothing.
On Wednesday some of the group leave for Hoi An. I decide to find another place to stay, opting for a well-established hostel down the road. When I try to check out that morning, the hotel owner claims that I need to pay for a key he had to get cut to be able to get into the room the night before (I stayed out later at Brown Eyes, whilst Holly went back to the hotel and couldn't get back in the room as she did not think she had the key). The hotel owner accuses me of having the key, which I never did as Holly was the last to leave the room before we went out. Either way, I tell him as a hotel owner he should have a spare. But he claims for "guest privacy" he does not keep a spare. Tired of arguing I pay for the supposed new key and get out. When I meet Holly a day later in Hoi An she tells me the real story: the hotel owner had a spare key that he used to let her in to the room. In the morning she had found the key in her pocket. So there was no new key made, meaning he conned me out of money. On top of this he had also charged me for drinks that he claimed were free on New Year's Eve! The Funny Hotel was certainly no longer 'Fun' or 'Funny'!!