There’s a feature on the weather website called realfeel, and it’s supposed to give an indication of how the temperature really feels, unsurprisingly. This figure is calculated taking into account factors such as humidity, wind speed, sunshine, cloud cover and elevation. All these things affect the way that a person can get rid of heat and so cool down.
At the moment here in Huê the temperature is 35 degrees, according to the weather site, but the realfeel is given at 42 and it really does feel like it too.
Huê is a two t shirt a day town and several locals have commented to us on the heat, ‘too hot, too hot.’
You’re telling me. I’m white!
It’s six degrees above the norm for this time of year here.
We arrived on a coach equipped with the least effective aircon system in the world and for once there were more white people than Vietnamese.
Aside from the fact that the aircon felt like an asthmatic hamsters dying breath, the nozzles were jammed in the wrong position so hard that it was impossible to direct them anywhere at all useful and we were horribly sweaty all of the way here.
We’d had to take the later bus, so we went to get pancakes and coffeee at our usual cafe, the one we always go to when we’re in Hoi An.
We’d told the lady who runs the place that it was our last day there, and she gave Nel a bracelet for a present. Don’t ask me why, these weird Vietnamese love her.
The view from many floors up in our Huê guesthouse.
We went back to our pick up point at the guesthouse in plenty of time. Normally this can be well after the time you’ve been given because the bus will not turn up on time or in fact anywhere near it but nonetheless we were there well early and after a while two men on motorbikes came to pick us up.
I have my rucksack and the day pack with camera and passports and water and books for the journey. Great. A scooter. Fantastic.
As it turned out, the coach pick up point would have been quicker and safer to walk to, it was only minutes down the road, which was a one way street, which our drivers went down the wrong way, obviously.
The bike I was on narrowly avoided a head on collision. The driver cussed the bloke who’d nearly hit us and I laughed, and then he did too. I was thinking, ‘well, we are going to wrong way down here mate.’ trying to keep my balance with two packs.
In our country it would be difficult to argue that the blame lies with the bloke who was driving properly, with due care and attention, and going the right way down the one way street that you going the wrong way down as well. I can’t think of many ways to be more illegal.
The coach arrived eventually and we piled on and began sweating.
Happily there were windows that slid open. Not very big ones, and with the air at the kind of temperature that can strip your skin off it wasn’t that much of a relief, but it did enable me to stick the camera out and take pictures of the spectacular scenery and stupidity of our driver, who risked our lives and limbs far more often than any driver we’ve yet had.
We drove along the coast with strange boulders sticking out of the shallows as though they had been put there precisely to look as though they shouldn’t be there.
Through villages, up and down hill passes and then past paddy fields where people in pointy hats worked, over bridges where water buffalo swam below us. It was pretty cool.
A very meticulously blocked Huê pavement
When the bus arrived in Huê we were kicked out right outside a guesthouse where a genial guesthouse owner offered to show us his rooms.
We’ve come to realise that even though your instincts are to ignore the people touting for business and go find somewhere on your own, it can actually be ok. If the price is ok we don’t see the point of walking round trying to find somewhere that you’ve looked up online that probably won’t be as good as it looks in the pictures.
Nel went to look at the room while I waited with the bags and smoked a cigarette.
The room is very good, the only issue I have is its elevation above sea level. And ground level too, it’s eight flights up!
Still, that means that we don’t have to worry about mosquitoes because they don’t fly this high, this is good for Nel, because she doesn’t have to spray kill-o-zap spray around the room when we go out and it’s good for me because I don’t have to listen to her imagining that there’s a mozzie in the room.
To be fair, she has been savaged by them in some places we’ve been.
We showered before going to get hopelessly lost in a new and unknown town.
We were given a map by the bloke on reception who also gave us detailed instructions to get down to the river, just five minutes walk away.
How can you not find a river? It’s not like it’s a small one, and there’s a bridge lit up with neon, visible from miles away.
I pointed out the big KFC a few hundred meters away, thinking it would be a good landmark before realising that it was actually a big mural of Ho Chi Minh.
This isn’t a KFC
We took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in a busy street, which was ok because there was a restaurant.
The local bia here is called Huda, and it’s good and it’s cheap, half a dollar for a big bottle.
After dinner we asked the waitress where the river is and she pointed in the opposite direction to the one in which we were about to head off in.
It was a couple of minutes away.
In fairness, most of the streets are not marked on the kind of map that they give you in the guesthouses, so you might see on the map that you need to take the next left, and that’s what you do, but it’s not the left that’s on the map, this one’s not marked because it’s maybe too small and there are not many street signs.
Down by the Perfume River there was a market last night, and there were many many people, lots of them very young. We saw a group of kids standing in a group and wondered what was going on, so we went to look.
There were about six kids with guitars and drums and stuff, and everyone was singing along to some pop song.
A girl saw us standing there and turned around to say hello, but not to me, oh no, she wanted to tell Nel that she’s beautiful. What is it with these people?
So, after we’d got the usual Nel complimentary preliminaries out of the way she went on to ask us about where we live, how old we are, and whether we like football. They’re always a little bit surprised when you tell them no, you’re not particularly interested in Manchester United.
She was taking questions from her friends, who we guessed don’t speak such good English or were more shy. And then other people noticed us there and came to grin at us.
It just seems that they’re very pleased that you want to come to visit Vietnam, and when we’re in cafe’s the staff just can’t help smiling big smiles. And they just can’t stop themselves from telling Nel she’s beautiful.
The man in the foreground didn’t quite run me down.
All the way through the market boys and girls ask you to eat at their little outdoor eatery. Every one that you pass without exception. I’ve taken to rubbing my stomach and saying ‘Happy Buddha’. This usually makes them laugh.
We went to get breakfast yesterday, and found the big busy street that we’d got lost in the night before.
We sat down at a roadside cafe and, after the waitress told Nel she’s beautiful, we ate pancakes and drank coffee.
Yesterday it was cool. Wonderfully, refreshingly cool, and there was a moody cloudy unhappy sky that promised rain.
I was very pleased!
We went to see the Imperial City.
Huê is a former capital of Vietnam and the Imperial City was built in the early nineteenth century inside a ten km walled enclosure. The Forbidden Purple City was enclosed within this enclosure and housed the Imperial Palace and administrative centre.
In 1968, when Hue was taken by the North Vietnamese, the Americans, to their credit, avoided bombing the Imperial City because of its historical and cultural significance.
As house to house fighting got more intense however, this policy was abandoned and now ten of the original hundred and sixty buildings remain.
Wonderful, wonderful drizzle.
It rained. Drizzle drizzled steadily all afternoon. It was a real pleasure to be soaked through and for it not to be my own sweat.
When the rain started, we went into a small cafe and I ordered lemon tea, Nel asked for a green tea.
The green tea was fine. My lemon tea had no lemon in it, but it did have lime, which is more or less the same thing and I have no quibble with but it also contained half a hive worth of honey, a piece of old tree bark and something that looked like a truffle, or perhaps the gaul stone I remember my odd grandfather had had removed and kept in a jar on his mantle piece. I didn’t find this thing until I’d finished this intensely sweet and nasty drink, oh no. It was glowering at me from the bottom of the cup like an archaeological find.
I only asked for a bit of lemon!
What the hell is that in my teacup?
There’s a shop in Hue that contained many many jars and bottles of rice spirit with snakes in. One of these jars, a large one had a King Cobra in it, which is the world’s longest venomous snake, averaging three and a half meters. It was a very very big jar.
The shop owner, and man of probably about forty saw us looking and taking pictures and showed us inside his shop, explaining about the different bottled serpentes. He told us that it’s medicinal, this snakey drink, improving health and virility and possessing the properties of a sort of Herpetological viagra.
I don’t know, I’m beginning to wonder if there’s anything in this Eastern wisdom that I’ve hitherto credited these people with unconditionally. Many of the snakes killed and drunk are endangered species and that can’t be good. What are they going to do once they’ve drunk them all, get all listless and floppy?
He was surprised when I told him I’d tried it in Dalat, and he laughed when I told him I’d drunk weasel turd coffee. He didn’t understand what I was trying to say at first, and I have to tell you it was without a doubt the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to mime.
Some greedy, greed fish
We decided that we’d have dinner at a restaurant by the road very close to the guesthouse. We’d seen that it was regularly full of Vietnamese people and imagined that the food would be cheap and good.
When the pork and lemongrass and chilli arrived, it looked fantastic and the chef had obviously made an effort to flavour it with coriander and spring onions. It was terrible and there wasn’t enough. Not even a ruminant with four stomachs could digest the woody fibrous lemongrass stalks. The bia was good though and after we paid up we went to try and find a pizza somewhere.
That was terrible too, like the twice baked biscuits they used to call hard tack in the navy, only covered in tomato and cheese but at least it was filling.
I had a bia but we noticed on the menu that you can buy a Blobby Mary. Neither of us fancied one.
There’s another place just near we might try where they sell both types of rice, glutinous and broken.
They also sell ice cream in an astounding variety.