|Kumquat trees for sale (for Tet)|
|Local drink, Bird's Nest with White Fungus|
We had a late start this morning as we were booked onto a lunchtime flight to Hue. Our taxi battled its way to get out of town. The traffic was madness again even though we were on the main ring road. Along each side of the road stalls had been set up by people selling kumquat trees and peach blossom for Tet. It was a real hive of activity with local people precariously balancing trees on the back of bikes and scooters. Even though they are tightly strapped on it still amazes me how they manage to balance them and not wobble over under the load.
The flight that we had wanted to get was full except for business class so we had splashed out to travel in style, still cheap compared to prices at home. Business class check in was very fast and efficient and before long we were sat in the Vietnam Airlines lounge with memories of the days when Stef was travelling around on projects in Europe travelling Business Class. It makes for a much more relaxing travel experience when you get free refreshments in a quiet and peaceful setting before your flight.
Before long we were descending down to Hue, a small airport on the outskirts of town. With the Tet festival just a few days away we had asked our hotel in Hanoi to call ahead for us to book a hotel. They were slightly put out when we picked a cheaper option than the one they recommended but as we are splashing out at a beach resort in HoiAn it is a sensible choice. We asked the taxi driver to take us to the L’Indochine Hotel. At the airport they had a stand where you could pre-pay for taxis. We think there were probably minibus options to get into town but they were not offered to us so I suspect we got slightly diddled. We were also waiting for the taxi driver to try and pull a trick on us too but he did not and soon dropped us off at our hotel.
There is a large car park outside which makes it very easy and convenient for the inevitable tour buses to park. Stef went off to check the room, a bit surprised when he came back that the one he had seen was the superior room. It was clean and large but had a very grand name for what you got. The hotel reminded both of us of ones we had stayed at in China. It had an almost functional feel to it and was very Spartan with few decorative touches on display. The staff were friendly enough though and we were sure we would have a comfortable few days here.
In the afternoon we went in search of tour information. The area just north of here was the Demilitarised Zone and there is a lot of history about the American War in Vietnam and was related sites to visit. The tour booth at the hotel did not seem very bothered about promoting their tours and simply pushed a piece of paper towards us telling us the price and what was covered in the trip. Unimpressed we headed over the road to the Mandarin Café, a place which gets a good review in Lonely Planet.
We were met at the café by Mr Cu, the owner, who was very softly spoken and had an almost calming aura about him. He ran through the information on the tour he had available which simply lumps you together with lots of other people on a big tour bus. For extra cash though we could have our own private car and guide and this is what we opted for. It also meant that we did not need to be ready to go at six in the morning and the extra time in bed was a very welcome prospect! We also booked our onward travel to HoiAn on the infamous Open Tour service, opting for the slower bus that stops at a few places along the way.
Mr Cu is a well known photographer and samples of his work are dotted around his café. Exhibitions of his photos have been held in both France and Italy, something of which he is justifiably proud. We flicked through his photos (albums are available for every table in the café and you can buy prints if you want to) while having a drink. He has captured some really fantastic images of Vietnam with pictures of people in traditional dress and many photos of children at play. As a local person he has much easier access to get this type of photo than we do, for one thing he is probably not charged a dollar a click!
We headed back to our room more than anything to warm up as it was a surprisingly cool evening. In the evening we tried a Lonely Planet recommendation, The Tropical Garden Restaurant, which we both found disappointing. The food was a bit bland but the local traditional music offset this slightly. It was definitely a place geared to foreign tourists, most of whom seemed to eat early because not long after nine we were the only people left in the place. It is not somewhere I would go back to.