KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
It was a short flight from Hanoi to Hue, and we called the hotel that was recommended to us by the Elegance Hotel in Hanoi so we were checked in and, on our way, to lunch shortly after noon. We had seen a Lonely Planet recommendation for Indian food at Omar Khayyam's and were delighted to find that the restaurant had relocated and was now on the little street opposite our hotel. We had a simple vegetarian meal and found the food pretty authentic. The Indian food we had eaten in China and Chiang Mai had been a real disappointment.
After the rush of Hanoi, it was wonderful to find ourselves in a quiet city where most people still rode bicycles to get around. Not only was it beautiful to see people floating past as we walked, but it also meant that there was less noise, congestion, and air pollution. Hue reminded us of Hanoi when we first visited in 2001. We made plans with the hotel to rent bicycles to enjoying visiting the sights within the city and in the surrounding countryside. The land around Hue is pretty flat and we weren't worried about tiring as we had met the bicycle challenges in Yangshuo, China and were looking forward to getting back in the saddle.
The main attraction in Hue is the Citadel located along the north bank of the Perfume River. A sizeable number of Hue's population lives within its 2m-thick, 10km-long walls. There are ten fortified gates, each with a bridge over the surrounding moat. Almost as a citadel-within-a-citadel, the Imperial Enclosure houses the Emperor Gia Long's former residence and state buildings. The enclosure was badly bombed during the war for independence from the French and the American War (what the Vietnamese call the war for reunification of the north and south). It is sad to see the almost complete destruction of this former capital of Vietnam, but restoration of the least damaged buildings is taking place and a complete rebuilding is in the planning stages.
We spent much of our three full days in Hue, cycling out into the surrounding countryside to visit the Royal Tombs of the rulers of the Nguyen dynasty (1802 - 1945). This gave us an opportunity to see some incredible architecture, village life outside of Hue and plenty of exercise thrown in for good measure. On our first day on the bicycles, we visited the Citadel and then after a rest in the afternoon, we set out at dusk to ride along the river and witness rush hour in a city that has not completely sold its soul to the motorbike. We rode past the two main bridges over the Perfume River and a little further along, we found the road along the river suddenly split in two, one branch rose up to the embankment level while the other continued straight on. I was in the lead and chose the high road - naturally.
A sharp turn to the right forced us on to a narrow sidewalk along the edge of a railroad bridge. There were so many bicycles and motorbikes behind us that we had no choice but to go with the flow. The sidewalk was enclosed by high metal fencing just wide enough for bicycles to pass through in either direction. There was little room to maneuver and any shakiness could have caused us to skin our knuckles. As if that wasn't bad enough, the sidewalk walls suddenly ended and we were on an equally narrow path with bikes and motorbikes coming at us three abreast. I was filled with a sense of panic and pulled off to the side as soon as I noticed a dirt path on the left-hand side. Anil cheered and pulled off right behind me. What a relief! Now we found ourselves on a large sandbar in the middle of the river with the choice of continuing along the sidewalk, with no rails, for a short distance and then proceeding over the second half of the river in much the manner as we had come over the first section of the bridge. Neither of us felt we could face it considering all the other riders making the journey at the peak of rush hour.
Then I noticed an elderly woman on a bicycle approaching. She looked as nervous as we had been and she stopped her bike and began pushing it as she passed us. I quickly fell in behind her and Anil behind me. We pushed our bikes almost half of the way back across the bridge before she mounted her bike and rode on. She knew she was holding everyone up and was now more comfortable crossing with the guard fence on either side of her. We following suit and were soon back on solid ground. Our knees were shaking but we were glad that we hadn't fallen and caused a real pile-up. We rode back on our last day in Hue to take some photos but it looked pretty harmless during the middle of the day when the traffic on the bridge was relatively light.
We stayed at a lovely hotel in the heart of the tourist district of Hue, where there are several great restaurants and bars. At one end of our street there was a bar called DMZ (for De-Militarized Zone), and at the other end another bar called "Why Not?". These were our two landmarks for finding our way back on our bicycles. We ate several great meals; I had a few lovely glasses of Grand Marnier and we tried (and fell in love with) fresh passion fruit. Hue is definitely a place I would return to for a very quiet, relaxing time. Tourism is really booming in Vietnam and the pace of life in the cities is changing so rapidly that quiet and relaxing is becoming harder to find.
We would have liked to stay longer in Hue but my sister Donna and her two younger sons were due to arrive in Ho Chi Minh City on Dec 22nd and we wanted to surprise them at the airport. We booked our flight to arrive about one hour before theirs. We were looking forward to spending Christmas with family when we were so far from home. If all goes according to plan, Donna's husband, Duncan and their oldest son should arrive on Dec 23rd.