Friday, March 15, 2013

Palaces and Pagodas in Hue

Fara and I said goodbye to the beautiful town of Hoi An and headed north to Hue. Since Fara has been sick for the past few days, we decided to hire a car to take us from Hoi An to the train station in Danang. From there we caught the train to Hue. The train ride along the coast was beautiful. There were isolated little beaches and fishing villages along green hillsides.
We arrived in Hue and were excited to see that the hotel had actually sent someone to pick us up at the train station. We knew the drill. We put our backpacks on the motorbikes and jumped on the back for a quick ride through the streets of Hue to our hotel. We were greeted with a delicious, ice cold lemon tea as we checked into the hotel. We laughed as we opened the door to the room. It was huge! I think it was almost the size of my apartment! We could sleep four people, had a fridge and a bathroom with a huge tub. This sounds crazy but it was nice to have room to spread out our things. Since it was late, we had two things on our mind. Get our laundry sent out (only $1/kilo) and eat.
We walked the neighborhood and found a wonderful restaurant that offered a great selection of vegetarian meals. After our cooking class, I have been on a mission to find the best Banh Xeo in Vietnam. I don’t think anyone can come close to the one I made in the cooking class. So, of course I had to have one here and some rice noodles with fresh vegetables. Yum yum! It hit the spot but I was right. My Banh Xeo was better!  After a short walk we returned to the hotel to get a good night’s rest.

I have started my morning workouts. It is necessary to keep a routine and if I am going to try Banh Xeo everywhere!  I like the routine of my workouts and it allows me to sweat it out in the morning. It is also my time with the locals before the city comes to life and the tourists are flooding the streets. So, I strapped on my heart rate monitor, grabbed my resistance bands and my backpack with my camera. I knew I may want to get some early morning shots. Off I went with my map to explore in the early sunrise. As I walked the riverfront, men and women would wish me “Good morning” as they smiled and waved. I found a nice little park to do some resistance work with the bands and two men came over to check out my workout. They smiled, flexed their muscles and gave me thumbs up. I smiled as I continued my workout.  Since it was early and starting to rain, I decided to walk around the Citadel. It was beautiful in the early morning mist. I headed back to the hotel 2 hours later, showered and had some breakfast. Then, off to explore the Palaces and Podagas of Hue. The city of Hue is the home to the Imperial City and Forbidden Purple City. It was described in the travel books as an "Asian wonderland of palaces, pavilions, temples, ponds, gardens and gates. "

Hue's beautiful palaces and pavilions.

Thien Mu Pogada overlooking the Perfume River.
Temple of the Great Hero

On Fara’s last day, we decided to take it easy and tour the Hue Garden Homes. We wanted to get off the tourist path and see the ancient homes along the Perfume River. We made a big mistake by asking our hotel receptionist if we could get motorbikes to the Hue Garden Homes. We showed her the book and she said “Ah, yes. No problem.” We figured Fara’s last day should be like the beginning of the trip….back on a motorbike. We jumped on and were off for our relaxing day visiting the gardens. We traveled down a small road and I saw a sign that said Ancient Hue. Yay! We were going in the correct direction, or so I thought. The outside gate was beautiful wood in a Japanese style. We entered and a young guide met us to show us the home. We went inside and noticed it was a restaurant. He explained that the restaurant was built on the site of the ancient home. We wandered through the area and he showed us two homes with a beautiful garden.

We returned to the driver and I asked "how far to the next home?" He told me we were done and returning to our hotel. I explained we wanted to go to the five ancient homes near the tombs.  He told me "no." Hmmm. Oh well. Guess were not going to see the Garden Homes. It was hot and we were hungry so, we decided to spend the remainder of the afternoon relaxing and packing for our travels. Afterwards, we went out for a nice last dinner. We had a fabulous trip and enjoyed our time together in Cambodia and Vietnam. In the morning, my solo adventure would begin. I was nervous but excited.

At 6 AM the bus arrived to take Fara on her journey back to America. No tears just a “see you in 6 months!” I had a quick breakfast before catching a train south to Nha Trang. I got lucky and was able to get a sleeping car for the 13 hour journey to Nha Trang. It was just me and a little old Vietnamese man. He was probably 80 and got on board with a suitcase, a briefcases, a container of soup and a tree. Yes, you read that right. A 4 foot tree.  He spoke as much English as I spoke Vietnamese. It was clear he was asking me to help him with his tree. He asked me to put it under his bed. Sure! I did it and he smiled at me. The steward arrived with sheets and pillows and I made my bed and then offered to make his. This is what sealed are friendship. He shook my hand and pointed at himself and said “Thien.” I repeated the gesture and said “Michelle.” He stated talking to me in Vietnamese. I was stuck because the limit of my Vietnamese was hello, goodbye, thank you, a few dishes and “those are not my drugs” and “please don’t shoot.” That iPhone app was not going to help me with this one. I got my Vietnamese travel book out and gave it to him. He paged through it and pointed at the map to Nha Trang. I smiled and shook my head yes. He pointed at himself which I took as he was also going to Nha Trang also. Then we both took a nap. I awoke a few hours later and decided to try organizing my photos. He was very interested in the photos and wanted to look over my shoulder. I got several thumbs up and smiles as he sat next to me. Suddenly, he got up and left the car. He returned with a spoon and a cup. He opened his soup and poured a bowl for me. He patted his tummy and smiled with a thumbs up. Who needs language when you can use simple signs to communicate? I tried to tell him “No thank you” but he was not listening. It was delicious soup. It tasted like a mushroom vegetable soup with spinach. I thanked him and offered him some water. He shook his head and left only to return with 2 cups of tea. We sat smiling at each other and he would point to the countryside if there was something I needed to see. When the cigarette smoke on the train started to make me cough he opened his briefcase and pulled out a baggie with some sort of berries soaked in honey and spices. He pointed at his chest and made a coughing sound. He handed me a toothpick with berries. I tried to say no but he was not having it. He started pushing the berries and hot tea on me. He was pleased when I ate the berries. He was so sweet. His hands and smile reminded me of my grandfather and brought back happy memories. I found myself smiling and enjoying the quiet moments with my new friend. This was why I travel. I love meeting the locals and having these types of experiences. We befriended one another on a train and I knew I could trust him. I laughed when a woman tried to sell me 2 bananas. She looked at me and said 20,000 VND ($1). He got very angry and yelled at her. It ended up costing me 2,000 VND ($0.10).  When he pointed at my phone I gave it to him. He turned it on and called someone. I was confused as he had a conversation with someone then handed me the phone. He had called the train station to find out what time we would arrive. When he handed me the phone they explained in English the train would arrive at 9PM and asked if I need help making hotel arrangements. I told them I had a hotel booked and they were picking me up at the station. She asked to talk to Thien. She must have explained to him I was ok because he gave me a smile and a thumbs up. I helped him off the train and said goodbye. A simple act of kindness had bonded us over the long train ride.
Nha Tang beach
The next morning I awoke in Nha Trang and was off for an early morning walk on the beach. When I left the key with the receptionist she asked if I wanted a bicycle instead. Why not? It was the beach. I would love to ride a bike along the beach and enjoy the beauty. She called and had a bike delivered. It had seen better days. I checked the seat height, the brakes and the lock. Everything was fine. I grabbed a hotel card and a map so I was sure I could find my way back to the hotel. I was off to explore. The bike was a little rickety and nothing like my California beach cruiser. It wobbled and creaked. The brakes squeaked. I turned out on to the rode and was cautiously riding on the side away from the motorbikes and cars. I only had to make it 2 blocks and I would be on the beach. I successfully crossed the road and had the beach in sight. I was so excited to get off the road and enjoy the peace of a bike path. I looked up and down the beach. No sidewalks. I stopped and asked a woman and she laughed at me and pointed at the busy road. Oh darn! I could do this. It was a beautiful warm day. The sun was shining and I had been riding a bike since childhood. I went back to the street and was enjoying the day when a truck backed out into the road. Oh no! It was a quick decision. Get hit by a truck or veer to the right and hope I can jump the curb. I chose the curb. I flew up onto the curb and came down on the basket. I was spread eagle on the sidewalk and could feel a breeze on my backside. My bare butt was exposed for all the Vietnamese to view!! My skirt was around my waist. I jumped up and looked around hoping nobody had witnessed my grace. Then I burst out laughing! I skinned up my knee and ankle but otherwise I was fine. Guess I need to work on my biking skills! I biked 4 miles along the beach road and was ready to get back to the hotel. I did not enjoy trying to navigate the busy roads with cars, trucks, motorbikes and pedestrians. It would be fine if there were traffic lights but it is a free for all and my bell did not work.
I returned and the owners of the hotel asked if I had dinner plans. They offered to take me out to an authentic dinner of fresh spring rolls and country pancakes. Of course I jumped at the offer! We had a nice evening, they introduced me to friends and we found out that he was a IBO for the company I use to work for. It is a small world! I became an instant friend as they asked me about the products and life at Nutrilite. Dinner turned into dessert and then back to our hotel. It wa s a wonderful evening and made me realize how blessed I have been in my travels. I have met some amazing people on this journey in the last 3 weeks. I have been open to their culture and customs and I have learned so much more than I ever expected. It is natural to have fears when traveling alone but I am an experienced traveler. I am true to my personality. I love meeting people and sharing my life, travel and experiences with them. I never would have had these wonderful experiences with the local people if I was not open to their kindness. I believe that it pays you back tenfold. It was only at the end of the day I realized that I did not have pictures of these people. I lived in the moment and have wonderful memories of my time spent with Thien, Elvin and Le.


  1. I felt like I was sitting next to you as I read this......envisioning Grandpa in his quiet years smiling and very little conversation;) you are so special and kind and the locals must love you!!!!! Good Lord, you should have drug your feet to slow down and you will hopefully know better to do much of anything in a skirt;) love to you and safe travels!!!!!

  2. Thanks Kristin! I love you too! There was no time to drag my feet it was a quick decision and I thought I was cool and jumped the curb. I am sure someone has it on their camera and it will be on Vietnamese bloopers!

  3. Michelle. I am so envious as you are traveling exactly the way I like to go. I love getting in with the locals so I love reading your stories. Tell me though, had you planned most of your hotels in advance and booked them before you left the US? Are you calling them the day before to confirm or anything or just hopeing they show up to pick you up? Just curious how your doing the arrangements. Thanks and I can't wait to read more entries. Marsha (Travel-Nutrilite)

    1. Hi Marsh! Thanks for following the blog and I am happy to hear that you like traveling the same way I do. I love meeting the locals and getting an understanding of their life and culture.
      I have found in Vietnam that it is easiest to book a hotel through the night before. It is nice because the train and bus stations are outside of town or far from most of the hotels. So, when you make your reservation, many of them will meet you at the bus and train station and give you a free ride to the hotel. It saves money and you don't have to barter with the taxi drivers. Vietnam requires a lot of bartering and I hate doing it. :)
      Please let me know if you would like additional information.