in the bleak mid winter

Nearly a fortnight in Vietnam has passed and I have realised that I have hardly given you any insights into my experience of the country so far. Well, I’ve let you know about the brilliance of the cheap beer, the joys of the Indian curry houses plus the amount of time I have spent wasting my days in bed before playing pool and darts – but none of that gives you a feel for the place. Sure, this was never going to be a travel blog as such, reporting on what amazing places I had visited or tourist sites that I had ticked off, but still, needs must. You’ve also probably had enough of me using this as a release for my thoughts and feelings (of which I thank the people muchly for their emails and comments on, much appreciated) Seeing as I am in my second Vietnamese town, Hue, I feel it’s time to do some travel writing again.

I arrived in this centrally located city last night after my sixteenth on time flight of the trip. That’s right, sixteen flights since leaving Gatwick back at the very start of October. My carbon footprint has certainly grown to big foot status as this trip has progressed. The reason I mention that it was on time is because the fortunate nature of it – several flights on different airlines were delayed by hours on my travel day from Ho Chi because of ‘adverse weather conditions’ That’s right, it’s winter here in Hue. About 10c according to the locals, and it has done nothing but piss down since I touched down at the optimistically titled ‘International Airport’. Any airport that has just one baggage carousal and zero security cannot be classed as ‘International’. I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t deal with flights to and from other countries…..Sorry, Hue – back in your box.

It’s quite ironic that the weather is as cold and miserable as it is as I had a day yesterday where I woke up and just fancied being back in the UK. A round of golf, a home cooked meal with the family or even a night on the town with mates – just something basic like that would have been perfect. Arriving in pitch black conditions, with a howling gale and driving rain reminded me just how shit a UK winter can be. Staying with current mindset of doing very little has been made even easier because the weather has been so dire. I went out for a rather cold and damp walk along the river front this morning, got hassled by several locals trying to sell me various objects and tours (with varying success, check out the 75p poncho picture) and retired happily to my latest ‘flashpacker’ room to watch England lose another one day international on my laptop. It’s been just like a winters day back in England and the funny thing is I have quite enjoyed it! I’m not saying for one minute that I’ve discovered a love for crap weather, no way. But it has been quite a nice change for me, who has only felt cold on about four occasions (two of which were in Melbourne) since that first flight took me to Bangkok.

Anyway, back to Vietnam. Well, first thoughts on the people here are that they are a friendly enough bunch who sadly, are almost all involved somewhere on the ‘would you like to go for a ride or tour/ take some marijuana/ have sex with a prostitute’ sales pitch. Within two minutes of leaving my hotel last night to find a restaurant I was offered all three. It’s quiet here in Hue and perhaps that’s what you have to do to stay sane here during the winter months. The thing is it was no different in the much busier, cosmopolitan and warmer clime of Ho Chi Minh. I was becoming tired of this near the midway way point of my time in Ho Chi, so during one walk back from Mamtuz curry house I decided to count the times I was offered ‘boom boom’ or ‘marijuana’ from a bloke on a scooter. See by night the boys who offer their services as a chauffeur or tour guide by day, become drug dealers and pimps by sunset. This particular walk I was offered illegal substances six times and sex four times. Now granted, for my own amusement I took the more scenic route past the two main Western drinking establishments, but still, this was only a five minute stroll. The highlight was undoubtedly a young lady in an all in one short skirt and high heels who hoped off the back of a passing moped and gave me a quote without even asking if I was interested! For the record she didn’t offer me a smoke, and I most definitely declined what she did give a price for. Quick as a flash she jumped back on the moped and went speeding off looking for her new potential client.

The service here has been fantastic though. The lads and lasses that work in the guesthouses, hotels, restaurants and bars seem genuinely happy to serve you and will often go beyond the minimum I’d expect from such places. My hotel here in Hue called me up twice this morning to first of all check that I was OK in my room (they didn’t understand me when I said I was happy watching the cricket) and then to invite me down to a party at midday. When I later popped down to go out for lunch the lady behind reception asked me where I was and that the party had been waiting for me to come down before they started eating! I apologised for the confusion saying I didn’t realise that by taking the phone call, I had inadvertently accepted her kind offer. In Ho Chi, the guesthouse provided me with a travel adapter for my western plugs and wouldn’t accept any money when I tried to pay. Now, OK a cynic would say that some other British muppet left it behind and it came from lost property, but still, they could have easily charged me. My only local transport so far was a minibus from Hue Airport, sorry Hue International Airport, where I shared the half hour ride into town with a group of Vietnamese. The lads on the back seats were all university students who were very chatty, interested in where I had been and where I was from, plus keen to offer any help when the inevitable scrum of taxi and moped drivers surrounded the bus on our arrival in town. I’ve also been drinking alone quite a bit here, and the staff are keen to spend time with you for no other reason than to spend time in your company while no doubt homing their English skills. I’ve tipped more as a percentage here in Vietnam than I have anywhere else in the world.

Other than crazy traffic, that’s pretty much it for Vietnam so far. A bit of a no show in terms of events, but I’m more than happy with that. Now it’s time to wrap up in three layers of clothing, put on scarf and a pair of socks and head out into the cold, winters night. Come on, 10c is cold!

Postscript – The statistics part of this blog is always an interesting read. One part of it tells you the data people type into search engines, such as google, in order to track down your web address. Now, whenever I meet someone on the road I tell them just to type ‘Hereford Rich’ into a search engine and lo and behold they will track me down. This one yesterday made me laugh.

‘hereford admag coach trip to see bon jovi concerts’

Lets hope the local rag delivers for them!


3 Responses to “in the bleak mid winter”

  1. 1 donna
    January 21, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    Sexual exploitation – an endemic problem world wide…drugs …an endemic problem worldwide…legal and illegal… all, if you’ll excuse my somewhat tongue in cheek intentional sexist language, man made…I enjoyed reading your observations Rich! And you are feeling the cold…its 0, yes zero degrees here today! Vietnam and the people you meet appear to be being kind to you…anyone mentioned the American war… me being political…the usa called it the vietnam war…the aware Vietnamese know it was never theirs… how much of the drugs and sex work came with the war…I wonder…just thoughts… here s to tourism that promotes human well being as opposed to harm …respect Rich …

  2. 2 Pat M
    January 21, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Funny place this Vietnam is , up here in Hanoi Richie it has dropped to 7-8 degrees C , Kin freezing mate , no heating anywhere , Hotel room is as cold as ice , factory just as bad and it don`t help that I`ve had the flu all week , getting better now though , had me first propper ish night out in 9 days tonight . The roads here are as manic or worse than India ,you really are taking your life in your hands when you cross the roads out here . loads of loud American tourist in our hotel as well , why are they just so annoying ?
    see you in a few weeks buddy
    Pat ,,

  3. 3 Martin Chapple
    January 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    10 degrees – luxury! Hope you warm up soon!

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