[Sigh, apologies to both of my readers for falling down on the job here: between a week of jetlag, getting back to work, dealing with the enormous bolus of photos and coming down with a cold, my energy for post-facto travelblogging has been pretty minimal. I’m going to try to push through the remainder a bit quickly in hopes of just getting it done: hopefully whatever I lose in narrative coherence will be made up for by the presence of pretty pictures.]
Our last day in Hue dawned to a slightly cloudy but promisingly unthreatening sky, a somewhat superfluous wake-up call, and still no hot water in the shower. Oh well, cold showers are refreshing in a tropical climate, right? Well, actually not very much, at least not first thing in the morning. We chalked it up to the vagaries of a $15 hotel room, packed up our bags to leave at the front, and had a quick breakfast at the hotel buffet.
At 8:30am sharp, our ride to the boat dock arrived: a pair of scooters. With a small prayer to whatever gods watch over backpackers about to do something incredibly ill-advised (with a small note of thanks that at least they weren’t expecting us to go three on a single bike), we climbed on back and took off. Hue’s traffic isn’t a patch on Saigon’s, and at 8:30 we had missed most of the morning rush, which still left plenty of room for the ride to be terrifying. Miranda’s driver was substantially more aggressive than mine, and I soon lost track of them as we wove through traffic. It’s one thing to see the moped riders in packs of 50 with no more than an inch of clearance between or betwixt them; quite another to actually be in the middle of it…
Actually, it’s kind of exhilarating. Maybe I should try bike racing some day.
Miranda had wondered when we booked the trip if the $2 tour if we would get to go on one of the dragon boats or if we’d be consigned to a normal tourist boat. As it turned out, we needn’t have worried: all the tourist boats on the Perfume River are dragon boats. They deal with the economy-class tours by putting them onto… a double-wide dragon boat:
This boat was owned and run by a single family, of which it turned out Miranda’s madwoman scooter-taxi driver was the eldest daughter. Dad navigated, eldest son dealt with the engine, mom (who had the most English) was the general tourist-wrangler, and the baby daughter cunningly distracted everyone from any rough edges of the trip by running around on-deck and generally being the cutest child ever.
Seriously, the entire gaggle of tourists spent at least as much time smiling and playing with her as we did looking at any of the stunning riverside scenery.
Around 9, the boat slowly putted out of the docks and up the river, past the Quoc Hoc or National School, Hue’s century-plus-old school that claimed Vo Nguyen Giap and Ho Chi Minh as attendees; Miranda and I immediately began referring to it as Ho Chi Minh High:
After about 20 minutes of moving slowly and noisily up the Perfume river, we arrived at our first destination: Thien Mu Pagoda. The temple (although not the current structure) dates from 1601, and is easily Hue’s most famous monument. Sadly, it is most famous to westerners (if it’s known at all) as being the homeplace of Thich Quang Doc, the monk who famously set himself on fire in Saigon to protest the suppression of Buddhists by the (Catholic, American-supported) Diem government in 1963. There is a small memorial to Thich behind the temple proper, where (of all things), the Austin motorcar he drove to Saigon in is preserved:
Unfortunatly, the pagoda itself, a 7-story monolith dating from the mid-1800s, is currently, uh, a little the worse for wear:
This is apparently a recent development: neither the guidebooks nor (ahem) the hotel had mentioned that the pagoda was currently hidden behind an impenetrable wall of bamboo scaffolding. It was a little disappointing, but at least the pagoda’s contents were still visible: they had largely been moved to a pavilion behind the pagoda where the monks still performed services:
After about half an hour of poking around the temple complex, we realized that we were running out of time before the boat’s stated departure time, and hurried back to the dock.
[Exhaustion and cold medication take their toll: to be continued…]