After being ferried back from Khai Dinh’s tomb by another scooter taxi, and having to dodge the “buy me a ridiculously overpriced drink” scam again, we loaded onto the boat, by this time well and truly shagged out, for our last stop: the tomb of Emperor Minh Mang.
The polar opposite of Khai Dinh’s tomb, Minh Mang had opted for a graceful, elegant collection of lakes, pavilions, gardens and temples, set directly on the riverside and surrounded by lush forest. Even with dozens of tourists clambering about, the complex was serene, peaceful and beautiful:
Finally, having had about as much Imperial Tomb-age as one could reasonably require in a lifetime, nevermind a single day, we staggered back to the boat for the long ride back to Hue. Despite the still-stunning river scenery, Miranda and I were both completely wiped out, and spent most of the trip back catnapping. Miranda dozed off so hard that she failed to notice that the World’s Cutest Child was using her back as a helicopter landing pad:
When the boat finally pulled in to Hue nearly an hour later, it was mid-afternoon and we had an evening flight to catch. Needing additional coffee to fortify ourselves, we found the closest cafe to the boat jetty and sat down, whereupon we were instantly joined by three other tourists who’d been on the boat with us: a mother and daughter from Australia, and one of the few other Americans we’d met on the trip, a young woman from California. The ozzies had just arrived the day before, and we got to play Old Hands, encouraging them to try the street food and giving them one of Mrs. Lan’s business cards since they were going to be in Hoi An later. The daughter looked a bit askance at my iced coffee, and asked if it was really safe to have iced drinks, since all the tour books warn you not to. Towering pillar of self-assured masculinity that I am, I poo-poohed this, and assured her that I’d eaten ice all over southeast asia with no ill effects.
If you detect a note of foreshadowing in the previous paragraph, you are both astute and correct. But we’ll get to that soon enough.
After finishing our coffee and saying our goodbyes, we spent much of the remainder of the day at an internet cafe, catching up on email and trying desperately to bring our travelogues anywhere close to up-to-date. Then we took one last walk over the bridge into the old city, to be picked up at our hotel by an airport taxi. Hue’s regional airport is about 20 minutes of the usual gut-wrenching terror up Highway 1: in addition to the normal hazards of nighttime highway travel in Viet Nam, the mid-autumn festival was by this point in full swing, so when we weren’t playing chicken with troop transports attempting to pass people, we were frantically dodging packs of small children taking their Lion Dance routines from house to house.
Anyway, we got to the airport without incident, and then spent the next hour in the universal posture of People Waiting For a Flight, surrounded by several hundred other people in the same posture. There were only two flights out of Hue that evening, one to Hanoi and one to Saigon, and only one waiting room, so we got plenty of opportunity to study our fellow passengers.
Now, Vietnam Air has… how shall I put this? …a bit of a reputation. “The Aeroflot of Asia” would about sum it up, and indeed for many years they were notorious for irregularly departing flights on ancient, deathtrap Russian prop planes. Not being a big fan of wild turbulence, unexpected waits or sudden splattery death, I’m pleased to report that Vietnam Air has put those days long behind it: our flight was called on time, and when we filed out onto the tarmac, an air-conditioned shuttle bus whisked us over to our waiting plane, a shiny new Aerospatiale turboprop 50-seater. The only slightly unpleasant moment of the whole trip was on boarding, and I can’t blame Vietnam Air for the fact that Aerospatiale put the passenger door on this model directly behind the engine exhaust ports. Mmmmmmmmm…. hot diesel exaust! Kaff kaff. (I can, however, blame the French. So there.)
The flight was smooth, professional and uneventful, and we touched down at Hanoi’s airport precisely on time…which is the next chapter.