It’s night time in Hue city. I’ve just checked into the hotel. It’s a big hotel, resort, spa and dining hall combo. Built it in 80s and the exterior sure looks it. Fortunately the room is big, spacious and well furnished. A huge step up from the Victory in Ho Chi Minh City. I meet up with Linh. She’s famished so we go hunting for food. Most of the city is closed, but bars around the tourist sections are afire with the sounds and smells of busy streets. The DMZ, a western run traveller’s bar and restaurant, is lit up with tiny paper lanterns, candles and old neon lights. It looks like something out of an old war movie, the kind of place GIs hung out at between the fighting, drinking beer and talking shit. It’s filled with white people with blonde hair. A band plays covers of pop and rnb so loud it borders on heavy metal.
Further down the alley, motor cycles are lined up by the dozens, parked for the night. Locals stare at us from sleepy eyes hidden behind hammocks or up from stools.
We pass a hostel filled with Australian teenagers, by the looks of them, drinking heavily. They stumble out into the street. A blonde girl approaches the food cart outside. Met sizzles from a hidden pan. Cups of hot peppers and chopped shallots sit in the open air. “okay,” she says to the woman behind the cart. “I’m ready to try a bowl”. Her friends cheer her on from behind the bar.
Linh settles on street food and we sit on tiny red plastic chairs in the street. It’s hardly an oddity. Half the street is used for parking, or for storefronts, and tables for customers eating at any of the dozen tiny restaurants here. I notice the buildings in this city all look like the front of garages. They open out into the street, but inside they are just one long somewhat empty room, with maybe a partition at the back, or a stairwell going upstairs to the home. Some of these are homes, with the front open and leading into the street. People can drive their scooters in and out, or just sit there and watch the traffic. At night, they pull down the garage doors, and lock them.
After our stroll, I head back to the hotel and pass out almost instantly. The bed is comfortable and the room is air conditioned. Linh promises to meet in the morning for breakfast at the hotel.
In the morning we meet and dine in a restaurant on the third floor, overlooking the river. In the distance I can see ads for beer and vacations, big billboards on rooftops across the water. Tiny river boats go up and down, pushed ahead by men with sticks or long paddles. The water is the colour of mud, and plastic bags and garbage litter both sides of the bank. A small boat casts a fishing net.
You can tell this city is a tourist hot spot: everyone has something to sell. Men offer me cigarettes, hoping I stop and give them a chance to practice their english, size up a mark and then sell you a ride to the market, temple or tombs of ancient kings. If it’s by the water, things are quite different at least. Here they pitch one hour boat rides to the market, tombs and temples. Walking to the corner of the street, a man on a motor cycle slows down and asks me if I want to buy marijuana, very fresh.
Elsewhere, during the day time, everyone offers you a lift somewhere. If you so much as look at a parked motorcyle, people will come flying out of the woodworks offering you a ride to anyplace you want to go, whether it be the local Pagoda or just the end of the street. The prices they quote are low enough to put Uber out of business.
Linh departs to go and check up on her parent’s villa, to see if its in habitable condition. No one’s been living there for three years. Just a neighbour, dropping by to feed the dog and chickens, whose numbers have probably gotten out of hand by now. Neither of us ar sure how fast chickens breed, but after three years we’re expecting a veritable colony of the noisy little bastards. They probably even have their own flag and national anthem by this point.
She leaves and I sit in the lobby. A group of German tourists flood in from the street. They are loud and take up a lot of space. They walk around drumming on all the furniture, including my chair, like no one is there but them. Did all the rude Deutschlanders decide to visit Asia at the same time? Or are German travellers even worse than American ones?
Remarkably, all the Americans I’ve bumped into have been polite and friendly; hardly the loud mouth jackass stereotype they portray, or happen to embody when they visit Canada. These roaming gangs of young German men on the other hand… two for two for the rude team so far.
Overhead speakers belt out electronic saxophone and Casio covers of top 40 Western radio hits like Taylor Swift, Daft Punk and imagine dragon. The German tourists get on my nerves. Time to leave. Goodbye yellow brick road, the casio version, walks me out as I grab my camera to take pictures of the riverfront and explore some of the nearby parks.