Linh wakes me up early and tells me she booked me with a tour bus to go see local sights. Notably, tombs and some temples just outside of the city proper are on the list. I’m barely out of bed (off the floor), before I’m back on the back of a scooter and shuttled Into town just in time to catch the bus at my old hotel.
The bus is full but not too crowded. There’s a good mix of people on board including vVietnamese from other cities, some Japanese and koreans, one American and a very pale and very blone Scandinavian family. I’m no expert at languages but it sounds suspiciously like Swedish when they talk. Then again, half the languages in that part of the world might sound like Swedish if I ever heard them.
At each stop, the tour guide talks. A lot. Mostly he makes amusingly awkward jokes about concubines and virility and tying them to worldly power. Each time he introduces a king, he mentions the number of concubines the king had. One had 500, one had 150. Obviously the one with more was more respected and revered. He also had 400 sons, where the other fellow had none. 150 women to choose from and no heir. What a tragedy. He then points out his successor only had 60 concubine. Not very well respected.
I suspect our guide likes talking about concubines more than kings. Can’t blame him for taking the conversation to crany town from time to tkme. This is his job. He probably talks about the same damn kings and their same damn concubines every day.
We hit three tombs and two temples over the course of the day. The tombs are more than wholes in the walls or simple graves. Each one is housed in a massive walled in complex, with gardens and palaces.The tombs tend to show a mix of architecture visons. Since they were built after contact with the french, there is definite french and Italian influence I the way the courtyards are constructed and fenced in.
The heat gets worse. I buy a water bottle or cold soda water at each stop. The guide wasn’t kidding when in the mornung he said they try to do these in the order from least to most shade so people can survive the hot days. Today is a hot one. 43 degrees Celsius, plus humidex. Thankfully not as humid as past days, but under the sun when it pops out, it’s pure evil.
Near the end of the tour, Idecide to wait the last sight out in the bus. I can feel a headache coming and fear I might be getting heatstroke.
When the tour ends, I head to the DMZ across the street, bunker down and order two waters, two beers and a pizza. It was one of the odder pizzas I’ve had. It arrived five minutes after I ordered it and didn’t taste like it was frozen. That’s some fast crust. It was good thiugh, especially with a bottle of hotsauce and complimentary dipping sauce. The beers were good too. Nice and cold. Put them away, along with the water in under and hour.
Halfway back in the cab the migraine kicks in. Back at the villa it intensifies, as well as the urgent need to fall asleep. Mean to cat nap for 15, knocked out for 2 hours. Pretty sure the morning’s activities did give me heatstroke. Don’t feel like a half decent human again until I drink another bottle of water and have a cold shower.
Despit all the insanity with the weather and traffic, part of me is starting to understand this country and warm up to it. At the very least, I find myself marveling that the people out here can persevere from day to day. I suppose you must simply get used to it and find a way to survive and make the best of it. At home we have so much and complain about the pettiest things. Here, most people are too busy working three jobs and selling bananas in the street to keep the lights on. Half the homes don’t even have proper running water and indoor plumbing or even four walls.
Kinda makes me hate it all the more when students back home bitch and riot over the price of education, while taking full advantage of the cheap and easy living (and drinking) conditions in Montreal.
Prices out here actually make for an interesting conversation piece. Most of the time, prices are usually not listed in stores or restaurants, and definitely never in the markets. The basic rule of thumb is that if you have to ask for the price, you aren’t a local and if you aren’t a local, you have to pay more since they will quote you any number that comes to the top of their head that they think you would be willing to pay. Usually 2 or 3 times the price a local would. For white foreigners, expect 5 to 10 times the price.
Essentially, unless you are a local, good at haggling, and speak the language, you will pay more. Even at government institutes like museums and heritage sites. Every single one has two signs. Local price and foreign price. Same goes for restaurants that do list prices, usually have both a local and a foreign menu with different prices in each.
Even for locals seen to be in the sight of a Westerner can expect their prices to be jacked up. White skin means plenty of money. Whenever I stopped with either Linh and Truc at a roadside restaurant for takeout, they made sure I hid out of sight on the street. If they could buy food for the three of us without being seen with me, the price for our combined meal would be less than a single dish if seen with me.
On my own I’ve paid upwards of 10 dollars for a meal with two cans of local beer. Procured by either Linh or Truc, together we’ve dined until we’re full for a combined total under 4 bucks, with a glass of fresh cane juice each to wash it down.
That turns out to be the last night I spend at the villa as Linh is expecting plenty of more guests. Linh offers to set me up at one of her relatives hotels in town for 20 bucks a night. The place looks a little sketchy out front, and the owner reminds me of a James Bond villain like Dr. No. but what the heck. I stayed at two other hotels, both under 40 bucks. One was great, one was shit. Let’s roll the dice and see what this gets me.
First up there are no lights in the hallway. Just darkness. I open the door and walk in. I can hear everything in other rooms, from showers to footsteps to conversations. I check out the washroom. There’s no shower curtain or waste basket. Soap comes in two plastic containers which I struggle to open. There are two beds with mismatched lining and covers in the room. One has a squeak to it, and feels suspiciously like a box spring. The other is a cold hard slab. I opt for the slab. Across the room is a scary looking armoire right out of The Conjuring. There’s a fridge, but it’s warmer in there than outside. The tv struggles to turn on and there’s no sound. Just some silent Australian soccer. Then, out of nowhere, the sound bursts to life like some static hell. Guess I’ll pass on the tv tonight. At least the AC and WiFi work.
Consolation prize: by this time tomorrow I’ll be in leaving one. ity for the next. I’ll be in Da Nang out by the sea in a four star hotel with a bar in the lobby and the beach within walking distance.
Upstairs it sounds like a man walks with a cane and drags his other foot behind him. Place is probably haunted as a bonus. Getting out of Hue seems maevellous. I Can’t wait.