You Can Go Your Own Hue

After having just completed a three day group tour in Halong Bay Francesca and I were eager to assert our independence again and strike out on our own.  So we immediately rented a moped from our place of lodging (the $20/night – but very clean and with free wi-fi! – Victory Hotel) and set out to see the sights of Hue, Vietnam’s ancient capital city.

Franny posing on our moped

As we chugged along a country road towards the tomb of a long deceased emperor a middle-aged Vietnamese man motored up beside us on his scooter.  He sported a beat up leather jacket and looked a bit creepy with a scraggly beard and a lazy eye.  He looked at us (or more correctly, one eye looked at us) and said “Hello”.  We said hello back and braced ourselves what surely would be a solicitation of some kind.

He asked where we were going and we told him curtly, still guarded, that we were heading to Minh Mang Tomb.  He said his name was Ty (pronounced ‘Tee’) and that he lived near the tomb and would take us there for free if we would speak English with him.  We had heard about scams where locals in Vietnam promise services for free only to demand money later and cause a scene if you refuse to pay.  But I had a good feeling about this guy.  I thought I saw something I could trust in his eyes……er, well, his eye and so, after confirming again that we would not pay him any money, only an English conversation, we set off following him.

The dodgy detour Ty took us through to get to the tomb

We were still a bit uneasy about Ty when he turned off of the main road right in front of a sign that indicated the tomb was straight ahead and lead us under the highway and behind what looked like a construction site.  At this point we both started to worry just a bit, but we followed him all the same.

He led us down a dirt path past several wooden shacks with kids playing.  We shouted ahead to him and asked him if we were going to the Minh Mang Tomb?  He said yes and, perhaps sensing our apprehension, assured us that this was a short cut.  “A short cut to our graves” I muttered under my breath and Franny slapped my helmet.  But we followed him and sure enough we arrived shortly at Minh Mang tomb.

Me and Ty at Minh Mang tomb

Ty also took us to nearby Khai Dinh Tomb and although he promised only to lead us to the tombs he ended up joining us (at our request) for the second tomb and proved to be a very competent tour guide.  He had to keep it on the DL though as guides have to be licensed and he was not.  I have to say though his English was amazing!  Especially for a farmer which is what he told us he was.  When we asked him why he wasn’t farming now he said that he would start planting again in twenty days.  Apparently rice production has an off season.

When we asked him why he felt he needed to learn English he said for his children.  We were curious as to what that meant, but we didn’t ask him then as we were near a tomb security guard and he clammed up and separated himself from us so as not to appear to be our tour guide.

After we had visited the two tombs he asked us, very shyly, if we wanted to come to his house for a cup of tea.  At this point I was not worried for our safety and, in fact, I had anticipated this invitation and had already agreed with Francesca that we would say ‘yes’ if asked.

Ty’s house in a nearby village.  His farm was about 5km away which is where his parent’s live

We sat in his modest home and drank tea while Francesca taught him the alphabet.

Then he told us his story.  And what an amazing story it is.  Ty’s father was an officer for the south during the American War.  After the war the North Vietnamese came to find him, but he had gone into hiding.  So they killed his brother instead (Ty’s uncle) who was a simple farmer and had not fought in the war.  Then when Ty was eighteen years old he attempted to leave Vietnam in a boat, but someone had tipped off the communist regime and they caught them in the Hue harbor and shot up their boat until it sank.  Nine of the fifteen would-be refugees on board were killed, either shot or drowned.  Ty was saved from the water and put in prison where he stayed for five months.  He would have gotten a much longer sentence if he had told them during their long, harsh questioning session who his father was, but he had lied and told them his family was dead.

Ty’s bed

After his prison term Ty gave up on the idea of escaping the country and concentrated on finding a job, but it was nearly impossible for someone from the South to get a decent paying job under the communist regime – they all went to the North Vietnamese.  So he struggled for many years until 1992 when a new president from the South came to power which made the situation for the Southerners much better virtually overnight.  Eventually Ty went back to his farming roots, met a woman and had two children.  It is for his children, we found out, that Ty wanted to learn English.  He said that to get a good company job in the city a person must have about thirteen or fifteen years of English and he feels if he can help teach his kids English or at least speak conversationally with them it will improve their chances of getting a job other than farming.  A father wanting a better life for his offspring?  Hmmm, perhaps people in communist countries aren’t much different than those of us in capitalist ones?

Francesca imitating a painting in the doorway of the Thien Mu Pagoda

Ty asked us to stay for lunch, but we had only one day in Hue and had much to see yet so we politely declined, gave him some money, revved up the moped and sped off to see the rest of the city.  While we are not naive enough to think that perhaps his MO all along wasn’t to get money from us, we would much rather pay money to someone that gave us an enjoyable  and unique experience and never pressured us than to some pesky vendor or beggar who wants something for nothing  and then gets upset that you didn’t give enough.  Ty said he would spend the money on books for his kids and, even though I’m typically a cynic, for some reason I believe him.

Franny admiring a bonsai tree at Thien Mu Pagoda

Me posing at the very much run down Thai Hoa Palace in the Imperial Citadel

A random Vietnamese couple asked us where we were from and then wanted to take their photo with us.  Or more accurately they wanted the girl to take a photo with Francesca.  Then they thanked us and went on their way.  We would see them a couple of times subsequently as we wandered around the citadel and they looked as if they had never seen us before. Odd.

Dining at a dingy, but delicious local Vietnamese restaurant.  Well we thought it was local until we read the huge writing on the menu “As seen in the Lonely Planet guide!” We tried the famous (and tasty) Banh Khoai

Cyclo driver grabbing a nap

By evening it had started to rain, just a drizzle at first, but then a bit harder.  It made driving the moped that much more challenging, especially crossing the railroad bridge through a shoot that was just wide enough for the scooter to fit with literally only an inch to spare on either side.  I wish I could have taken a video to show you how tight it was, but I was driving so…..

Later that evening Francesca and I scootered our way to the My An Hot Spring & Spa to enjoy the sulfur hot spring pools.  The My An pools are run by Vietnamese, but the investors are Japanese , who know a thing or two about hot spring resorts so I felt assured the experience would be a good one.

And it was….for the most part.  It was not quite as clean and immaculate as the ones I have frolicked in in Japan, but the water was soothing and we enjoyed a couple of beers while sloshing around in the pools.

By the time we had finished in the pools the rain had turned torrential and we feared it would be uncomfortable – not to mention unsafe – to return via moped in this weather.  So we decided to wait out the storm in the spa’s restaurant.  After some tasty local dishes the rain had still not let up and it was pitch dark, but it was getting late and we needed to get back to our hotel.  So we purchased raincoats for 5,000 dong (about 27 cents) – the typical thin, see-through ponchos with the elastic cuffs on the sleeves that all of the locals wear when they ride their scooters in inclement weather, which they do without hesitation – revved up the moped once again and carefully drove off.

Canal surrounding the Imperial Citadel

Fortunately it was a warm night, despite the rain, as being cold as well as wet would have made the situation miserable.  As it was it was actually quite comical.  Francesca, on the back of the bike holding me tightly around my waist as I struggled to see the road in front of me and avoid any potholes or pools of rain water, started laughing hysterically at our predicament.  Relieved that she was taking our situation so well (I had feared blame for it was my idea to venture out to the hot springs) I started laughing too.

The laughter continued as we stopped occasionally to consult our map to get us back to our hotel.  It was just a black and white paper map and with each viewing it would become less and less legible from the hail of raindrops that would descend on it.  We prayed that we would get back before the map was rendered useless.  But get back we did and after hanging up our clothes to dry we headed to bed as we had a morning train to Hoi An.

We had gone our own way and had some rewarding experiences to treasure.


8 Responses to “You Can Go Your Own Hue”

  1. Danson, good report but is it my imaginatioN OR ARE U BEGINNING TO Sprout some breasts????

    • aroljahns Says:

      Very observant of you Dad. Yes, it appears to be that the evil weight gain has infiltrated my pectoral region – hey, you never forget your first set of man-boobs! – but never fear, I am already on a health and fitness regimen so you won’t see them when I return to NYC. 🙂

  2. liked this one, am also naively inclined to think the best of Ty – dan, looking as conspicuously touristy as you were 😉 it was likely you would have been approached by someone at some point, i prefer to think you got lucky with Ty as opposed to many others who may not have been so great – am also particularly enjoying the run of blog post titles as popular song names – before 2009 leaves us (just over 5hrs to go in Japan as I write this) may I say a very happy new year to you both ! jx

    • aroljahns Says:

      Thanks Jules. Yes, for some reason the Vietnam cities have lent themselves well to song puns for blog titles. Happy New Year to you too mate! Looking forward to catching up at some point in 2010.

  3. Kandy Magnotti Says:

    Loved this story! You two are amazing and inspiring… Live on!!! 😉

  4. love laugh live. you guys rule!

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