Will Send Postcards for Posts

To encourage you readers out there (if you are there), to post more comments on our blog and on our photo galleries we are introducing an incentive program!

Starting today, for every 10 posts you will be sent one postcard (to a maximum of one per country). If you exceed 10 posts during our stay in a country, you will be mailed this limited edition ye-travels postcard, designed by prize winning artist and photographer PAR :

Pour encourager nos lecteurs et lectrices de nous envoyer des commentaires plus souvent, nous introduisons le systeme suivant: pour chaque 10 commentaires que nous recevons vous recevrez une carte postale (un maximum d'une carte par pays). Si vous ecriviez plus que 10 commentaires pendant que nous sommes dans le meme pays, vous recevrez la carte ye-travels ci-haut, une edition speciale cree par artist renomme PAR.

Navigating the Mekong

We spent four days in the Mekong Delta most of the time in boats winding through the narrow canals. We seemed to finally escape the tour bus circuit when we arrived in Ben Tre a fairly small provincial capital a few hours from Ho Chi Minh City. Things actually started smoothly from the minute we were greeted at the Ho Chi Minh City bus station by a special attendant hired to guide tourists to the correct ticket window and have them spend the correct price. We only had to ignore the dozens of bus drivers saying "hello hello, where you go? come here, buy ticket here".

When we arrived in Ben Tre we wandered for a few minutes down the main street until we hit the river front and were greeted by a handful of very basic English speaking touts. After some attempt at communication we parted ways telling them we could find a hotel ourselves and we would be back to get a boat ride down the Mekong with one of them. After a few minutes of walking down the main street in search of a cheap hotel, they reappeared, this time on their motorbikes carrying their secret weapon: an English speaker. He agreed to take us to a remote home sitting on the banks of one of the Deltas' many canals, where the owners would cook us dinner and let us spend the night for only a few dollars each. This was what we were hoping for, so we got our things together and followed him to his small wooden boat docked nearby.

We weaved though small canals for almost an hour, enjoying the peaceful scenery made famous by so many war movies. I tried to prevent myself from daydreaming about Apocalypse Now or Platoon (for us Westerners, these images of the Mekong are often the only ones we have). Ben Tre has baptised itself the coconut capital of Vietnam, and every inch of waterfront is covered with coconut trees that shade us as we drift by. When we arrived at the small home we were greeted by an old woman who could only speak Vietnamese. Her husband had gone out for the day and she wasn't comfortable accepting our staying there without his approval. Since they are not an authorized guest house, staying there wouldn't exactly be legal, and the couple only accepted guests if they felt a surprise visit from the police wasn't due. Our boat driver wasn't exactly being clear about the situation, and despite the beautiful isolated location we didn't feel comfortable sticking around, especially that neither the wife nor our boat driver "felt comfortable" quoting us a price. We pulled Margaux from her new found hammock and we headed back to Ben Tre to find a hotel.

It was now late afternoon, and four busy days in Ho Chi Minh along with a full day in the hot sun had taken their toll on Margaux. We sent her off on a motorbike to the Trade Union Hotel and Yann and I headed over on foot to meet her there. For less than 10$ a night we got a big room with a much needed air conditioner and three beds. Other than the gigantic rat that scurried across the terrace as we headed there, the hotel restaurant seemed decent, so we settled into a table and ordered our much needed dinner, we didn't really care that we were the only ones there. After ordering, we were greeted by a concerned looking hotel worker who asked us politely if we would like to move to a private room, as there would be a group of people arriving shortly to the restaurant. We obliged, but felt a bit offended as the restaurant was gigantic, and the tables set for the group clearly did not take up the entire place. Once our "private room" was visited by a few extremly intoxicated Vietnamese soldiers we understood why we had moved. Symptoms of intoxication included: insistance on speaking to us in Vietnamese for long periods of time, deciding that Yann had two wives, proposing to Margaux after concluding that Yann in fact did not have two wives.

We were served meticulously by the hotel staff, who periodically escorted the soldiers out of our room. Later in the meal, a female staff member joined us with tea and a pile of scrap paper on which she had scribbled down English text describing historic sites in the area. Margaux and I both spent a few minutes reading through it with her, correcting the mistakes. When the sentences were too incomprehensible I just corrected spelling. If I had known they were going to be used as the captions at the new provincial tourist centre I might have been a little bit more careful. Oh well, it'll make the museum way more interesting! (Makes me rethink all those times I've made comments such as "can't they get someone who actually speaks English to edit these") The extremely friendly woman invited us to join her for breakfast the next day to thank us for our help.

We met our new friend Kieu for breakfast and she allowed us to order any breakfast item from the menu free of charge. We all chose the baguette with omelette. Kieu had also invited her former English teacher to eat with us, and after breakfast he took Yann out on his motorbike to visit his friend's coconut candy shop (where Yann bought two boxes of coconut candy for less than half the price we were able to find it for anywhere else), then he treated Yann to a coffee and told him a few stories about the war. Meanwhile I decided to give Margaux a day off, by this point she was really not feeling very well. She spent the entire day in bed, not even coming out for lunch (for anyone who knows Margaux, a day without eating is not a good sign).

Yann and I took the time to hop on a few local buses and hire some motorbike drivers to bring us to nearby towns. We visited a temple whose story I had edited the night before, but mainly spent the day on the bus, or sipping much needed cold drinks at drink stands. For our excursion we followed directions that a tourist agent had written down for us, free of charge, when we told him we wanted to travel the cheapest way possible (we were expecting him to sell us his cheapest tour, instead he just wrote down instructions in English and Vietnamese on how to take the local buses, I love the Mekong Delta!) When we got back to the hotel, we got Margaux out of bed for dinner, and the next day she was ready to go again.

Our next Mekong destination was a city called Vinh Long, famed for its floating markets and "homestay" opportunities. Before leaving Ben Tre though, we felt we had to pay a visit to the "most beautiful place in the province, Phoenix Island", according to Kieu, who had again treated us to a free breakfast on our second morning. Phoenix Island is not exactly what one would call beautiful, but it is so tacky that it is worth the trip. Kieu wrote for us, in Vietnamese, a note that she told us to deliver to her friend at the coffee shop right next to the ferry. The note read: "Please take my friends to the boats to Phoenix Island", the meaning of this note "don't let the touts take them to Phoenix Island, make sure they get on the government boat that only charges 30 cents for the return trip". Her friend, upon presentation of the note, happily led us through weaving back alleys until we got to the boat docking area, she put us on a boat and waved us goodbye. Phoenix Island was originally the retreat of the Coconut Monk, who diverted from Buddhism and started his own sect, he lived there with a hundred or so "followers". The only fact I could remember about him (again from the text that I corrected in Ben Tre), was that he believed in having lots of wives. He built a few uber-kitschy temples on the Island as well as a hilarious (equally kitsch) replica of the Apollo space shuttle, on which is painted its misspelled name "Apolo".

Vinh Long is less than 100km from Ben Tre, but getting there wasn't exactly simple. First a public bus from Ben Tre to the ferry (where we took our side trip to Phoenix Island) then the ferry trip across the Mekong to My Tho. From the ferry dock we hired three cyclo drivers to bring us to the bus station. After 20 minutes in the blazing sun, I was feeling really guilty about being biked across town by a 55 year old man who sounded like he was having an asthma attack (for not even a dollar). But then, a familiar story "there are no buses to Vinh Long at this time" (hmmm, really? no buses at 1p.m. going the 60km between the Mekong Delta's two biggest cities?) Its really amazing that we fell for this, having been in Vietnam for almost 5 weeks. To "help"us, the cyclo drivers volunteered to drive us another 10 minutes out of town, where they could hail us a minibus to Vinh Long that was on its way from Ho Chi Minh City, for only 7000 dong each. We followed them out to the side of the highway, where they waited for minibuses (coming from the bus station I'm quite sure) heading to Vinh Long. After a few minutes a minibus arrived, we paid our cyclo drivers (a little extra because they had been so helpful) and we loaded our backpacks into the crowded minibus. After settling in to the back seats, Yann handed the driver a 50,000 dong note, he signalled for more. Our cyclo drivers watched carefully, and instructed us that it was not 7000 dong each, but in fact 70,000 dong each (we knew from our guide book, and from the short distance that the ticket should definetely be less than 20,000 dong). We understood now, the cyclo drivers had set us up, so that they could make a hefty comission by loading us onto a bus away from the watchful eyes of the bus station. We angrily exited the bus, (with Margaux looking a little bit perplexed), and would not reenter even when they offered to let us back in for only 30,000 dong each. We also told our cyclo drivers that they were no longer needed, and they peddled off quite content with the tip we had given them earlier.

Not even two minutes later three motorbike drivers agreed to drive us the 7 km to the bus station outside of town where we could catch a bus to Vinh Long. We agreed to pay them 10,000 dong each. We loaded on to the motorbikes and proceeded to drive approximately 500m down the road where we stopped at a roadside coffee shop. This was the bus station 7km away, they would again "help" us flag down a minibus. It was now time for Margaux to witness the wrath of Emilie. I told the motorbike drivers they weren't getting a cent from us as they had told us they were driving 7km away (replace the word told by screamed my ass off and you might get a more accurate picture of the situation). Many gestures were made including pointing at my head and exclaiming that "I am not stupid". Yann took out about 500 dong from his pocket and I handed it to one of the drivers, exclaiming that that was all they were getting because they were liars. When the driver yelled angrily at us as we walked away I actually turned around and stuck my tongue out at him. I had completely lost my composure, and possibly my sanity.

After walking about 20m down the highway another "helpful" motorbike driver happened to cross our path as a minibus for Vinh Long drove by. For so helpfully leading us into the minibus (for 30,000 dong each) he pocketed at least 10,000 dong and drove off. We arrived in Vinh Long less than an hour later.

We found ourself a much needed lunch and we also booked a homestay at a local home on the river. By 4 p.m we were settled in our hammocks on a quiet little canal on An Binh Island. We spent the rest of the evening doing crossword puzzles and reading in our hammocks and were then treated to a feast cooked by the family who owned the small guesthouse. At first glance, the elephant ear fish deep fried and served standing on a platter was a little bit of a shock, but once we stuck our chopsticks in it we were delighted. We went to bed early sheltered by our mosquito nets, lying on military style cots with our food hanging from ropes so that the rats wouldn't get in them, but we felt very very relaxed. Early the next morning, our boat driver was back to pick us up and tour us around An Binh Island. We visited little villages, and spent a few hours just floating through the canals. The highlight was the bustling floating village, where huge boats display there goods by hanging them on tall poles so that people can see them from a distance. The yellow and green melons hanging from most poles indicated to us, that it was probably melon season on the Mekong.

We arrived back in Vinh Long in the early afternoon, and we planned to get to Chau Doc by nightfall. We wanted to leave Chau Doc the next morning and sail the Mekong into Cambodia. The tourist agency that had booked our homestay offered to get us a ticket (by infamous minibus) for 100,000 dong each. We knew it was a little bit expensive, but we asked ourselves if we could actually do the trip for cheaper, given our previous experiences with the Vietnamese bus system. We decided to do it the hardway (a trip that involved three transfers, read:three possibilites of being cheated). I proclaimed that if it cost us more than 100,000 I was going to kill myself.

To make a long story short, we made it to Chau Doc for only 38,000 dong each (and only a mild amount of discomfort). We spent our "winnings" on the outrageously overpriced food from our guest house in Chau Doc (we didn't know how overpriced it was until the portions arrived). After ordering what we thought was a fairly extravagant amount of dishes, and eating them quickly, we spent the rest of the night scouring the streets of Chau Doc for a "Vani-Socolat" ice cream cone, wondering if they would be available in Cambodia when we arrived the next day (we didn't find one).

A Religion and a War Site

Before leaving Ho Chi Minh City, we took a day trip to two extremely popular sites near the city. Our first stop was the Holy See, the largest of the Cao Dai temples in Vietnam. Cao Daiism, mainly practised in Vietnam (probably only practised in Vietnam), is apparently a fusion of the major religions, "invented" in the 20th century in Southern Vietnam. I was going to try to make this a very informative entry on Cao Daiism, but I can only remember a few of the hundreds of facts bombarded at us during the tour and read in my guidebook. Here is what I remember:
- Cao Daism is comprised of many different religions the main ones being Christianitiy (specifically Catholicism), Buddhism and Daoism.
- High priests of Cao Daiism wear different colours according to their expertise, ones with Buddhist knowldge wear yellow, Daoism and Confucianism wear blue and Catholicism wear red
- Cao Daiists pray 4 times a day every six hours: noon, 6p.m., midnight, 6 a.m.
- Cao Daiists dress entirely in white, except males wear a black headdress
- Cao Dai temples are modelled after Muslim mosques
- Cao Dai women enter the church from the left and sit on the left during prayer, men the right side
- The symbol of Cao Daiism is an eye, the eye of God that appeared to the founder of the religion in a dream, it looks like the eye on the pyramid of an American 1$ bill
- There are more tourists at the Holy See (Cao Dai Great Temple) at the noon prayer session than there are Cao Daiists
- The hierarchy of the priests follows the Catholic naming system. There highest member being the pope. They have been awaiting their new pope for over 50 years, since the previous one died without naming a successor, religious rules state that the next pope has to live to be 110 years old before attaining enough holiness to take over the position. It is unlikely they will have a new pope in the near future.
- The noon prayer session consists of 45 minute song/prayer for peace around the world and happiness to all, especially the Vietnamese

We joined the hundreds of tourists and invaded the upper balcony of the Cao Dai temple to watch the faithful enter and pray, just like being at the zoo. We escaped a few minutes after the prayers began, there's something about mass that made us very sleepy.

After a quick lunch and another few hours on the bus we arrived at the Cu Chi tunnels. A network of tunnels built by the Viet Cong to defend against American bombing. Our enthousiastic guide led us through the jungle site, showing us the various booby traps (ingenious) and tunnels. Margaux and I were the only two people in our group to crawl the three hundred meters though some of the original tunnels. Dark, damp and extremely claustorphobic, the thought of spending weeks, even hours in them is frightening. Of the 16,000 Viet Cong that were deployed in the area only 2,000 survived, but death rates on the American side were also staggering. The entire area was defoliated by agent orange in an attempt to destroy the tunnels, it was also a free fire zone, where American soldiers were ordered to shoot anything on sight. Bombers flying back from other mission were ordered to drop any remaining bombs on to the Cu Chi area.
Vietnamese villagers collected B-52 bombs and took them apart to use them for their own weaponry, they also built complicated series of tunnels to divert smoke from cooking so that the tunnels were unidentifiable. Entrances to tunnels were carefully disguised with leaves and plants. No soldiers new more than a small area of the tunnels, so that if they were captured they could not reveal too much. On further missions soldiers were sent from various tunnel areas, so that in case of emergency evacuation they would have many options to which to retreat. While Americans were equipped with the most modern weapons, the Viet Cong fought in rubber sandals using weapons built from recycled American bombs, the ingenuity and unbelievable determination of the Vietnamese is obvious to anyone who visits this site.
A few old Cu Chi war veterans run energetic presentations at the information centre explaning that the Americans were too big to fit in the tunnels, and only the tiny Vietnamese could wiggle through them (which I believe after crawling through them, and embarassingly, almost getting stuck in a tunnel entrance). At the end of the tour for a few dollars you can choose from an array of different weapons to fire in a shooting range; AK-47s, M16s and these huge automatic beasts (whose names I didn't bother to retain). We decided not to glorify guns any more than they already are, and opted for ice cream cones to finish off the day (although we did watch a fellow tour mate shoot an AK47).

It's a Man Eats Dog World

Yann and I have spent a whole week in Ho Chi Minh City. We arrived a few days before Margaux did, mainly so that we could rest before starting a full three weeks of tourist activities. Since our pace has been so slow, we knew we should pick it up when Margaux arrived, so that she got to maximize her sight-seeing time.

Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), has already lived through thirty years of American presence, unsurprisingly, the backpacker district is fully equipped with anything a homesick westerner could possibly desire. Here in the sinful south, the skirts are shorter, the nails are longer and the hair is blonder. Although, that doesn't prevent Margaux's pale white skin from being a major attraction for the locals. Since she has arrived, the amount of attention we have recieved has augmented tenfold. We are always greeted with "Hello", and Margaux has even gotten a "Hello, you are beautiful, I love you" from a passing moto. Margaux even inquired if it was normal for people to rub your arm as they walk by. Sorry, our arms have never garnered such attention.

Margaux and I spent her first days in the city taking advantage of the shopping opportunities. Margaux ordered a tailor made suit, and we returned several times to the shop for fittings. We did all the other standard tourist things, drinking coconut milk, visiting the War Remnants Museum, the Reunification Palace, taking a ride in a cyclo and of course motorbike riding.

With only two nights left in the city, we had already agreed on our final two meals, one seafood dinner (a treat offered to us cheapies by Margaux) and a dog meat dinner. Since we wanted to end our time in the city with seafood, this left us with only one option, and we were now starting to regret having agreed on this adventurous meal. Dog meat eating in Ho Chi Minh city is not really out in the open for tourists to see. The restaurants, with good reason, do not set up in the tourist areas. With no dog restaurant listed in our Lonely Planet we sought out the directions from a small tourist office, who led us to a dark alley about 15 minutes walk away.

According to our Vietnamese friends in Hanoi, dog meat eating is a "guy thing". Typically men eat dog meet with their male friends and wash it down with lots of hard liquor, its kind of a wings and beer night equivalent. So when Margaux and I walked in with Yann, armed with our notepad on which our friends had written four dog meat dishes, we were greeted with a look of curiosity and mostly surprise. I crossed off the "dog stomach" and "dog soup" items from the list and pointed at the "fried dog meat" and "steamed dog meat". For a little bit more than 3$ we would get both dishes. They seemed to arrive very quickly and for once the portions appeared to be very generous.

Fried dog meat looks like any other fried meat, marinated in some sauce with a few sesame seeds. We very soon wished we had not ordered the steamed dog meat: thin slices of meat complete with large strips of fat and veins. The meat is served with a basket of greens and a purple coloured dipping sauce. The three of us sat staring at the meat, no sign of movement, until Yann reached for a piece of steamed meat and stuck the whole thing in his mouth. Margaux made the first move for a fried piece. I however seemed, against my will, to be frozen. Luckily for me, our neighbor at the table beside us stood up, grabbed a piece of steamed meat, wrapped it in a leaf and dunked it in the purple sauce handing it to me. I held it in my hand. Margaux and Yann might have eaten a few pieces in the meantime, I hadn't moved yet. Our neighbor came back to our table again, this time with a couple of shot glasses, what a relief. Feeling a little bit embarassed about still sitting there with the meat in my hand, I put it in my mouth. It only took me two bites to finish it. The shots of hard liquor were much appreciated.

We looked around and realised that the bottles of whisky and vodka were being consumed at all tables, Yann got up to find a convenience store and returned shortly with a 500mL bottle of Vietnamese vodka. During his departure, Margaux and I consumed quite a bit of the fried meat and we had made one very important discovery. Contrary to our original belief, it wasn't the dog meat that smelled and tasted awful, it was the mysterious purple sauce. Margaux and I concluded, with much certainty, that it smelled like a certain part of the female anatomy (Yann disagreed, thank God). Once the liquor started flowing, the meat seemed to go down much easier, we now understood the whole process of dog meat eating.

Men started getting up from their tables to share more shots of alcohol with us, and we returned the favour. By the end of the evening, men at a nearby table were getting up and feeding Yann random pieces of meat. Yes, actually feeding him, coming over with their chopsticks and sticking them right in Yann's mouth. Margaux and I were very thankful to be women. But our luck changed when they came over with gifts of random dog meat for both Margaux and I. I got a nice slice of steamed meat dunked in purple sauce and Margaux got a chunk of dark brown sausage. I am embarassed to say that I couldn't get mine down, and when the opportunity arose I discreetly got rid of it. Margaux got her chunk down, but she followed it up with a swig of vodka straight from the bottle. The men around could not believe it, first the white skin, then then swigging from the bottle, a dream woman.

What turned into a "small sampling of dog meat before dinner" turned into an entire evening activity. We finished the bottle of vodka, the two plates of meat and waved goodbye to the men at the restaurant who had witnessed something they had most likely never witnessed before.

Easy Riding in the Central Highlands

It took us 23 hours of bus riding to get to Dalat, the most populous city in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. By now, we are getting pretty used to long bus rides, and thankfully our bus was only half full which meant better sleeping. I was only slightly disturbed by the middle-aged couple behind me complaining to the non-English speaking bus driver about the "filthy bathroom stops" and the "uncomfortable seat" while riding on a 2$ budget bus.

We had read and heard alot about the "Easy Riders", an informal group of motorbikers in Dalat who have been tour guiding for over a decade and have recieved rave reviews. However, we have become guidebook skeptical, and we were not feeling in the mood for anything other than bare minimum fact absorbing. Yes, we are being lazy. For a little bit of adventure, we decided that we should rent a motorbike. Our first motorbike experience in Sapa had been decent, although we only rented the bike for two hours and my driving consisted of me swirving and panicking as we approched other bikes with Yann screaming directions at me. So we voted that Yann would be the driver for this full day trip that involved more traffic and higher speeds. In my own defense, we rented the bike in Sapa late in the day. There was exactly one bike left in the lot, some no-name Chinese bike with Honda stickers stuck on in random places in an attempt to conceal its crappy identity. Any gear change involved me kicking violently against the pedal with all my strength and only succeeding in changing it half the time. This time, we had a brand new Honda (a real one as far as our expert eyes could tell). After we figured out how to put gas in it, under the watchful eye of dozens of other Vietnamese drivers lined up at the pump, we were off on our day long Central Highlands tour.

I quickly gained the confidence to ride on the bike without holding on, necessary, because I had a huge pull out map of the area which I was leaning against Yann's back, while trying to read the street names as we whizzed by them, simultaneously giving Yann directions (damn I'm good). We first headed north, towards the village of Bac Lat, stopping by at the Hang Nga Crazy House (self-explanatory) in Dalat on the way. The village main street is nothing more than a dusty road lined with a few wooden houses. We stopped for a cafe and cola and spoke to a few local boys skipping school. The villagers, members of hill tribe minority groups are very poor, and have apparently suffered much more persecution than northern hill tribes. Central Highlanders, being once aligned with U.S forces, now have to contend with a constant stream of new inhabitants, sent by the Hanoi government to flood the area with the Vietnamese.

After leaving Bac Lat, with new found confidence we roamed back through Dalat and headed south to visit waterfalls, pagodas and old train stations. We arrived back to our hotel late in the afternoon, with our faces sunburnt, having used almost a full tank of gas. We are now heading to Ho Chi Minh City for a full week of relaxing and waiting for the arrival of our first (and maybe last) guest, my cousin Margaux.

Vietnam Threesome

We are temporarily disturbing the chronological order of our blog to bring you the News that our best friend Margaux has arrived to join us for the next few weeks! She flew in from Ottawa a few days ago and I have already taken advantage of female companionship to do some shopping and chocolate eating. Yann is taking the time to relax in the hotel room watching shows such as "the top 10 bombers ever built" and "kings of construction" on the Discovery channel (he claims he's not feeling well).

We are staying in a small guest house outside of the busy backpacker's district. However, it we had seen the above hotel earlier, we most definetely would have stayed there.

What is There To Do Around Here?

Hoi An is the place in Vietnam that nobody seems to miss on there journey up or down the country. Pleasant scenery, nice weather and ridiculous amounts of shopping opportunities. There are only three types of business in Hoi An: guest houses, clothing shops and restaurants, it took us about an hour to find a cheap room.

After dropping our bags in the room we decided since the weather was amazing, that we should rent bikes and head to the nearby beach as quickly as possible. Despite the one-geared junkers that we rented, the 5km ride was still done with relative haste (with me the most eager to finally get to lie on a beach). The beach near Hoi An is beautiful, but this time of year the waves are pretty big, and there weren't too many people venturing any further than into knee-deep water.

After realising that our peaceful afternoon at the beach would be anything but peaceful (see dozens of women trying to sell us anything from a pedicure to a bobble head bulldog) I decided I might spend the afternoon in the water. I left Yann to deal with the old ladies.

It turns out swimming (or wading) in really rough waters isn't really alot of fun. I lasted about 5 minutes. When I returned to find Yann lying in the sun, it wasn't long before I realised that I was sitting in a soggy bathing suit full, and I mean full, of sand. Everytime I moved not only did it feel like I was rubbing sandpaper across my ass, but the old ladies thought I might be expressing my desire to purchase tiger balm or a nail clipper.

The five kilometers back to Hoi An feels much longer when you are sitting in a wet bikini bottom full of sand. After returning our "all-day rental bikes" (no you do not get money back if you last less than an hour), and having a shower, we had now spent a precious two hours of our three days in Hoi An. So what's next? Shopping and eating.

Hue Do You Think You Are?

The town of Hue, is less than 100km from Dong Ha and the DMZ Cafe, lucky for us, sits right next to the local bus station where buses for Hue head out every few minutes. Unlucky for us, we are not Vietnamese, so its impossible to get a regular price bus ticket. Instead of paying money to the bus station attendants, we chose to forfeit our "comission" to the guys at the DMZ Cafe, who walk next door, purchase the tickets for us, and charge us for this "service".

After about an hour of driving in our minibus, we pass a sign indicating that Hue is 22km away, then a few minutes later we pull into a minibus station and we are told that we have arrived in Hue. Having seen the trailblazer (and not having eaten yet) I am not in a good mood and I refuse to exit the minibus. While this is happening the minibus is swarmed with motorbike drivers pointing at Yann and I, reserving the foreigners for an extortionate taxi drive to Hue. After the bus driver dangles my backpack over a puddle of water, I am forced to leap out of the bus and I refuse to deal with the motorbike drivers. Yann talks to them for a few minutes, he deduces that we are either 12km or 18km from Hue and asks me quasi-sarcastically if I want to walk. In a classic Emilie screws herself over moment I answer: "Oh yeah, we're walking.... (insert swear words here) ......".

So we're not actually sure if it was 12km or 18km but it did take us about 3 hours to finally get to our hotel in central Hue. We were only followed for motorbikes down the highway for about 45 minutes before they realised we weren't bluffing.

We really enjoyed Hue, the weather was terrible (cold and rainy for three straight days), so people didn't stay long or bypassed it completely. Most of the sites we visited were almost empty and the rain had taken the boldness out of the motorcycle drivers. On the second day we took a boat cruise down the Perfume River, halfway through we got bored, and after we were told we had to pay for our lunch (which was supposed to be included) we opted to abandon ship. At the next stop along the river bank we head back towards town by foot (a popular theme), only about 8km this time, and without the heavy bags.

Despite the fact that our backs and knees were aching a little bit from our stubborn walking adventures we left Hue in a great mood, knowing that we had saved, I don't know... maybe 4$. When I checked my bank records after leaving, I realised that the Vietnamese ATM machine in Hue had charged me 150$ for a withdrawal that didn't happen, so its a damn good thing we saved that four bucks.