Friday, April 29, 2011

Central Vietnam: Looking good Hue!

Hue… Home to the Ancient Kings and Queens of Vietnam, located in the heart of Vietnam’s former demilitarized zone, and the site of ferocious fighting during the Vietnam War.  To utter the name of this place is to summon a plethora of images both beautiful and terrifying.  To the previous generation, this city was a city of death, where the west battled the east in an intense close range fire fight.  During that era, tanks roamed the streets and leveled an entire city.  Soldiers cried tears of blood and sweat and clung to each other in the hopes of making it home to their loved ones.  The losses were atrocious and the tales of the survivors staggering.  Truly, there were no winners in this war. 

The Citadel

An old cyclo driver trying escape the heat.

Today… 35 years later, Hue has found peace at last.  The tanks are gone, the soldiers have long since put down their guns, and the DMZ no longer exists.  Old battlefields are overgrown with vegetation and where soldiers once fought tooth and nail for life and limb, children now play soccer under the scorching heat of the sun.  School girls ride their bikes down the wide avenues in their beautiful white Ao Dai’s.  This city has had a truly remarkable recovery.  As we walk down the streets of Hue, it’s hard to imagine that this place was almost completely destroyed during the war.  All the scars, at least the physical ones, are gone.  The imperial palace has been restored, the streets have been fixed, and all the remains of those difficult times are crumbling battlements and distant memories. 

Some girls hanging out in front of the Perfume river.

Hue, as it stands today, is a thriving cosmopolitan city that somehow manages to retain the quaintness and feel of a small town.  Of all the places I’ve been in Vietnam, Hue in particular, and central Vietnam in general, has by far the friendliest people.  Whenever I’m looking at a map to try and find my way, within 2 minutes one of the locals will come up and ask if I need help, and the best thing about it is that they’re freely offering their help out of the kindness of their heart and not because they want a tip or because they’re trying to sell us something.  Once when me and the wife were lost during a bike ride, one of the locals offered to lead us all the way to our destination.  It’s so nice to meet genuinely kind people.  It makes the experience so much better.
An old woman fortune teller.

Some locals we met.

A girl selling bookmarks to make money to pay for school.

Me and Chantra biked all around the Hue countryside and continued to meet a staggering number of friendly locals.  As we rode along, the surprisingly well paved roads, all I could think was “how incredibly beautiful the countryside is”.  Before us was a patchwork of emerald green rice paddies set to a backdrop of rugged mountains covered by thick jungle.  And every so often we would cross a river and watch as it snaked across this beautiful landscape breaking up the sea of green with a tendril of blue.   Kids rode by with wide smiles and waved at us.  When we could no longer take the blistering heat, we stopped for a drink and two old women approached us.  Once they realized I could speak Vietnamese, They bombarded us with questions about who we were, where we were going, and why on earth we were so far out into the countryside.  We literally didn’t see any other tourists that entire day.  What a fantastic experience.  And It only cost 1 dollar each to rent the bikes for a whole day, although I would have paid much more for the adventure.  But then again, I suppose a tour wouldn’t have been able to reproduce our experience.  We’ll definitely miss this place and I’m already sure that we’ll come back one day.

Guava anyone?

Clear rice noodles with chicken.

Rice dumplings filled with minced pork and shrimp.

More dumplings.  This time they're sticky.

Hue style spring rolls with grilled meat and unripened papaya.

Dry Noodles.

Bun Bo Hue.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Northern Vietnam: More Karstic Mountains, Ninh Binh

Ninh Binh is a small town just south of Hanoi.  It’s primary attraction are the Tam Coc caves.  This geologic formation is very similar to the limestone formations that Ha Long bay is famous for.  The difference here, is that rather than rising from the sea, these Karstic mountains rise out of the rice paddies.  They’re accessible by river and easily navigated.  The town itself is quite small and it was the first time, since we’ve been in Vietnam, that the locals have really stared at us.  I guess they’re not too used to seeing foreigners yet cause we got quite a few stares that lingered a bit longer than we were comfortable with.  Oh well, no big deal right.  Not much to report here.  We enjoyed the caves and the river but we only stayed one night.  Enjoy the pictures!
Rice noodles with bamboo shoots and pigs feet.

Little girl we met on the train ride to Ninh Binh.

The local train.

Local lady passed out on the train.

Some locals enjoying a ride down the river.

A temple up on the ridge.

The view during our bicycle ride to Tam Coc.

Some water buffalo's enjoying lunch.

A temple near the river.

Tam Coc.

The guy we hired to row us down the river.

A local couple fishing in the river.

Tam Coc

Some locals working in the river.

The house of a hermit.  He lives 6 miles down the river all by himself.

The hermits house and his lone companion, his dog.