Today we took the opportunity to explore Hue on our own. The colorful boats plying up and down the Perfume River had intrigued us yesterday. The bright colors and dragon or snake designs on the prows were calling to us. The entire scene was just so very Vietnamese that we had to get in the middle of it. As I mentioned earlier we are staying at the Villa Hue hotel, which is a tiny boutique hotel operated by the Hue Tourism College. This hotel isn't the least expensive in town. It is very nice and serves such a good purpose that it is worth paying a few extra bucks. Students from rural areas gain job skills which will greatly enrich their lives. Check it out http://www.villahue.com/ Each evening the staff does a turn-down service and leaves on the pillows for each of us a tiny cellophane pouch of miniature cookies tied with a red ribbon and a "good night" verse card. Each night Bill gets a verse that makes sense; such as: "Man is flower of the earth." On the other hand, I always get a verse that makes no sense: such as: "It depends on how much of rice you eat the the sauce." I think things are getting lost in translation. But the cookies are delicious.
The Villa Hue is located only about a block from the place on the Perfume River where one boards for a boat tour. An easy walk except for getting across that busy wide street that runs parallel with the river. We opted to arrange for motorcycles to pick us up at the hotel just so we could get across that one street. Wimps, aren't we? Hue seams somewhat pastoral after the horrendous traffic in Ho Chi Minh City. The first thing we noticed upon arrival in Hue was that there are far fewer motorcycles and many, many of the old-style bicycles that one normally associates with Vietnam of years gone bye. We rarely saw a bicycle in Saigon; they are everywhere here. Makes for a much slower pace of life. Except that the one wide street alongside the river is filled with motorcycles and cars and no traffic lights to slow things down.
We were not really interested in seeing any of the tourist attraction destinations on the boat trips; we just wanted to ride the boat up and down the river and see Hue from that perspective. We were the only tourists on our boat this day. The photo at left is a double-wide tour boat; we were in a mono-hull boat. Everything made perfect sense as soon as we boarded the boat. The family operating each boat actually owns and lives on that boat. They sleep on roll-up mats on the wooden plank floor and cook in a tiny metal-clad closet area. There is no refrigeration because food is bought fresh as needed for each meal. The family on the boat we rode in consisted of mother, father and one son. The family owned 8 plastic chairs to accommodate tourists, and these were the only form of furniture or seating. They had a simple styrofoam cooler holding barely cool beer and soft drinks. The only other items on the boat were the boy's bicycle and a television.
Our "tour" was supposed to consist of two stops: a supposedly famous garden house and a sampan village. We never heard of either of these stops and did not know what to expect. Bill did not want to see any more temples, tombs or pagodas today; so the garden house and sampan village were the only destinations on the list that did not fall into one of those three categories.
Shortly after boarding the woman showed us a handwritten list of possible foods she could serve us for lunch. We both selected tom (shrimp) and she seemed happy about that. Soon our boat stopped alongside another similar boat stopped in the middle of the river. These were the government officials checking the paperwork of our tourist boat. All was in order and we proceeded up the river. A short distance later our boat pulled to the side and we were instructed to climb off and walk up to the street. The woman told us to be back at the boat in 40 minutes.
We had no idea why we were getting off the boat and being told to walk on the street; but what the heck, we did what we were told. As we were strolling down the street looking at the people and shops, the boat woman walked nearby and motioned to me that we should walk down a concrete path through the trees. Okay; yes ma'am. So we walked off down the path with no idea where we were going or what we were supposed to see, only that we needed to be back at the boat in 40 minutes.
A man on the corner where the path intersected with the road tried to sell drawings and paintings to Bill, but we weren't buying. Soon that same man was walking with us and trying to communicate although he did not speak English. He did keep repeating garden house so we figured the path led to whatever the garden house is. That man stayed with us all the way to what apparently is called a garden house. All we could make out is that this house is 200 years old and was built by mandarins. Guess it is supposed to be famous for something. A very old woman was in the house. Since we didn't know what we were supposed to be looking at and the old woman did not speak English, we just said it was very pretty and walked away. The painting man still was walking along with us and continuing to try to sell us his paintings or drawings. Bill finally paid the man the equivalent of a dollar for showing us the way to the garden house and told him goodbye. Instead of paying to buy a painting, we were paying to not buy a painting.
On the way back down the concrete path we stopped at a place to watch some sort of exhibition of martial arts or something by some young men. We arrived when the exhibition was almost finished, so we only saw only 2 acts. We were probably supposed to purchase tickets for this show but it all seemed very unorganized.
When we got back to the main road we strolled a few blocks back and forth checking out the local people. There were the typical sidewalk meat sellers and a couple of small seafood and/or produce markets. I always think of people back home when we see these sidewalk markets with no refrigeration and no coverings over the fresh meats and seafood. The local health departments of cities in the States would have fits over the way this meat and seafood is handled. The local version of a hardware store understood baling wire....something our younger son Aaron had difficulty locating recently in a Home Depot in Houston because none of the younger employees knew what baling wire is. Then back to the bank of the river and back aboard the boat.
We could smell something cooking and soon the boat woman presented us with dishes of shrimp and yellow noodles with some kind of green vegetable. Tasted deliciously spicy although we had no idea what the vegetable was. Bill had a barely cool beer with his unexpected early lunch. When you don't understand the language, you just sort of go with the flow. She said walk that direction and return in 40 minutes; we did. She said eat; and we did. We can follow directions even if we can't understand the language.
As soon as she cleared the dishes after our early lunch, the woman brought out a selection of small paintings, cards and book markers. She indicated that these paintings were done by her, but we know they all say that and these paintings were probably purchased by her for resale to her boat tour customers. She had some printed literature that said these paintings were on a special paper that is made from powder created by pounding pieces of the cao tree in the mountains of Vietnam. We selected a few for gifts for friends. The next thing we knew the boat was pulling back against the shore where we had originally boarded.
Hey, what happened to the sampan village that was supposed to be destination number two on this little river tour? Oh well, we didn't care. All we had wanted to do was ride up and down the river and that had been accomplished. Who cares if we actually made it to the scheduled destinations. It was getting warm, so we walked back to the hotel to rest in the air-conditioning for a few hours.
Late afternoon we walked around town in search of Cafe on Thu Wheels. This is one of the don't miss places listed on Tripadvisor. Not sure exactly why it supposedly should not be missed. Found the intersection where it was supposed to be located, but never found the cafe. So we gave up and walked to our favorite eating establishment for an order of the special Hue style grilled spring rolls. On the way back to the hotel we stopped by a little bakery place that sells terrific tiny coconut tarts. Bill scarfs his tart immediately; I wait until we are back in the hotel room so I can enjoy a cup of their unusual coffee with my treat.
We tried this afternoon to book another motorcycle tour with Quy to visit the DMZ area tomorrow, but he was already booked on another tour. Ya snooze, ya lose.