Saturday, August 6, 2011 – Sunday, August 7, 2011
We woke up the next day with a few things we still needed to accomplish in Hoi An. After breakfast, I biked over to the tailor shop to grab my finalized dresses. The saleslady who had been helping us seemed sad and a bit stressed. I had found out that her sister had gotten Dengue Fever the night before. She broke out in the telltale rashes with high fever. I told her to go to the hospital if she gets worse just because Dengue can be fatal if left untreated. In fact, the only treatment for hemorrhagic Dengue is IV fluids or a transfusion because patients experience such low blood pressure. I said goodbye for the last time. Scott and I packed up as quickly as we could, so that we could go see the rest of some of the ancient houses and historical sites. I have no idea how we make such a mess everytime we stay somewhere with only spending 2 nights there! It always takes us at least 45 minutes to pack up and shove all of our stuff into the backpacks. The bus to Hue was leaving at 2 pm, so we only had 2 hours to eat lunch and go site seeing.
We first stopped at one of the ancient houses of Hoi An. It was a beautiful house made of dark wood that sat right on the river. They checked our tickets and seated us on some beautiful, hand-carved chairs and gave us some tea. We learned that the wood they use is extremely durable and water-resistant. In fact, each year during the rainy season, water floods the house. The biggest flood was back in 1964 and it was 10 feet high, covering the entire first floor. They showed us the tick marks on the wall of the different water levels over the years. The wood still looked brand new. I have no idea what the name of the wood is, but it was incredible. We then went to see the temple and get some pictures, and then went on a search for more chopsticks, but this time in the Central Market, meaning noisier, more crowded, and less expensive. Scott and I biked in and stopped by stand after stand asking for prices. Some places quoted us higher than the nice tourist-friendly shops! We played good cop, bad cop. I was good, and Scott was bad. I would nicely as for a price, ask Scott in English, and he would sternly shake his head no, and head off. At this point, I would try to lower and joke that “Ong Xa”, slang for “this man of the house”, says no, and “Could you just do me a favor and lower the price.” The women sellers here were tough with big walls. They were about as stubborn as we were. No one was giving in, and we had gone to about 5 different stalls. Finally, a lady gave in to $6 USD for 2 packs of chopsticks, and I caved in.
Satisfied, Scott and I were ready for lunch, so we chose a Hoi An favorite called “Mermaid Café.” This was the first restaurant opened by Ms. Le, the lady who basically owns all the popular restaurants in Hoi An, including our favorite, Morning Glory. The food was less expensive, but not as good and fresh as the food from Morning Glory. We were not that impressed. Moreover, Scott and I had developed picky palates that were attuned to food that tasted truly authentic versus food that catered towards tourists. This restaurant fell in the latter category. It was authentic but it lacked some sort of umph. We hurried back to the hotel to check out and rushed to get on the bus. It would be a 3.5 hour ride to Hue.
The ride wasn’t as treacherous as the road to Nha Trang. Instead of driving around the mountain, we drove through it in a really long underground tunnel. We finally arrived in Hue, and it was nothing as I was expecting. Hue was the Imperial City where the emperors lived up until the Vietnam War, yet it looked like Saigon. I was expecting a more “old world” feel as I did in Hoi An. We got off the bus and were completely bombarded by the locals asking us if we needed a ride on their motorbikes. Scott and I were used to it, so we just gathered all of our belongings, and stood against the wall, quiet and still. We observed a young, flustered man, pink from the sun, who was from England, being completely harassed by a Vietnamese local to get on his motorbike. We overheard him say, “Lovely country, but I have been screwed over so many times by you people.” Scott and I tried to stop him from getting on the bike by saying that Mailinh Taxi drivers are the safest bet. He got on anyway. We wondered if he ever caught his flight at the airport.
Everyone cleared from the bus station, while Scott and I waited for our ride from the hotel we had reserved. A woman in a blue ao dai (traditional Vietnamese dress) drove up on her motorbike and told us that she made a mistake and only booked a room for one person. I kept asking her if 2 people might fit, and she kept insisting that we go to their “sister” hotel for $16/night. The hotel was located on the busiest street in Hue, and our room was on the 6th floor with no elevators. I wasn’t impressed and was really disappointed that we were being referred to a hotel that I didn’t book at and didn’t get time to review (history will repeat itself in our future endeavors). Scott and I got back in the taxi and spent 2 hours shopping around for a place to stay. So many places were booked to the max or too expensive or too dirty. We finally settled on one place for $20/night that was decent. By the time we were unpacked, it was time for dinner. We went downstairs to ask for some recommendations by the receptionist, and she tried to sell us a $35/person tour of Hue and its tombs. No way! On top of that, I could not understand her at all. The Hue accent is so thick that I was smiling and nodding the whole. Who knows, maybe she said it was only $5/person.
Scott and I wondered into the street and just walked along sidewalk trying to find our way to a restaurant she had pointed out. We couldn’t find it, so I stopped and asked a watch merchant where all the locals go. I asked for a place with no tourists. She pointed down a dark alley. Scott and I wandered down it, stepping over puddles. We looked into what seemed to be a house with some tables and people eating at them. We walked in and nobody looked up, so we knew we were in the right place. A true local gem doesn’t care about the tourists. Scott and I shared a table with another customer and took a look at the menu. There were 5 choices, each for 50 US cents, so we ordered all of them. We had the famous Hue banh beo, which are small white rice pancakes covered in shredded shrimp and that you eat with fish sauce. We got other similar dishes wrapped in and steamed in banana leaves. Scott took out his camera, and that’s when everyone started looking at us. The waitresses got a real kick out of the fact that we were taking pictures of their food. Scott and I ordered seconds on everything and inhaled it all down. The food was delicious, tasty, and simple. As we were leaving, we saw some tourists wandering through the alley looking for this small, hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Maybe we weren’t as special as we thought. Regardless, we were completely full and satisfied as we walked home.