26 March 2015

Vinh and Hue - the less touristy part of Vietnam

Imperial palace - Hue
We really didn't like to leave Laos, this beautiful country with spectacular nature. But the hostel was full of mid term stranded travelers, and that was definitely not what we wanted to end up like. Also, when ever we left a wonderful place, there was something at least equally great coming up - sooner or later.

As we felt cold most of the day already in Luang Prabang, we decided to skip Hanoi and directly go to Vinh, a big city in the center of Vietnam, to continue to Hue as soon as possible. The ticket sellers in Luang Prabang did not sell any tickets directly to Hue and we were not unhappy about a little break on this long ride. So we bought our ticket for Vinh.


Imperial palace - Hue
When we arrived at the bus terminal we saw a very comfortable looking bus leaving. The sign said "Hue". That was not really cool to see, as the sellers in the city all said there was no bus to Hue. When we saw our bus, we weren't sure whether we made the right decision. Compared to the bus to Hue and Hanoi, ours looked really old and shabby, there was only one local guy waiting with us, and the engine sounded extremely unhealthy when they tried to turn it on the first five times. Hmmmm. But well, we survived worse, so we decided to go with the flow and just enjoy what ever may come.

After ten minutes we stopped for the first time. After 25 minutes we stopped for the second time. After 30 minutes we stopped for the third time. And it continued like that. We barely got speed when the driver stopped again to load cargo again. Bags, dark heavy wood, furniture, what ever there was. And that continued the entire night. At sunrise suddenly the engine shut down while we drove uphill. It rolled back to the bottom of the valley and everybody got off. The people started to light a fire, nobody talked to us. After we went into the bush quickly we realized that this is going to take longer, as some of the people who were on the bus with us started to stop locals who drove by.

Imperial palace - Hue
After a good hour of waiting and a couple of failed attempts to get the engine started, it suddenly worked again and we could continue our journey. And finally we got to the border. It was the first border in SEA that we crossed by land. We heard stories that everybody had to hand in their passports to the driver for an extra charge and were really ready to fight and bring it to the immigration officer ourselves. But they didn't even bother. Suddenly we wished they would have taken ours because we also heard that sometimes they let foreigners take care of it themselves but left them at the border control and took off with their luggage. Not a great idea. But for us surprisingly everything went smooth and we were very happy to be done with that.

Five minutes after the border they stopped again, one guy screamed noodle and took off. We waited for another ten minutes. When we arrived in one of these bus restaurants where they stop to have lunch we saw the other bus to Hanoi. We were very surprised, because that bus left Luang Prabang 30 minutes before us. And ours barely gained speed before stopping for cargo again. Did they have the same experience? We discovered our Swiss friend Philip in the crowd and were incredibly happy to see him. He told us that they were faster, but that they had to wait for the border to open, so they were freezing out in the cold for 2.5 hours. Maybe our ride was not the worst...

Imperial palace - Hue
The ride was supposed to take 14 hours and cost us 290'000 LAK (29 EUR), but we arrived in Vinh after 24 hours and argued with the bus driver who ended up paying for the local bus that we had to take into town because the bus didn't actually go there.

In Vinh we got a little lost on our way to the hotel, so we asked the locals whether they could help us. They didn't speak a single word in English, but the younger generation took out their cell phones and we worked with Google translate. After they understood what we wanted, one of the guys showed us the entire way to our hotel and all he wanted in return was a selfie with us. That was really really nice. We felt as if we were back in Solo. Smiley, lovely, helpful people. Everybody said hi and smiled at us, and sure they were reeeeeally impressed to see the tallest man ever - it was wonderful.

Imperial palace - Hue
The lady in the hotel did not speak a single word of English and did not understand the concept of Google translate yet, so she was not helpful at all finding out when or where buses leave to Hue. The hotel "Gold Vinh" was still clean and nice, the beds were incredibly hard though, even for SEA. We decided to just go to the bus station the next morning and to take what ever bus we would get. That was perfect, as we arrived at 7.10am and the next sleeper bus for 250'000 VND (10 EUR) left at 7.30 am. There would have been another one at 8.00 am. No problem, there was even a guy speaking English. They all helped us to get tickets and afterwards coffee.

Vietnamese spa - Hue
The bus was kind of on time, we arrived in Hue after a ten hour ride. We checked for hotels when we were in Vinh but we had no time to book anything. So we just walked from where the bus kicked us out (we fought to stay on it until two km before the city, there was no way on for us) to the tourist area. There are plenty of nice hotels, but we definitely found the best place to stay. The "Stay Hotel" is run by two French brothers, who really care about their guests. As they had no Standard or Superior room left, we got a Deluxe Room for the price of a Superior Room (19 USD / 15 EUR incl. breakfast). It was all very clean, beautifully decorated and the hot shower that was really necessary in that cold place worked perfectly well. We were not only happy with the room, the breakfast and the staff, but also the recommendations we got from the owner were perfect.

Between Hue and Hoi An
One day we rented bicycles from the hotel (30'000 VND per day / 1.5 EUR) to ride to some hot spring spa. The way there was already very beautiful, we included a sight seeing tour to the forbidden city (105'000 VND / 5 EUR) and found the way through the city and the rice fields easily. It was a perfect plan for a cold and rainy day. The day after we went shopping, as Northface produces its jackets in Vietnam. I got a down jacket that I will be very happy about in Switzerland for 900'000 VND / 40 EUR), which is about a tenth of the price I would pay for it back home.

Hue is a real city with shopping centers, there is even a cinema. As the weather got really bad, we decided to watch the Hobbit for 80'000 VND (3.5 EUR) and enjoy an easy afternoon in the warmth. Getting our things sorted out, organized and planned, we were ready to continue our journey to beautiful Hoi An.

There are several options to get from Hue to Hoi An. If the weather is nice you should ride a motorbike. It is a very beautiful road over three passes with incredible views. We decided that with the rain and cold weather this won't be too pleasant and took a sight seeing tour bus. This was supposed to take six hours with nice things to see. It took us ten hours and all we saw was pearl shops and marble shops. This was not nice at all. We would definitely take the bus that goes straight next time, as it takes only three hours and skips the hassle of obnoxious sellers when ever you get off the bus.


More pictures from Vinh and Hue

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