Friday, July 26, 2013

Hanoi, Hue, and the DMZ

Well here we are in a private car, on our way from Hue to Hoi An (Vietnam).

A private car! That sounds fancy! you might be thinking. And yes, yes it is. With a private car and a few million dong in my pocket (that's the Vietnamese currency, feel free to laugh), it looks like I'm taking steps up in the world and am well on my way to being a classy traveler! Or, more accurately, we waited until the last minute and the bus was full, the train was late, and this was the only way to get to where we needed to go.

While we're talking about classy though, let me just take this moment to say that Southeast Asia is ALL so much nicer than expected. In Nepal, sister2 and I joked about what we called "the relativity of nice," as in that shower was really nice! And by that I mean it was full of spiders and dirt in all the corners but it had tiled floors and the water pressure was great! Or, that bathroom was nice, meaning it had hand soap and toilet paper woah crazy!

But on this leg of the journey, at least in Andy's and my experience, things are legit nice, no relativity required! Hotels are clean, transportation is American standard, and the roads are good. It is significantly more expensive than Nepal, but seriously, is my favorite thing for booking discount hotels -- if you travel you have to use it.

Ok so anyways, it's been a while since I've blogged, so hmm let me catch you up. We finished our cruise and spent a day in Hanoi, which mainly meant walking 500 million miles (or so it felt) around the crowded craziness of narrow streets and many motorbikes and intermittent rain showers. We found an American B52 that went down in a bombing raid during the war and is just kinda chilling in a pond in a neighborhood.

And then we walked past Ho Chi Minh's toomb. 

And then we went to the Hoa Lo Prison (aka "Hanoi Hilton"), which was built by the French to keep Vietnamese prisoners during colonialism, and later used for American POWs (including John McCain) during the Vietnam War.

John McCain's flight suit.
And oh don't worry we've been eating everything! Vietnamese food is amazing and so cheap. A full blog post about our gastronomic experiences is on its way!

Grilled eggplant with peanuts, cilantro, and chilies. 

To get from Hanoi to Hue (the current capital to the ancient one), we did it Vietnamese style and took a sleeper train. I guess that counts as another instance of classy travel -- A/C! Individual soft berths! Space to walk around! It was more comfortable than a sleeper bus, though it did take a lot longer.

A dragon boat on the river in Hue.

Hue (pronounced Huế) used to be the capitol of Vietnam, so we walked around the twice-moated citadel (is moated a word? You know what I mean) to see the ruins that are in the process if being rebuilt. Because much if Southeast Asia had been sooo heavily bombed (especially Vietnam and Laos), a lot of the stuff we see us completely new -- towns, historical sites, etc, in the process of being reconstructed. 

Huế Citadel

Especially as Americans, it's hard to not think of the history here in Vietnam. So we might as well embrace it and learn some things! Thus, we spent day 2 of our Hue experience on a tour of the DMZ (the north/south border during the war). Our guide, Mr. Trung, is a former south Vietnamese soldier, so he really knew his history. The most interesting part was talking to him about what's happened since the war, how the north/south divide continues to exist, the current political climate, etc. 

Mr. Trung explaining an assortment of bombs.
Our tour went to a church, a series of tunnels, the bridge across the border, and a former US base and now VietCong cemetery.

Tunnel entrance. 350 people lived underground for 5 years!

Guided tours are not usually my jam at all (ugh people talking at me and telling me what to do), but in this situation it was good, and I think seeing the DMZ without a guide would be a waste of time. 

Speaker that was used to project propaganda across the border into S. Vietnam

Next stop: beaches!!!