THE REUNIFICATION TRAIN TO HUE

Our last day in Hanoi saw us confronted with cold and drizzle. I set off for one last explore around the Old Quarter. I ended up watching the street from the shelter of a Cafe over a cup of Ca Pha.

As I sat watching I remembered two of my other favourite places for watching. There was the little shop run by a couple of young people on the pavement near the cathedral. This is where I took a nice black and white shot of my coffee on my first morning. Jeremy and I went there for a beer and some sunflower seeds one evening before dinner. 

Because of his leg they stacked the stools about 8 high. This was a great place to watch the young of Hanoi with their trendy haircuts. The sunflower chewing reminded me of America. But in America they chuck the whole lot in their mouth, chew it up and the spit out the husks. Here, in Vietnam, they do it the way I do, carefully crack open each individual seed and extract the seed with tongue. Toss husk on floor!

The other place was an upstairs bar overlooking the lake. We went there twice and all we did was sit and watch the traffic…so mesmerising. Sitting, watching is a great and popular pastime in Asia and it was nice to get back into this groove. I think we will visit Hanoi again. There is much left to do here and many places to become the new favourite place for sitting and watching. (Please do not think I am drinking too much beer and ca pha in the process!)

During a break in the weather I found my way to the street with all the music instrument shops. In the Old Quarter streets are traditionally named after the goods they sold. So there is the Metal Street, that still sells rolls of raw sheet metals and finished products. The Silk Street, Print Making Street, Traditional Medicine supplies street and so on. Some of them no longer sell these products but even newer products tend to group together, like all the plastic shops, souvenir shops, fake outdoor clothing shops.


I spent an hour in a music shop listening to the owner playing all the different instruments for me. There where long single stringed things played with a violin type bow, many ukelele type things of all shapes and materials. The one I particularly liked had one string and an upright device that distorted the sound through an amplifier when you moved it. It is called a Dan Bau and they played it at the water puppets show. But it was too expensive and big to take home so I bought an interesting hand percusion instrument with bells attached.

After lunch we went to the ethnography museum. Once again this was presented extremely well and we had a good few hours wandering the exhibits which included full size houses from the various tribal groups of Vietnamese.
Then to the train! There was the usual little bit of confusion about what we needed to do, we thought we had to exchange our online printed boarding pass for a real ticket, otherwise we would risk our seats being re-sold! Apparently not anymore. So we found our four berth ‘soft, sleeper’ carriage and claimed our bunks. After a little while just sitting there, we rang the number on the instruction sheet to let them know we were on board, please do not sell our ticket!

We hoped we were going to have the carriage to ourselves but we ended up with a nice French couple sleeping over. Jeremy tried to entertain them but quite quickly ran out of conversation topics and his vocabulary dried up. He spoke about his mother and grandmother, where she lived in France, and our visit to Clemont Ferrand. Luckily, the French couple were quite self-contained and needed no further entertaining so we all settled into our respective bunks for the night. I had to perform contortionist type movement to access my top level bunk. But once up there it was quite roomy.

The ‘soft-sleeper’ part of the description is not entirely accurate. The mattress, whilst covered in nice, clean sheets proved far from soft. And as for sleeping… well, imagine lying on a trampoline with three or four people bouncing around you, and you may come close. Then the quite sudden stops coming into stations, and the noise…even with ear plugs. Needless to say, not much sleeping occurred. And we should have known better to have a couple of beers…train toilets in Asia do not bear speaking about. Particularly on this cross between a bucking bull and a roller coaster.
We ‘woke’ the next morning to water everywhere. It was as if we were traversing through the middle of a giant lake. Some of my photos look like snow shots. Mostly the rails were above the water line but there was one point just outside of Hue where we slowed to a crawl and the lines were completely covered in water. On the other side of the train you could see the water rushing like a waterfall out from under the train.

After disembarking at Hue we caught a taxi to a proper hotel rather than a homestay. With the miserable weather it was good timing to have a little more comfort, complete with bath and in house massage parlour. And they had a special 90 minute treatment for the cost of a 60. I quite quickly planned my afternoon…bath then massage. Oh, and remarkable coincidence, our French train cabin mates are staying at the same hotel!

First though, lunch and a wander around the streets. It did not stop raining all day! Time for a catch up on the blog…but first…my luxuriating…

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