Wow. I did not know it was humanly possible to do so many things, see so many sights, meet so many people…in just one day! After the market and the insanity that is HCMC, we flew on a small plane to Hue, which was a different experience to say the least. Even though there were screaming children behind us and a crying baby next to us, Sophia and I managed to enjoy our flight, which only took about 45 minutes. Flying in over Hue, we could already tell this was going to be an entirely different Vietnam than what we’d just seen in HCMC. That turned out to be mostly true, with the landscape around Hue all green with mountains in the distance. I had almost forgotten how nice it was to see mountains after being at sea level in Charleston for so long! We also saw a lot of flood damage, still, on the way in from the air. Even though the rainy season is over, it still rains a little bit each night, and there is still evidence of the floods that damaged the area a little while ago.
The Hue international airport was tiny. Seriously—one baggage carousel, probably about two gates, maybe. We got off the plane on the tarmac and took a bus over to the entrance in the actual airport building. There, Liz was waiting for us. She is a College of Charleston graduate who studied abroad a few years ago with Dr. Murray, who is leading our trip and has led a few other trips in the past. Liz now works for Dr. Murray’s organization (called Think About the Children) and lives in Vietnam full time. It was great to finally see another familiar face after two days of nothing but airports and Ho Chi Minh City.
We took a van from the Hue airport into the city, which was about 15 or 20 minutes away. On the way in, we passed some absolutely beautiful landscapes. They were punctuated by areas of poverty, reminding us again of the nature of the country we are in. Beautiful, but struggling. Getting closer and closer to the city, you could see traffic picking up, and fewer homes that looked desolate. It was odd, there were people in the country near the airport, but it seemed almost abandoned or something. Once we got to the city, though, I could see why Dr. Murray suggested Charleston as a comparison. The two cities are about the same size, and there is lots of history to be had in both areas.
We checked into our hotel (another small but okay room, this time with two beds, a little bit softer than the other hotel, but this room has neither air conditioning nor hot water as of now!) It is much nicer in Hue than in HCMC as far as the weather is concerned. Here it is in the 70s and not too sunny. There is a breeze because we are right by a river. Overall, I like Hue a lot better than HCMC, not only because the weather is nicer, but it’s also less chaotic and not so much sensory overload everywhere you turn. Traffic is still crazy, but not as bad. Tomorrow starts a new law that everyone riding a motorcycle will have to wear a helmet in all of Vietnam! It’s all anyone can talk about here.
After we got settled into our hotel, we walked a few blocks to a small restaurant across the street from them Imperial Hotel, the very nice tourist destination in Hue that goes for about $250 a night. We met up with the rest of Dr. Murray’s family here, as well as students from a local university’s English Club. It was great meeting Vietnamese students! They were all as excited to talk to us as we were to talk to them, even though we could only say the basics, really. They were all studying Environmental Studies at the University here in Hue. They were all about 20 years old, and we al turned out to actually have some things in common! It reminded me of what it might be like if Sophia and I ever went to Germany and attempted to talk to students there. The basics, a lot of hand motions, and a lot of patience. That’s all it takes to make a new friend in anyone you meet in a foreign country, I’m convinced of it!
After we ate at the restaurant all of us Americans jumped onto the backs of the Vietnamese students’ motorcycles for a quick ride to a café by the river a little way away. It was definitely the coolest part of the trip so far! Traveling by motorcycle is definitely the preferred method of travel, and it’s so much fun! It makes me want to learn to ride my own! If it wasn’t for the crazy traffic in the cities, I would rent a motorcycle in a heartbeat and take it everywhere.
The ride was nice and we ended up at a cute little café on the river where I got to drink more amazing coffee. I hope I can bring back a special Vietnamese coffee maker; I’m never going to be able to drink regular coffee again! Though we were all pretty tired at this point (I still can’t believe we did all of this in one day), so we decided to head back.
We don’t really have a set schedule over here, it’s more of an experience-everything-you-can type of plan. Which is okay by me! This is turning out to be even more of an adventure than I thought it would be—I don’t even really know where we are going or what we’re going to be doing tomorrow, but I know it’s going to be amazing, just like everything else in Vietnam has been so far. Whether it’s talking to students from Hue or just walking the streets of HCMC looking for an ATM, every little thing is such an experience in a place that is so un-Western. It’s incredible how different things can be. Every few minutes I discover something new and that is exactly how I would want to spend any trip I go on!
Can’t wait to see what we end up doing tomorrow! And don’t worry, I’m taking my malaria pills and not drinking any of the water. I haven’t had anything stolen from me in the cities, and no one has gotten hurt. All healthy and safe so far. Have a great weekend, everyone!