26 May 2010

Hit the Road, Phouc!

Copy of P5251010

My motor cycle diary in Vietnam begins with me signing my life away to say I won’t hold my tour company Intrepid responsible in the event something goes wrong with our optional day tour!  In the risk averse world we now live in this is normal practice now!  Jane, the 2 Sarah’s and I have all decided this is the best way to see Hue!  Hue was the capital of the Nguyen dynasty during the 19th century and buildings such as the Imperial Citadel (our first stop) today remind us of the rich history of this ancient city. 

P5251012 We’ve engaged the services of the ‘Easy Riders’ for the day who will introduce Hue to us from the back of a bike.  The guys are a blast!  They are quite conversant in English especially my guy (also called Phouc) who doubles up as our local guide. 

They are really attentive, helping us with our helmets and giving tit bits of information as we whiz through the city feeling the wind rushing by.

There is no better way to see Vietnam than from the back of a bike.  The motorbike is such a part of the culture here that both men and women grow up learning to ride at a very early age.  If I ended up spending any length of time in South East Asia, I would certainly get my licence.  The only difference between Cambodia and Vietnam is that most people wear helmets here and I haven’t seen entire families using the bike as transport in Vietnam.  Perhaps traffic rules are a bit tighter here? 

It isn’t long before we are out in the country and  biking through green paddy fields.  I try and balance on my bike while rummaging for my camera so I can record it all.  It is so much fun seeing the world from a bike and I wonder if Ewan McGregor would let me come along for the ride on his next motor cycle journey:)!  A girl can dream…..?

Women are working in the fields transplanting the rice paddy.  We stop at a bridge to take it all in and chat to the an old lady who professes to be a palm reader!  Intrepid_ Vietnam1-4 We decide to humour her and have a bit of fun as she foretells what’s in store for our respective futures.  No, not divulging any secrets here (smile)…but she sees a younger white man in my near future…mm...:)!  “Not same, same”, she goes..and I burst out laughing! (Can she see the past too?).  I must have ‘rebel’ written all over my palm..or is it my face she was reading?    

Our next stop is at a little place in the country where they make incense sticks from bamboo and the conical hats Vietnam is famous for. The hats are made with 2 layers of raffia on a bamboo frame.  Various paper patterns are sandwiched in between the raffia so when the hats are held up to the sunlight the patterns come to life adding to the mystery of this hat. 

The different coloured incense sticks stacked in front of the store are meant to attract the tourists, but the colour also indicates the smell of the incense as it burns.  Incense is big business here as it is burnt everyday in Vietnam to remember ancestors who have passed on and as an offering to the gods. Intrepid_ Vietnam-15 We stop for lunch at a temple where the resident nuns have prepared a fabulous vegetarian lunch for us.  We make a donation to help them with the orphans they are bringing up.  We learn that when parents separate here and start new lives with new partners the kids are often abandoned.  Temples such as this provide a sanctuary for these children enabling them to have an education and a future.

P5251070 Our next stop is at the mausoleum of one of the Emperors.  It is an expansive place with lotus ponds, a theatre and a room with lots of beds. (These emperors had hundreds of concubines..so just let your mind wander here).  Jane has fun raiding the costume rack …and I just watch..not being into dress ups much :)!  P5251076

The King had this place built while he was still alive and came here for a bit of rest and relaxation!   No one knows the exact location of his grave as it was dug by prisoners condemned to die!  They buried a lot of gold together with their emperors..hence the secrecy! 

P5251079 We  bike through a beautiful cemetery in the hills to visit an arena where contests were once held between an elephant and tiger!  I was really surprised to learn about this.  P5251083 They were staged solely for the benefit of the King, his concubines and the local people.  The elephant represented strength and power and the tiger represented the rebels and perpetrators against the Kingdom...so guess what…the contests were rigged so the elephant always won!  Thankfully this practice stopped a long time ago.

This was our last stop.  We were exhausted and exhilarated.  It had been a truly wonderful experience and another great day.   P5251078

“The greatest risk of all, is a life of riskless living.”

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