Hue (Mar 24-25): A DMZ Tour, Imperial City, Food Poisoning, and a Motorbike Convoy Along the Hai Van Pass

Nick had said that he would join me on the trip to Hue, and little did I know that we’d be travel partners for the next week and a half. We got up at 6am on Sunday morning, packed up our stuff, had breakfast at the hostel, and our transportation didn’t show up until after 7am. Let me just start by saying that when I woke up that morning, my stomach felt off and continued to feel off for the majority of the day, especially when I ate something (this is a HUGE foreshadowing sentence for what’s to come…). We had booked a tour through DMZ Tours, and it cost us 500000 dong ($29.50AUD) each. If I’m being honest, this was one of the few tours that I booked that wasn’t really worth it (in my opinion). There are so many things about Vietnam that are interesting, but I found it very difficult to find information about WHY these things were significant, and what the entire history was actually about. Therefore, when we went to two DMZ sites, I didn’t really know what their meanings were. We drove for over an hour and stopped at the Vinh Moc tunnels. It had been raining all day, so the tunnels were extra slippery and there were parts that we weren’t able to see because it was too wet. The tunnels were made in the late 1960s for protection against American air raids, where 600 people used to live with only one kitchen and one bathroom. 17 children were also born in the tunnels, and they had spaces for a nursery and for watching movies. The height of the tunnels were so short, so we had to stay bent over at all times. I never feel claustrophobic, but I still ended up feeling uncomfortable at times.

After our short tunnel tour, we drove a bit further to our next destination, which was the Ben Hai River bridge. It had a museum and was important for the reunification of the northern and southern parts of Vietnam. I think most of us were still confused because most of the museum was only written in Vietnamese and no one really explained anything to us.

We got on the bus and drove for another two hours to Hue. I was kind of surprised that they didn’t stop for a lunch break (as most tours do), but then it made sense when they stopped at their own DMZ Restaurant in Hue, knowing that most people would be starving and wanting food. Nick and I decided to go to our hostel first, and walked about ten minutes to Hue Happy Homestay and paid $3.60USD ($4.93AUD) to stay in a 6-bed dorm. The owner (Viet) was so friendly, and served us tea and fruit upon arrival. He gave us some tips about where to go, and told us how to get to our next destination. I was told that there wasn’t much to do in Hue (other than go to Imperial City) so I was just using it as a stopping point on the way to Hoi An. I also heard that the best way to get to Hoi An was to rent a motorbike and go over the Hai Van Pass. It would be possible to hire a driver and ride on the back of his bike, but it would cost 900000 dong ($54.45), which was a bit out of my price range. My other option would be to go with Nick, which would cost 225000 dong ($13.28) each, if he was comfortable with it (because he had just gotten in a motorbike accident the week before). Otherwise, I’d just have to take the bus. Therefore, I had the afternoon and evening to decide what I’d want to do. Nick and I decided to go for lunch first, since it was after 2pm and we were both starving. We went to a nearby restaurant called Madam Thu, where I ordered a bun cha, and Nick (being the nice guy that he is) paid for everything.

We then decided to walk to Imperial City, which was about 40 minutes away. We paid 150000 dong ($8.85) to enter, and then spent a couple hours exploring the grounds. It was just a bunch of ruins and buildings, and had the potential to be really nice if they added flowers to the landscape. But honestly, it was pretty drab and didn’t interest me much.

After we finished at Imperial City, we found a grocery store, where we got to see the chicken sat next to the vegetables, as well as what looked like eels in the fish tanks. They also had a huge selection of whitening creams.

We found a type of night market to walk down, and then stopped for some bubble tea (and I got to have my favourite taro milk!). Then we went back to the hostel to shower before going out for dinner, and then walked around trying to find a place. We settled on a restaurant, and I decided to go with the fried rice and chicken. I had a translation asking if the dish had MSG and the waitress replied, “No MSG, just chicken powder” (which I assume would be MSG anyway).

We were served our food, but I was quickly losing my appetite and I couldn’t even finish mine. We went back to the hostel to ask if it would be an option to go on the back of Nick’s motorbike. Otherwise, I’d just take a bus. However, the owner had already went to bed, so we’d have to wait until the next morning.

We got up on Monday morning and went downstairs to have breakfast at the hostel. My stomach was still feeling off, so I slowly ate through my pancake as we talked to two other people who were planning on going towards Hoi An that day: Simon from the UK and Tamara from Canada. We found out that I’d be able to go on the back of Nick’s motorbike, so we gave them our bags (which would be waiting for us in Hoi An), and when we finished breakfast, we all went on our way. I would be the navigator since I didn’t have to do any driving. We first stopped for gas and then we drove about 45 minutes to the first destination, which was Cau Hai Lagoon. On the drive, my stomach was still feeling a bit sore, but I didn’t really think anything of it. Then when we arrived at the lagoon and got off of the motorbike, I said that I needed water as soon as possible, so Nick opened the seat and I grabbed my water. The other two stopped next to us and they started walking down the road but all of sudden, I felt really hot and lightheaded so I sat down. And then five seconds later, I was throwing up! I ran to the bushes and threw up about three or four more times – I didn’t know what was happening! I was strongly considering staying in this tiny village to wait it out, and I felt bad for slowing down the group, but they were actually oblivious to the fact that I was throwing up. Simon thought I was just looking at nature! I chugged about half of my 1.5-litre bottle of water, and Tamara said that I looked flushed. However, I felt better so I thought I’d be okay to walk around for a bit.

I was wrong though because after about five minutes, I started throwing up again. Everyone decided that we’d have to find a pharmacy as soon as possible, but that’s the difficult thing in Vietnam – pharmacies aren’t so easy to find when you’re relying on the internet. We drove along the lagoon, which was nice but I was too sick to worry about trying to take pictures. Then we stopped about 15 minutes later and I threw up again. This time it was the entire bottle of water that I had drank, so I hoped that was the last of it. Tamara suddenly remembered that she had Gravol, so she gave me some and I was determined to keep it down because I wasn’t sure if we’d see a pharmacy anytime soon. When we looked for a pharmacy on Google, it led us to a place that looked like a natural remedy store. I used Google Translate to ask for “something for a sore stomach and vomiting” and the man took a bottle of liquid and showed me that I had to dab some of it on my tongue and some of it on my chest. It was like VapoRub and I seriously doubted that it would do anything, plus it would cost 120000 dong. I said no, and we continued on our way. However, about five minutes later, we noticed a little green cross, and Nick circled back so I could check it out. I showed the owner the same translation, and she took out four very bright pills and told me to take all of them.

I have no idea what they were, but I did as she said. She gave me an extra one of each, and charged 20000 dong ($1.21) for all of them. We continued driving for about a half an hour to Elephant Springs. We had to pay to enter the park, and we first stopped at a temple with a whole bunch of Buddha statues.

The group wanted to walk up to the top of the hill, but I didn’t want to push it so I stayed at the bottom. The drowsy effect of the Gravol was definitely starting to kick in, and I was struggling to keep my eyes open. We then went to Elephant Springs, which is a beautiful swimming hole area. Simon and Tamara went swimming, but Nick didn’t bring anything to swim in and even though I did, I wasn’t feeling up for swimming. I really felt bad for being so sick on the trip!

Do you see the elephant?

After staying there for about an hour, we decided to go for lunch. We stopped at a local place nearby, and I forced myself to at least eat some rice with vegetables, and got through about half of it. We kept going to Lang Co beach, which we only stopped and looked at because it wasn’t that great of a beach. Then we finally started the Hai Van Pass! We started going higher and higher, and it started getting colder and colder, and then extremely foggy and misty.

Check out the person in front of us!

Simon was on the other side of the road at one point and we could hardly see him, so we had to be extremely careful of oncoming traffic. We got to the top, where there was apparently a nice lookout, which we obviously couldn’t see. However, we got off of our bikes and walked around for a bit anyway.

We decided to head back down and literally there was one point when BAM! – the sun was out, it was hot, and the fog was gone. It was like stepping out of a vortex or something, it was so weird! We stopped our motorbikes and looked at the supernice view of Da Nang and the beach. However, we had to time our pictures just right because the clouds and fog kept rolling in and out.

After spending a considerable amount of time up there, Nick and I said goodbye to Simon and Tamara (because they were planning on staying in Da Nang), and we continued to Hoi An. I suggested that we might as well go towards the Da Nang beach and drive around the coast, rather than go through the city and Nick agreed. However, maybe it wasn’t a great idea because as soon as we got into Da Nang, the traffic was absolutely insane! Bikes and cars were coming from every direction, and the traffic lights didn’t stop them from going. It was a stressful situation, but we finally made it to the beach okay (after about a half hour). I was feeling much better at this point, still a bit tired, but I didn’t have an appetite for about four or five more days, which was really annoying! We had a nice one-hour drive along the coast to Hoi An, where we had to drop off our bike at a tailor shop and pick up our stuff. However, I’ll save Hoi An for the next post! Love always

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