The room I was renting in a house in Hue, Vietnam, included breakfast. I slept in and the night before had a hard time communicating with the homeowner about what time breakfast would be provided. I opened my bedroom door and on the small plastic table was a plate of sliced dragon fruit and a small coffee. I sat down on the tiny plastic chair, ate, and drank the cold coffee. The air conditioning units were in the bedrooms, so the foyer where I ate my breakfast was hot and humid. I quickly retreated to my cool bedroom.
I searched for things to do online and read through Jack’s guide book of suggestions. Once I was dressed, I walked downstairs to the main entry room and saw Jack’s parents. I asked about the motorbike that was included in my Airbnb rental, and they showed me a few bikes that were in front of the house.
The gated entry had several motorbikes stored within the small section of concrete in front of the house. Jack’s mom brought me to an automatic motorbike while Jack’s dad got me a helmet. They tried to start the bike, but it wasn’t happening. Jack’s dad moved to another motorbike, which started, but I noticed that the gas tank was almost empty.
I asked them where a gas station was located and pointed to the gas tank. They asked me for money through their hand signals. I gave his dad some money and he drove away. He came back with a full tank of gas. I was nervous to drive in a city. I had only driven a motorbike on an island in Thailand and in the mountains of northern Vietnam, neither of which were very crowded with people or other vehicles.
This was an automatic motorbike, so I figured it would be fine. I started to drive, but after two blocks, the motorbike started to stall in the middle of driving down a busy road. I started to panic and tried to pull over as quickly as I could. I tried to restart the bike, but it wouldn’t start. It was old, and the engine did not seem to be in good condition.
I sent a message to Jack explaining what happened and that I was walking the bike back to his parents’ house. Thankfully, the street near their house wasn’t as congested as I pushed the bike along the side of the street. When I arrived at the house, Jack’s parents tried to give me another bike, but it was a semi-automatic. The bike was old, making it difficult to change gears.
Jack rode up on the back of a Grab bike and said he was actually leading a tour group, but had a few minutes to run over and help. He showed me how to use the motorbike and asked that I drive around the block where he could see me to make sure I could drive a semi-automatic. After I completed that successfully, he left to get back to his tour group.
I used Google Maps to get to Imperial City and put my phone in the front pocket of my shorts. I tried my best to remember the next two turns and once I made those, I pulled over on the side of the road, pulled out my phone, and looked for more guidance. I was surprised at my ability to navigate using this method.
The city streets were busy! There were two lanes of traffic and usually about three rows of motorbikes in each lane. People were passing continually and at random. I almost stopped when I came to an intersection, but after someone honked at me, I sped up and went through. There were rarely stoplights or stop signs, and stopping actually made it worse. Instead, the trick was to slow down a little bit, make eye contact with people on the other street, and give a small honk when you were going to cross. Body language, eye contact, and speed were used to navigate the roadways. Despite the continuous flow of heavy traffic, everyone moved along at a good pace.
I arrived at the Imperial City, which is a huge section of buildings that take up a few city blocks. Hue used to be the capital, so there is a lot of history there. I paid the admission and walked through the grounds.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t with a guided tour, so I wasn’t sure what each building was. Occasionally, I would overhear a tour group, “This is the Royal House.” “This is the Royal Kitchen.” I wondered, “Do I just add ‘royal’ in front of everything?”
The buildings were mostly empty, but some had golden temples and statues. I wandered into the ones that were open. Some of the buildings were destroyed during the war, and only rubble was left behind. It’s strange – we call it the Vietnam War, but they call it the American War.
There were beautiful lanterns hanging from trees and then I came across a small cafe. I was feeling overheated because the real feel was 98° F (36° C). The high humidity was making me sweat through my shirt. I ordered a sausage sandwich just so I could sit in the air-conditioned room. It tasted like a gross hotdog but was worth it for the cool air.
As I kept walking, I discovered beautiful gardens and small arched bridges connecting structures. There weren’t as many people around those areas, so I strolled along, enjoying the plant life.
Since there weren’t many signs and I wasn’t on a tour group, I didn’t learn much about the Imperial City. I walked across the street to a war museum, which had virtually nobody there. On the outside of the building, there were several large helicopters, airplanes, and tanks from the U.S. military.
The plaques listed information in Vietnamese with an English translation. One sign read, “Tank with 175 MM artillery, a modern war weapon of the US equipped to American Army and Republic of Vietnam Army. Captured by the Liberation Army from the enemy in the tan my port thuan an, thua thien hue on 26 March 1975.”
I walked into the main building, and there were giant shells lined up. One sign read, “Bomb: A kind of American Imperialist weapon used in Vietnam invasion war.”
It never occurred to me that countries would capture our military vehicles and bombshells and put them on display. I felt sad as I walked around the museum. I couldn’t help but think about my fellow Americans who died in that war, maybe even in those very vehicles.
After walking through the museum, I drove my motorbike to two different tombs – Khai Dinh Tomb and Minh Mang Tomb. The first one was a bit of a trek to the other side of the city. I was happy to have my easy-to-park motorbike among all of the giant tour buses. The entrance was grand with weathered black and grey stone. The very wide staircase led to the top of the complex.
I climbed the steps, wandered around, looked at the statues, and then tried to go inside the temple. To enter, women must have their shoulders covered. Thankfully, they had some shoulder wraps for visitors to borrow.
The views were great at the top, and it all looked very grand. I got back on my motorbike and drove to the next tomb. This one would be even further, but I was feeling confident on the motorbike.
When I arrived, I had to walk down a dirt path around a huge brick wall. The grounds were more spread out and surrounded by trees.
One sign read, “Buu Thanh is a round wall that protects the Emperor’s tomb. The wall is 285 meters long 3 meters high. The gate of this burial area was opened once a year on the occasion of the Emperor’s death anniversary. Huyen Cung is an underground palace where the Emperor’s corpse was placed. When Ming Mang Emperor passed away, his coffin was brought to this palace through an underground channel that was then closed permanently. These constructions were built in 1841.”
On my way out of the palace, a woman was putting branches that looked like bamboo through a machine. It was squeezing the juice out of it, and the woman then put it in a cup with ice. I bought one, and it was a refreshing, sweet drink.
It was now rush hour as I drove back into the city. I decided to put my phone in the middle of my bra with the camera lens facing out so that I could record some of the insanity. I did a fairly good job at navigating in the chaos. I’m not sure if that means I’m a good driver or a bad driver. I put together a video of some of the driving and sped it up so you can get a good view of different streets.
I ate at a restaurant that my Airbnb host, Jack, recommended and it was really tasty. On my way back to the Airbnb, I was driving down a street and noticed Jack standing on the side. We locked eyes and I pulled over. I had only met him briefly earlier in the day when he tried to help me with the dead motorbikes. He was finishing up a tour and the group was inside a shop. I told Jack about my day and that I was confidently driving around. He was really nice and fun to talk to. It seemed so random that I passed him in that large city.
I drove back to the house and rested in the air conditioning. I still needed to figure out how to spend my last day in Hue, and I didn’t want to miss anything.
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