#19 from SE Asia — Hue, the ancient capitol of Vietnam

Post #19
from Hue, Vietnam
20 February. 2010
I was north of the Vinh Moc at sunrise, ready to pedal there.  This is where a whole Vietnamese village choose to live underground for 9 years.  It is north of the former demilitarized zone, at latitude 17 degrees.  A cycling friend of mind, George Christensen had visited it and said that it was worth it.
But as I started to pedal into the rain, I heard a grinding sound coming from my front axle.  It was wobbling off center and hitting the brake pads.  I had to disconnect the front brakes to continue.  The brake pads themselves looked good.  I checked the wheel out.  No amount of tightening it could stop the wobble.  The front quick-release hub was collapsing.  8 days of rain and sand had not done it any good.  The wheel would collapse soon.  So here I was out on a country road in the heavy rain early in the day.  I could push my bike back to the town behind me.  There I could wait for Tet to end and then see if we could jerry-rig some kind of fix.  That would be maybe 3 days.  I thought my other option was to try to wave a truck or bus down and go ahead to the next big city on the road, Hue.
Ten buses later, it was clear that they were almost all packed with Tet travelers.  Finally I got a big one to stop.  It too was packed.  One surly looking young guy quoted a very high price.  He pointed out that I had lots of gear.  The best price I could get from him was $20 US.  Some smirks as they took the money.  A high price, I thought.  But then, I really was not in the best negotiating position.
I got my panniers into the bus alright, and they gave me a front row seat at that price.   But there was no room for my folded up bicycle.
And then they OPEN the engine compartment and put my bicycle RIGHT NEXT TO THE RUNNING BIG DIESEL ENGINE!  I freak.  Visions of melted tires and seats and frozen bearings.  But too late.  They slam the engine bonnet shut and hop into the bus.  I now have the choice of traveling with, or without my bike.  I get into the bus.
We drive off.  As we cross the former DMZ, one of the bus workers points out the reunification monument to me.  Then he motions with an imaginary machine shooting at it as we pass.  We continue.  The Lonely Planet Book states that Vietnam has dismantled and/or destroyed almost all the evidence of the military bases from the Vietnam war.  They have chosen to destroy any evidence of foreign military occupation.  They do have their national cemetery there, where they commemorate their 300,000 missing MIA soldiers along with tens of thousand of buried there.  I decide to pass on seeing that. I have also decided to not visit the My Lai monument.  This is where US troops lost it and massacred 504 civilians.  I believe it happened.  But for me right now, that is enough.
As we drive along on the bus, three times I watch the military dressed men stop our bus.  I watch the driver’s assistants put money in their logs and present them to the police at the impromptu inspections.  They hop back in and the driver waves them thru.  I also see how much the bus is charging other passengers, and it is much higher than I expected.  I am sure that the driver has to factor the payoffs into the ticket price.
We get to Hue and they drop me off surprisingly near to where I plan to stay.  Then they pull the bike out of the engine compartment.  It is OK!  Smells a little like diesel, but then, so do I when I drive my tractor a while.  They shake my hand and wish me a good visit.
Hue:
Hue is the traditional capitol of Vietnam, where the emperors lived.   It is a city within a city, with a very think high brick wall around it, and a moat around that.  Think medieval.  It suffered some of heaviest fighting of the US-Vietnam war.  80% of it was destroyed, and the war destruction is still very much in evidence.  But even with that, I feel that it is a ‘must see’ sight
1000’s of Vietnamese were killed here, with at least 150 US marines.  The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) held this city for three weeks during Tet in 1968.  The South Vietnamese Army could not dislodge them, so the US Marines had to do it.  During their occupation, the NVA executed around 2,500 people they had captured.  They called them ‘collaborators’.
I searched thruout the citadel for any monument for those who were executed.  I found none.  This did not surprise me.  For just as only the victors write the history books, only the victors get to decide who is memorialized, and who is not.  I would expect that, 50 years from now, the Vietnamese will still know about My Lai, but they will not know about the executions at Hue.  I have been thinking about this.  If history does not record something, or we all forget about it, then did it happen?  Not to the next generation.

So I am running out of visa time, and there is so much more I want to do here. Just like in life. So I change my plans. Today I did manage to extend my trip for 16 more days. But that is all I can do.

I managed to scalp a train ticket in Hue during Tet for about 40% over face value. I paid $35 for a ticket to ride about 700 miles. I was lucky to get any ticket at all during Tet.
I fold up my bicycle onto an overbooked train and ride for 26 hours at 30 mph to Saigon. It was a 15 car diesel-powered train, with about 100 people per car. But I do have a reserved seat. I do believe that I was the only foreigner on the entire train.  People stood, sat, laid down, and even slept for long periods of time in the aisle and in the space between the railroad cars. I made it a point to not eat or drink on this train, because I did not want to try to go to the washroom.

A number of university students returning to school changed their seats and sat around me. They wanted to practice their English and talk with me about the outside world. They were really decent, helpful kids. They were constantly offering to run errands for me, such as getting me food and water, and whatever else.
We pulled into Saigon around 1 pm. Ohh infamous Saigon. Alluring whore of the orient.  City where anything goes. Immediately a bunch of touts surround me, trying to sell me their taxi services and everything else in the world. But then they watch me assemble my bicycle and load on the gear. It is a quick process. Disappointment on their faces. I hit the streets of Saigon rolling. BTW, the government may have changed the name to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) but everyone calls it either Saigon or ‘the city’. I quickly get lost, then ask for directions. Then I get a very clean, spacious, secure room at the first place I check, with a private hot shower, for $10 a night. I wash my clothes by hand, hang them in the sun, on my balcony, and shower. Time to hit the town running.

3 Responses to #19 from SE Asia — Hue, the ancient capitol of Vietnam

  1. Dwight! I caught up today on your blogs and find them so very interesting. I have told some other friends about them and they are following also. Maybe you should sit down when you find time and write a book about some of your interesting travels across the world. It makes very interesting reading and you tell it so well. Keep pedaling my friend and can’t wait to read your next entry. Lanny

  2. I guess it would a fitting time to say Rest in Peace to Howard Zinn for making sure that untold stories from history stay remembered.

    I appreciate the history lessons here. Have you been able to get the repairs you need?

    Great update, once again.

  3. pay them the money.dont get killed over green paper.

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