It took great effort just to make it to the border, but it took literal pushing and shoving to cross it. Every immigration process I have encountered seems like a hop, skip and a jump across an imaginary line compared to the back flips we had to do to make it into Vietnam.
There is absolutely no concept of the proper function of a line at the border crossing from Laos to Vietnam. If you can push through, you do. It’s like Disney World. On steroids. With none of the miles of railing that force people to respect the queue. Oh and it’s not nearly as magical as Disney World. Everyone seems much more angry than enchanted.
I’m not sure what I expected from Vietnam. We had been so focused on getting there, that I hadn’t given much thought to what it would be like once we did. When we finally made it to Hue, I had my own little culture shock moment. I felt like I had left natural, rugged Asia behind in Laos and landed in the middle of a thriving, modern(ish) city. I’m sure that had I flown directly into Hue, from America or Australia, I would have had the opposite reaction, but coming from Laos- it just seemed so Westernized.
Hue was the first city we visited with a proper grocery store. You would have thought we’d been surviving on nothing but rice (and you may have been right) the way we lit up over the fresh fruits and vegetables. The refrigerated section was absolutely inspiring! But we refrained from filling a cart, knowing that nothing would last long in this Vietnamese heat.
One of the highlights of our two days in Hue (which seemed to be about enough) was an hour long riverboat ride. In Vietnam, every city with a river will offer you private boat rides for about $10 US. It seemed like a good introduction to the city, so we hopped into a traditional Chinese dragon boat and sailed down the Perfume River. We expected the scenery to include things like the Citadel and temples, but instead we got a much more cultural scenic tour. We saw a woman bathing a child and washing his soiled clothes about 500 meters downstream of two women who were washing dishes. I have chosen to believe that this sort of thing never happens the other way around. Surely, no one has ever washed a dirty baby upstream of the dishwashers. Nope. Never.
Another highlight Hue has to offer is the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) Tour. It is one of the biggest tours that draw people to Hue, but due to time constraints, we chose not to take this 12-hour tour, opting instead to explore the Citadel. On our way there we found ourselves on the “wrong side” of the wall, and spent a few hours walking through a “non-tourist” zone. It turned out to be one of my favorite days for photographing local people. When we finally did reach the Citadel, we wished we had done a little bit more research, hired a tour guide, or had Bob Piccard around to enlighten us. It was beautiful and interesting, but we didn’t have enough context to appreciate it beyond that. Next time!
In 2013, I quit my job and bought a one-way ticket to Thailand. After four months of backpacking I returned to the States and fell in love with a guy whose job sent us straight back to Asia. Nothing has gone according to plan... and it's been absolutely magical.
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