February 27, 2016
Up before the wake-up call at 5am. Still in the throes of jet-lag. No matter, breakfast buffet opens at 6am and we’re there just after. Trying to hold back my eat-all-you-can if it’s there mentality…but still indulge in a bit of crisp pork belly and pate on a baguette (besides the omelet, etc). Will slow down at lunch – right.
It’s an hour flight from Saigon to Hue – takes more time to process then get there. Said goodbye to our Ho Chi Minh driver and tour guide, Tina (writing this on the one hour flight). When we arrive we go straight to our bus for a full day before we get to the Hotel…And it will be a full one. SmarTours is famous for that (covering a lot quickly and completely) – and we like it that way.
Another beautiful day in Saigon. Haven’t talked about the weather, but it’s been super so far. We’re just at the beginning of summer and the south is pretty hot already. It’s been in the mid to upper 90s and 75 at night, but the humidity hasn’t been oppressive with some high cloud cover. As we move north to the central region today it will be about ten degrees cooler. Later, in Hanoi, it will be in the 50s and 60s.
Spoke a little too soon…. When we landed in Hue it had just stopped raining and was overcast and too cool (maybe 55 breezy degrees) for the shorts and tee shirt and saddles. Fortunately could reach the fleece and raincoat in the suitcase before they got buried on the bus.
Some personal observations of our guide’s and mine. Even after Vietnam’s reunification we have to remember it is still a communist country, but I leave “communist” in quotes as it is certainly not a benevolent collective. The one party system is NOT a citizen-friendly/oriented country. For example, whether you send your children to private school or public you have to pay. No free public education. There is no such thing as a government or single-payer health care system. You pay as you go, and if you can’t pay, too bad. Forget about Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security. It’s all up to your family to take care of you as you age.
The “official” government pronouncement on unemployment is that it is currently between 1 & 2%. According to our guide, it’s closer to 10%…with little prospects for work for most. In a country where the large majority of people are under 30, it doesn’t bode well for the future. Salaries are very low, with $4-5,000 a year pretty average. Combine that with housing costs that are about 2-3 times the Us and automobiles at three times the cost – it makes for a lot of motor scooters. It’s interesting that unlike most government-centric countries we’ve visited, people aren’t employed to keep the streets clean…an obvious way to satisfy two needs.
Despite all that the people are amazingly friendly and, from all appearances, happy with their lives.
This Hue please….
The Saigon we saw is now the financial capital of Vietnam. Hue is considered the cultural center (and later, Hanoi, the governmental/political center).
Hue is the former Imperial Capital of Vietnam, and our first stop is the Imperial Citadel in the old City. We started driving into the new town along the Perfume river. The traffic is calm by comparison since Hue has a population of only 300 thousand plus vs. Saigon’s six million.
We move past the Flag Tower, Ngo Mon Gate and the Forbidden Purple City, home to the Royal Family before 1945.
The bus picks us up at the dock and takes us to another delicious 5-course typical Vietnamese lunch (not losing weight during this vacation).
After lunch a cadre of rickshaws pick us up in a cold, breezy, overcast drizzle for an amusement park-like ride alongside a thousand motorbikes, busses and cars to the old forbidden, purple city.
Four of the nine impressive bronze urns
We finish the formal part of the day with a visit to the Dong Ba market, bursting at the seams with local foods and products and souvenirs. A scrumptious dinner tops off the packed day, and off to the hotel for some rest before the drive to Danang and Hoi An tomorrow.