I’m woken at 5:15 am by the start of a downpour. My room is on the top floor of the hotel, and it seems that the roof is made of tin. It is absolutely hurling it down. I step out onto the balcony to take a look and notice that it has started to flood a little bit.
When I asked for a room with a pool view I wasn’t expected the pool to be on the balcony
I fall asleep again, and when I wake up at 8.30 it is still thundering it down. My plan today was to head out to the Citadel, but the way the rain is looking I’m not sure I’m going anywhere. An optimistic rain poncho seller hangs around at the hotel’s front gate, waving at people to come and buy one from her. Since it’s so wet, pretty much the entire clientele of the hotel are huddling in the breakfast room and watching the rain come down.
I spend the morning sitting outside under the restaurant balcony writing up the last few days of Hoi An for this blog while being supplied with hot, fresh Vietnamese black coffee by the staff. By lunchtime the rain hasn’t let up and the street outside is literally like a river. I watch as locals practically wade through the water, it rising to halfway up their shins.
I wonder whether to just write off the day. The rain is coming in fits and bursts – at moments torrential, then lightening, and just when I begin to think it has lightened sufficiently it thunders down again. At 1 pm I feel brave enough to step out, having seen a family borrow umbrellas from reception, and the rain has lessened enough that it seems like it might even stop, but when I ask the reception tells me she has no more umbrellas. I trudge out into the the lane to look for somewhere for lunch.
I get about 50 metres down the road before the rain thunders down again. At the end of the lane and there’s an enormous puddle that I must either walk through or walk around. I hang around under a shop’s awning for ten minutes, wondering whether to turn back or not.
I keep walking. I make it about 300 metres before I admit defeat and dodge into a cafe/bar on the corner of one of the main roads in the tourist district and one of the main restaurant streets. It’s called DMZ bar, and it’s a backpacker-ish haunt I’ve read about. There are a few people inside playing pool or cards. I get a tasty beef salad for lunch. It’s quite fun to watch the world go by as the rain pours down. The scooter riders are swathed in giant plastic ponchos and backpackers in various states of rain protection jump through the puddles to their buses or hostels. Raincoat lady is now waiting under the awning, still trying to get tempt someone, anyone to buy her wares.
The rain seems like it’s lessening and it looks as though the sun is breaking through the clouds. I decided to risk it and have a wander around. I’m mainly concerned about completing the activity rings on my Apple Watch at this point – I haven’t missed a day yet since I got it. I drop into a mini mart to get some water. Raincoat lady is outside under the umbrella of a friend peddling street food. I huddle inside the mart as the rain comes sideways now, then decide sod it, I’ll get a raincoat as the satchel bag I’ve got my camera in is getting wet and I can put the coat over it. It is also long enough to cover my shorts and stop me from getting completely soaked.
Raincoat lady wants 50,000 dong for a poncho. I’m sure she’s probably overcharging but that is only about £1.75 in the grand scheme of things, and I figure it might be a good investment for the rest of the trip since it’s quite thick and not a flimsy plastic one, plus that couple of quid might mean she has a meal tonight. She only has purple, however.
I search through my soggy notes and she tells me she can change a 100,000 dong note. I pick one out and hand it over to her. She sneers and tells me it’s dirty – sure, it’s a little faded and wrinkled, but she wants newer notes. I tell her to fuck off then, and zip up my money pocket and walk off.
I don’t do that. I give her the new note, get my change and step out into the rain without getting wet. I head out along Le Loi, the main road in this part of the town, which will take me to the bridge that crosses the river. I’ve decided to at least go to the market on the other side of the river and then see how it goes from there. The rain lessens again. I cross the street and head into the park that runs between the road and the river bank. A man on a scooter follows me through the park asking if I want cocaine, marijuana, anything I want. I wave him off. A nice woman yells at me from the riverbank about 200 metres away. I presume she wants me to come into the restaurant she’s standing outside. I ignore her and keep going through the park, still waving away the man on the moped. The woman picks up the pace and dashes across the park to me. She’s offering a boat ride along the river for only $5. I thank her but keep walking. I cut back to the road and wave away another scooter rider offering me any drugs I want and walk onto the bridge.
Resplendent in my purple poncho
The bridge cuts across the river and comes to the south-east corner of the ancient Citadel. The complex has an almost identical design to the Forbidden City in Beijing. I come to the south gate, but walk along the walls and the moat to the central entrance, waving away motorbike touts who claim to be tour guides. A ticket to the Citadel costs 150,000 dong. I pay up and enter through the Ngo Mon gate, also known as the Meridian Gate.
It’s nice inside. I’ve seen photos and similar buildings elsewhere in Vietnam. The rain is coming down again. We enter through a pavilion and come out into the complex. There are quite a lot of people here, which I didn’t expect given the amount of rain we’ve had.
The rain is running off the channels in the roofs. I cross a courtyard and make my way through the west side of the complex. Here there is an exhibition of photos of the imperial kings of Vietnam from the 1890s to 1930s, which is pretty cool, and there are several official documents that were sent to and from the French government in imperial times.
I skip the Long Corridor for now, choosing instead to walk across a long path outside that runs parallel, and I cut through some buildings, go through gates and into some smaller buildings, peeping in at displays and exhibitions of royal clothing and transportation devices. It’s interesting, but I have to say it isn’t anything I haven’t seen before. I cross through another gate and find myself in what appears to be open countryside, and then through another gate, which this time comes out into a road with scooters zipping by, and duck through another gate to find myself inside yet more complexes.
By now I have no idea where I am or what I’m looking at. There was a map in a frame on the wall of the main entrance, but there are no signs or guide posts this far into the complex. It is if I am out in the open countryside, surrounded by crumbling buildings and ruins poking through weeds. It is eerily quiet, and there are no other people around.
Feeling a little bit lost…
There’s no one around…
I have come to the back complex, which is not open to the public, and I truly feel lost. There is a long road which goes along the back wall. This is the wall that is famously bullet-scarred, as it was the site of the 1968 Tet Offensive during the American / Vietnam War.
I walk along the back wall and find a lovely little garden with a moat. The citadel is often called a citadel within a citadel within a citadel, as there are three moats that each contain a complex. I come back and find the ruins of another old complex, next to which is a maze, and I think this is actually my favourite part of the whole site as it gives a view across the central part of the Citadel. As I make my way over to the buildings I finally find another map which lets me know where I am.
I’m ready to leave now. I’ve been here for a couple of hours, which is enough time to get around and see the site and the exhibitions within. I”m glad I made it – it’s pretty much the thing to do in Hue, and it’s the main reason people come here. Without it there wouldn’t be much reason to come, I suspect, and I kind of wish I had done Hue first and gone to Hoi An after.
After all the rain I’m feeling soggy and I want to rest my weary legs. I choose a small coffee shop just outside the exit to sit down in and I enjoy a coffee and a jar of peanut candy before I set off.
Back towards to the citadel entrance there is a small war museum with planes and helicopters from the war on display. I merely peer over the wall as I go past, since many of the same things are displayed in the Korean War Memorial not far from my apartment. I wave off the motorcycle taxi touts and head back through the archway and head back over the bridge.
Back on Le Loi, I spot a street-side seat in a bar and hostel called Taboo. I sit down for another coffee, and this turns into dinner and a couple of drinks. It’s a nice place – the music is good and there are some interesting paintings on the wall. It’s nice to just sit and watch the world go by.
I head back to the hotel and sit outside with my computer doing some writing and making a plan for tomorrow. I have to get the kid from reception to come and remove a roach that is sitting on the wall above my bed before I can sleep easily.
And rattling on the roof I must have heard the sound of rain…