On the Road to Hué
On the street in Hanoi's old quarter
In the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, the streets and sidewalks have become so clogged with motorbikes that pedestrians often have to wade out into the traffic to get by, a chaotic and challenging situation.  Happily, we remained unscathed.
October 30 -- We decided to catch the Reunification Express from Hanoi down to Hué last night.  Appropriately, it was raining when our taxi dropped us off at the crowded Hanoi train station.  Humphrey Bogart was standing on the railway platform, sopping wet with a sad dumb look on his face as he waited, eternally it seemed, for Ingrid Bergman to show up.  "Let’s go boss, she ain't coming," urged Dooley Wilson (better known as Sam), as he loaded his piano aboard.

Ingrid never did show up, which was a good thing, as the train was already pretty full.  Carol and I were the only non-Vietnamese in our coach.  There was a sign at the end of the coach:  "Welcome to Vietnam Railways!  Have a safe and lucky trip!"

The train pulled out right on time, moving slowly past markets, streetside soup vendors and old houses that seemed to crowd the tracks.  On the train, attendants came by with a large pot selling bowls of noodle soup, a Vietnamese favourite.

The rain continued and intensified through the night. Huge bolts of lightning lit up the countryside, reflecting off the lakes, fish ponds and rice paddies.  It seems there’s always water lying around somewhere.  There's an undercurrent of turbulence in this country.

The attendants brought us all blankets and we had your normal, restless overnight trip kind of fitful sleep.  We were traveling second class "soft seat".  It was okay, and certainly more comfortable than the bus, but overnight was plenty.

In the early light the next morning I could see we were traveling through large tracts of open land, scrub growth with barren patches.  Right.  This was the old De-Militarized Zone, the DMZ which had separated the former North and South Vietnam.  It was also the de-forested and de-vegetated zone, huge areas devastated by Agent Orange, the defoliant used generously by American planes trying to uncover the Viet Cong and the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  Here and there you’d see clusters of grave markers and spirit houses.  Many of those once were villages.

The clouds had burned off and the morning sun was shining as the train pulled into the station at Hué.  As always, we were greeted by a small but enthusiastic crowd of taxi and cyclo drivers.  As always, Carol talked one of them down to a price about half of what they were originally asking.  Our new hotel was a welcome sight.  The bed was comfortable too.

Gardener in Hanoi
One of the gardeners outside Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum in Hanoi.
American military hardware abandoned in Vietnam
Captured or abandoned American military hardware sits rusting on display in the old city of Hue.  The area was the site of intense fighting from 1968 through to 1975.
Part of the restored Imperial City in Hue
As the old Imperial capital of Vietnam, Hué has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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