So we, two lively backpackers, or as I labelled us budding ‘Rational Internationals’ were on our way to Huế (pronounced ‘Hway’), an understated city in the centre of Vietnam. The cosy flipside to the pandemonium of Hanoi. Puns such as ‘Hue to go!’ would be common to the ear amongst Westerners.
We’d been on a sleeper bus for several hours next to a local Vietnamese woman and her boisterous son, who would urinate in a water bottle whilst the mother would create the urinating sound effect to comfort him. There was hardly room for complaint when such simple bizarre instances only invite laughter and unusual touches to any journey. We were halfway through our Vietnam expedition with a sentimental and strange feeling of accomplishment yet wariness to the time passing by. The long bus journeys, fatigue and cramped leg-ache were soon forgotten on arrival to a new place, flooded with exhilaration to bulldoze the next thing on our list.
We dropped our ridiculed 15kg backpacks at Vietnam Backpackers hostel and continued with what was becoming our norm – to immediately annoy or ‘make friends’ with the workers. I would like to think being invited to the Cinema to watch Ant Man was the pinnacle of that confirmation we were ‘in’ with them. But as ever, they offered sound advice on what to do and we would take it. If you ask those who have been to Hue what they did, you’re likely to hear about a tour of the enchanted imperial city, viewing the salient Citadel, once the emperor’s home.
Perhaps riding a moped or bicycle. Or maybe even a trip to DMZ bar down the road from the hostel, where you would meet an interesting Vietnamese man who’d lost an arm during combat tell you his story, and dance with you and your friend in the centre of a circle. However, as two labile backpackers, we took every day lightly, open to change and spontaneity as that is the only way to truly go on a personal adventure. With one day left, naturally we took up one of the hostel worker’s invitation to embark on his curious motorbike tour of Hue. As an aberration, it ticked the box for us. Due to a certain motorbike incident, comedic in hindsight back in Thailand, where we careered into a food cart with spring rolls and drinks flying along with us, we opted to ride on the back of two riders for what was to be a track for only the more experienced. My fellow ‘lively backpacker’ immediately secured her place on the back of the hostel worker we were now friends with, whilst I was humorously put up for auction to the remaining group to which a lovely offering was of course made.
We then set off on a rocky, windy escapade through the hardly touched areas of Hue. We can now say we visited spots unobservable on a map: a ruined elephant cemetery, an abandoned waterpark (photo), a tranquil view of the Perfume river from a forested height, lunch at a fishing restaurant, and caught riding behind a crazy footloose cow out of nowhere. In the space of 5 hours we had bonded with these people. I entertained as a radio on the backseat singing Katy Perry, and the day ended with us being called the ‘weird duo’ – a title we took pride in making it a day we would all remember.
On the surface, what’s great about it all? Sure it’s cheap in Vietnam with a popular Bánh mì sandwich costing 20p, along with the sightseeing, activities and constant fun. But on a deeper level during our moments of reflection whilst slumped on bunk beds, thinking time that formed a crescendo during the course of our travels, we were overcome with gratefulness. True appreciation comes from hearing the stories of those around you in a world different to yours, from the local man in the bar to our tour guide of the imperial city who works so hard for his children. Drawing similarities from those distant to you, such as your willingness to provide for your loved ones back home. Appreciation comes not only from seeing or hearing, but your approach to exploration.
Like a celestial connector of dots – the transient coalescing of people around the world can emanate individual or shared appreciation, as happened with us. Openness, humility, and willingness to experience the new only fosters gems in your adventure, forming a perennial collection of nostalgic mental paraphernalia and the chance to appreciate how lucky one is to be in a magical milieu. It is safe to say we’ve never had a normal travelling experience, but that is only because we don’t allow that – and that provides the deep hue to our experiences.
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