The Imperial City.
After returning to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) we flew to Hue.
Thanks to our awesome guide, our time in Hue was arguably our best time in Vietnam.
He was also an older gentleman who had fought in the war. However, he made it clear from the beginning that he wasn't taking this all seriously, nor should we.
What does that mean? His job was to guide us from hotel to landmark and back again. He could have easily gone about this task as an automaton. Big deal....another couple from abroad exploring his country's landmarks that he sees everyday. He didn't. Straight away, he set us at ease with a warm greeting and jokes. It never rang false.
His joviality was not done in a way that denigrated our respect for him. Quite the contrary. We tremendously appreciated his good nature. He was also the only person we encountered who frankly spoke (in muted tones) about Vietnam's past and present. Our guide in Hue informed us not only about history, but also about life. He took the tedium out of walking around for hours viewing ruins.
The Imperial City is strange to view. Apparently, quite a bit of it has been destroyed during numerous wars. The scale of its former opulence can be hard to grasp without looking at a scale model. But it was no doubt impressive to gaze upon walls, art, and statues that are thousands of years old.
We had opted in advance not to continuously have a guide in Hue. This left for some time exploring on our own. In a small town like this, it's very obvious that you are a foreigner. Overly cautious, at night-time we stayed within a few blocks radius of our hotel.
Hue marked the only time that we experienced an awkward situation. One evening we were walking around in search of an inexpensive bottle of wine. In Vietnam, there is a dearth of lighting at night. There are mostly no streetlights, businesses don't leave lights on overnight, and the locals' modest homes don't emanate a lot of light (if any).
So, here we are in near total darkness going to a series of small stalls to haggle for cheap wine. I know this sounds ridiculous. But it's this unwritten traveler's code: no matter how destitute the third world country you are exploring, you are never supposed to pay the advertised price. Even though one US dollar represents a week's pay for them, you have to bargain so that you don't get ripped off. I know. I know. It's insane. But the "idea" is that if you are too soft, the next traveler behind you will face price gouging.
At one small stand, we got surrounded by a group of young children. They kept nodding their heads at us while extending their empty palms. The moment got seemingly intense, so it's tough for me to recollect all the events. But I think I made the mistake of giving one of them a few dong. We were instantly descended upon by more children.
I panicked. We were being mobbed. I raised my voice and waved my arms, commanding them to back up and go away. Duh. Language barrier. They started begging even more earnestly.
She gathered all the children. She took them back into the small stand. She bought something for them to eat. She made them distribute it evenly.
I stood by watching. Utterly gobsmacked.
A couple words come to mind.... humility, respect, gratefulness.