Wednesday, 9 June 2010

On the road again

Thanks for all your comments and support after my last post...after my three days in bed, I’m feeling much better.

So I pack my bag, which is getting heavier by the day and now has a large lamp shade strapped to the side (it seemed like a good idea in the shop) and heft it on my shoulders. I’m on the move again. And, as if to reward me, the train trip from Danang to Hue is one of the most beautiful journeys I’ve taken.

The train leaves Danang and begins to wind its way slowly up the mountain side. Bit by bit the view clears and reveals mountains, grey blue and shrouded in cloud on one side of the train. But it's the other side that's drawing my eye: dark green foliage falls down the hill to blue blue sea and bays of white sand.

The train chugs along, pulling slowly up the steep hillside. I pull down the window and lean out, feeling the heat in my face. Even the normally sleepy Vietnamese passengers – there are stretches on this trip when the entire carriage has spent long hours dozing – raise themselves and gather round the windows admiring the beauty of their country.

As we climb we pass tiny remote stations, painted lemon yellow and pale pink. At each, the sole occupant seems to be a uniformed guard who stands stiffly to attention as we pass, flag raised high. We pull through dark tunnels and emerge back into the light and another astounding view.

For two hours we trundle up and up then, gathering speed, we're heading down the other side of the range and are soon running so close to the sea that I can feel the spray in my face and smell the salt and fish on the air.

The tracks turn back in land, beside rice paddies and muddy pools till we arrive, an hour later, in Hue, Vietnam’s old imperial capital. It’s a city of two halves, bisected by the sleek brown ribbon of the Perfume River. On the left bank is the modern city; on the right the walled citadel of the old emperors.

The following morning dawns hot. At 9.30 the temperature is 38C. I wander slowly over the bridge to explore the old city. Along the edges of the citadel wall the new city is intruding, mobile phone shops, jewellery arcades and motorcycle repair stores cluster along the edge of the wall, hawkers shout their wares, cyclo drivers lounge in the shade.

But inside the Imperial Citadel, all is calm. Much of it lies in ruins, which only adds to the tranquillity of the place. Covered walkways link dark wood panelled rooms that open to giant lily ponds; soft breezes blow through and from the corner of an eye you glimpse the faded pink, green and gold of a temple gate in the undergrowth. It’s easy to imagine the emperor and his concubines gathering in the cool shade or mandarins scheming in a hidden corner. Other areas have been restored and bring to life the pomp and ceremony, the wealth and splendour of the court.

The weather is getting closer and hotter, in the distance a rumble of thunder brings the promise of rain so I leave the 19th century and head back to the 21st. At the modernist university, students are returning from lunch, cycling in the gates and walking in the shade. The girls looking elegant in their traditional silk suits; the boys trying to carry a louche air.

Away from the university, the whole city is talking about football. The cylco drivers vie to share their knowledge of the England team; Rooney is the talk of the town.

1 comment:

  1. He's the talk of this town, too – on the front of today's paper for no real reason... I really loved this post, and got goose-bumps reading about the train journey and those views. You just can't beat a train journey xx