I am a terrible hoarder. Every time I pack, I surprise myself with what I find, eg., books that I never knew I own and have been thinking of buying from the book store, old photos, foreign currencies left over from a particular holiday and writings that I have long forgotten. Today, I found something I wrote probably about 15 years ago, long before I started seriously writing about travel.
Below is the "essay", with minimal editing to maintain my almost childish style of writing back in the past:
"What really strikes me is the city's simplicity. I must say that I did not see anything really spectacular. It is the natural beauty and simple lifestyle that charm visitors most.
Of the three places I visit in Vietnam, Ho Chi Min City (HCMC), Hue and Danang, I like Hue most. When I first set foot on Hue, I'm surprised to see such a simple airport. Our luggage are stacked on a trolley. After we collect our baggage, we take a bus ride to our hotel. Although the road is slightly bumpy, its a delightly ride. Along the way, we see cows roaming about and ducks swimming in the pond. We also see little huts and hay stacked outside houses. Even at that time, I'm quite certain that I will like this place.
Leisure is the norm
Having lived in the city for so long, Hue is an absolutely different experience. Over here, the pace of life is slower. In fact, I have the impression that people go about their activities at a leisurely pace, kids playing at the road side, people sitting around doing nothing except for chatting with each other, etc.
As befitting of their lifestyle, the people here are very friendly and likeable. We were given a lot of help and have no worries of communication. The people we met speak reasonably good English, and almost always, we have a translator with us.
Almost like Chinese
We visited a few places in Hue, the Royal Citadel, Thien Mu Pagoda, King Khai Ainh Tomb and King Tu Duc Tomb. It always strikes me for their similiarities to Chinese architecture. In all these places, we could see Chinese inscriptions on stones; the main difference is perhaps that Chinese buildings emphasize more on granduer whereas the Vietnamese style emphasizes on simplicity and harmony with the environment. Only in Hue did I realise that simplicity is a form of beauty, natural and unpretentious.
The food is also very similiar to Chinese cuisine. However, the soup is often thick, creamy or starchy, some what similiar to shark fin's soup (without sharkfins). We also tasted some specialities like "banh koai" and cakes wrapped in banana leaves. Before I came to Vietnam, I have a wrong impression that Vietnamese food is hot and spicy. I ended up missing chili during my stay in Vietnam.
Children, Cyclos and Cafes
The sad side of Hue is its poverty. There are many beggars, though not as many as in HCMC, we see people sleeping on bridges at night. I believe many children do not have a chance to go to school. When we visit places of interests, groups of children will dash to us, either asking for money or trying to sell sourvenirs. Very often, when we step out of the hotel, we are pestered by cyclos eager to give us a ride. I guess that is perhaps the only flawed image of Hue.
On our last night in Hue, Mr Hoa brought us to a cafe. It is entirely different from the type we see in Singapore. Though not as "class" as what we have over here, it has a romantic ambience, in its own simple way. Little tables and chairs are placed by the riverside. As we drank coffee, we could see the quiet river, the bridge still bustling with traffic and the star glittery sky.
On the next morning, we setted off for Danang. A sense of sadness hit me as I leave this place, it would probably be a very long time I ever come to Hue again. I am certain by then, the place would have changed.
I'm glad to go Danang by road, partly because our flight to Hue was very uncomfortable. The flight was jerky and rumbling noise from the propellas gave me a splitting headache. Along our way to Danang, we see lovely beaches and mountains. The rain and slight mist painted a beautiful scene, blending the sky and sea into one.
A developing city
HCMC is very much like a developing city. You could see high rise buildings under construction and beautiful hotels peppered round the city. In HCMC, we visited the Cholon Cija Iam Pagoda, Museum and Reunification place. We also see an interesting water puppet show in the water.
Overall, we find Vietnam to be a very interesting place. It is a great pity that we did not visit the North."
I can't really remember but the trip to Vietnam is probably my first overseas trip that required flying. I don't think I own a camera back then, and of course, there were no camera phones. We travelled simply and my travel record was on paper rather than written on the computer.