During the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1945, Hue served as the capitol of Vietnam. In and around the city are plenty of famous palaces, tombs and pagodas, including the forbidden purple city at the center of the Hue citadel.

I spent a day exploring the citadel on foot in the insanely hot mid-day sun, and another day in a boat on the perfume river to visit some of the old palaces and tombs. I haven’t been able to upload any photos in a while but I’ll write a little bit about the specific places I visited around Hue when I finally do. It was the standard tourist routine. Wikipedia knows what I’m talkin’ about.

For my last day in town I booked a tour of the former DMZ (de-militarized zone - a very ironic name considering that it became one of the most militarized zones in history) which marked the border between north and south Vietnam. I checked out of my hotel in the morning and took my big pack along with me on the bus. My plan was to find a new place to stay when i returned to Hue in the evening, but it didn’t play out that way…

The tour ended up being far worse than I expected. It was the standard tourist-bus routine with a guide who did little explaining and was very brief when answering questions. We stopped at a few notable places along highways 1 and 9, including the Khe San “firebase”. It certainly was educational, but, as I expected, everything on display was presented with a sharp anti-American slant.

After a stop at the Vinh Moc tunnels I was pretty tired of the “tour” so I pulled out my map and asked the guide where we were: Highway 1, about 20 km north of the DMZ. I politely asked the driver to stop the bus, asked which way was north, and hopped off with my backpack.

In the middle of nowhere.

I surveyed the situation: some uniformed workers doing landscaping work along the road, a com shack at a fork in the road a few hundred meters away, and nothing else all the way to the horizon. I do know, though, that highway 1 is the main route for buses of all types traveling along the cost toward Hanoi, and the map showed that the next major stop is Dong Hoi. Whenever I ride a local bus in Vietnam, people are constantly flagging it down and climbing in so I figured I could do the same and make my way to Dong Hoi.

I started chatting trading broken english and gesturing with one of the workers. I think I managed to communicate that I was waiting for a bus to Dong Hoi; He gave me the crazy eye and went back to digging up brush down the road. I waited only 15 minutes or so before a bus bound for Dong Hoi appeared. I flagged it down and asked how much the driver wanted. We haggled for a minute over the fare, but he seemed set on the riddiculous figure of 200,000 dong (about $12).

One thing I’ve learned about the art of haggling is that you have to make it seem like you don’t really need whatever it is you’re trying to buy. The problem was that I really needed to get on that bus. In a rather ballsy maneuver I threw up my arms, smiled, and told him to leave me alone as I started walking away. The bus took off, but, just as I was starting to regret my decision, it stopped again. The driver ran back to me and let me on. I paid 10,000 dong for the hour-long ride to Dong Hoi.