Any hopes we had of drying out after we left rainy Hoi An were quickly dashed. Our next destination has a reputation for notoriously bad weather, and in that regard Hue, Vietnam, more than exceeded our expectations.
In addition to the unrelenting cold and rain, the city also greeted us with a dose of unexpected irony. We had literally just pushed the print button on an article calling false every bad thing we had heard about Vietnam. Instead of the unfriendly and unscrupulous people we had been told to expect, everyone we actually met was exceedingly warm and helpful.
I guess we should have known that bad things happen when you tempt the Fates because it was the very next day that we boarded a bus to Hue.
Traveling between Hoi An and Hue is about as easy as it gets in Vietnam. It’s a simple two-hour bus ride made even easier if you arrange door to door service like we had. Camel Tours, the agent we used to book our bus tickets, agreed to collect us from our guest house in Hoi An at the start of our trip. Our hotel in Hue offered free transportation from the bus station at the end.
Everything went according to plan until we arrived in Hue, not at the bus station but at some random hotel and café at the edge of town. We knew we’d been had when we stepped off the bus and were set upon by a bunch of aggressive men peddling rooms and rides.
Being the compassionate people we are our first concern was for our hotel’s poor driver, who we assumed was waiting in vain for us at the bus station. We needn’t have worried, though. Earlier in the day our hotel called Camel Tours to confirm our arrival time. Instead of telling our hotel where we’d be let out, Camel Tours flat out lied, saying they didn’t have a bus running from Hoi An at all that morning. No one from our hotel was looking for us after all.
Now in addition to being compassionate, we’re also stubborn and vengeful. Getting screwed out of our free hotel transfer was a small thing and, as it turned out, a minor inconvenience. But we will go to great lengths to avoid rewarding bad behavior. There was simply no way in hell we were going to pay any of the swarming men, the very same people who likely pay Camel to strand busloads of tourists for them on the outskirts of town, to drive us to our hotel.
So with a smile and a respectful “go fuck yourselves” we hefted our bags, pushed through the touts, and set off in the rain on foot.
Twenty-five minutes and a few wrong turns later we reached our hotel, soaked, tired, and a bit ticked off. When we walked through the door of the Grace Hotel we were in no mood for pleasantries or small talk. All we wanted was to be led to our room.
Instead we were shown to a comfortable couch. Two steaming cups of jasmine tea soon joined us. Unburdened from our bags and sheltered from the rain, we sank back into the cushions and let the fragrant tea go to work thawing both our bodies and our moods.
As if reading our minds, Yang, the hotel manager, who sat down alongside us with a big binder full of tour and restaurant suggestions, placed the folder on the table, telling us, “We can discuss this later, if you want. I’ll show you to your room whenever you’re ready.” Bless her heart.
A half a beat later a young Danish man appeared from the back and introduced himself as the hotel owner. When Martin asked us if we’d had anything to eat, we half expected him to point us to a neighboring restaurant. What he did instead was re-acquaint us with the Vietnamese hospitality we had grown so accustomed to.
“I’m about to sit down to lunch with the staff. You’re welcome to join us if you’d like. But please, take a moment to dry off. We’ll show you to your room, and lunch will be waiting for you when you come back downstairs.”
What started with an annoying example of the kind of dishonest profiteering we had been warned about ended with the kind of selfless generosity we had so often experienced in Vietnam, not to mention some of the best grilled fish we’ve had anywhere before or since.