You know there’s something amiss with your holiday when you wake up thinking how nice it would be if you were going home. That was first thing this morning. We’d taken the hour long flight from Hanoi to Hue on Vietnam Airlines the previous day without incident, other than the fact (agreed by all the passengers) that the First Officer who was flying the plane was either drunk or had yet to pass Piloting 101. To be fair, he was OK on the flat bits; it was taking off and landing that had him stumped. People were crossing themselves and praying as we thundered endlessly down the runway on take-off with absolutely no sign of actually taking off. ‘We’re going to run out of runway,’ the plump American lady in the seat next to me said. She had barely finished the sentence than we were in the air. A steep climb was followed by a stomach-losing, roller coaster dive and a collective passenger cry of ‘Wow!’. Perhaps not surprisingly, there was a general sense of impending doom as we came in to land at Hue airport. It proved to be unnecessary. There were no fatalities resulting from the impact of a massive piece of metal hitting terra firma at a hundred miles an hour or more, projecting the passengers forwards and upwards to the full extent allowed by their seat belts. Judy expressed surprise that the tyres had not burst. ‘Maybe on the next landing,’ I said.’ ‘And what’s the odd dislocated spine between friends?’
Still in shock, we were herded off the plane onto two buses, carefully designed to have precisely the right number of seats to ensure that at least half the passengers will have to stand, squashed together like sardines in a tin. An elderly middle eastern gentleman, about to be crushed in the closing front door, called out plaintively, ‘Please move down the bus.’ A nostalgic moment, reminding me of my childhood days gallivanting around London on the double-decker buses. But all’s well that ends well, and we were met at the airport by our smiling Vietnamese guide Lam and driver Viet and whisked off to our five-star luxury accommodation in Hue’s best hotel, the art deco La Résidence. The educated among you will remember that the French were here. La Résidence is an imposing edifice beautifully situated on the banks of the Perfume River. Our spirits rose. In the hotel foyer we were greeted by a bevy of charming young Vietnamese women – there appears to be no other sort – who offered us ‘a welcome drink’ before checking in. My suspicions that all might not be well were aroused when the (charming) receptionist told me that we had been allocated ‘a superior room facing the river’. As a reasonably seasoned traveller I know what a ’superior’ room is. It is one step up from an inferior room. And so it turned out to be.
Our superior room is on the small side. What space there is is taken up by the furniture. What space there is on top of the furniture is taken up by the television set, standing lamps, fruit bowl, jug, tray with water jug and glasses… You get the picture. There is nowhere to put anything down. Our superior room has no drawers. There is nothing to put anything in. Well, not more than your undies. Our superior room has no plugs in any position where you might want a plug. We have free WiFi but nowhere to plug the laptop in and the batteries are rapidly failing. Our superior room is on the dark side. The art deco wall lights offer no illumination. The bedside lamps can be used to read by, but only if you lie on your side and place the book under the lampshade. Our superior room has one picture on the wall, a daub of two monkeys swinging in the jungle.
The bathroom in our superior room is well depressing.
We are depressed. We have been spoiled by living the high life in the magnificent Ritz Carlton in Singapore and the even more magnificent Metropole in Hanoi. We were upgraded in both hotels. ‘And our Marketing Manager, Ms X, would be delighted to meet you and Ms Callingham for coffee, Dr Edwards.’
(I know – swimming pool socialist!)
To cheer ourselves up we took ourselves off to a vegetarian restaurant for dinner. There were three other diners in the huge outdoor dining room. The ’round beans with soy sauce’ turned out to be just that – round beans on a plate and a small bowl of soy sauce. The stir-fried figs bore no resemblance to figs, either in look or taste. We doused them with the soy sauce from the beans and heaps of chilli. We had another course, but I have been blessed with a kindly forgetfulness of what it was. Judy, who had been eaten alive by mosquitoes, expressed a wish to go home. I was unsure whether she meant to La Résidence. Did I mention that it had been pissing down with rain all day? Or that Lam had told us there would be no good weather in North Vietnam for weeks. ‘It’s the rainy season, you know,’ he cheerily informed us.