After two nights in Dong Hoi we decided to head to Hué which is another UNESCO world heritage site (and our third in Vietnam). Ronan had already been here and moved on to Hoi An and had said there was not much happening there. We had read good things about it though so were looking forward to it. It was the old capital of South Vietnam from the 17th-20th Century and the imperial capital of the Nguyễn dynasty.
We had asked our hotel in Dong Hoi to organise a transport for us to Hué- we had initially asked for public bus and train but she said we could get a door-to-door minibus for 130K dong each. Which was much cheaper than the other options. I asked was it a tourist bus, she confirmed that it wasn’t. Happy days we thought- a cheap transfer just for us! It wasn’t of course, it was a very local bus, an old Toyota Hiace van, with 15 seats. It was also used to drop deliveries between people so a load of shopping and parcels were removed to allow our backpacks to slot in and then piled back in on top. We had a few other pick-ups around Dong Hoi and more people and goods were piled in. By the time we left Hué, there were 18 people on the bus and it was very cosy to say the least.
The journey itself was not too eventful (apart from one epic queue jump at some roadworks), the scenery was very nice and we passed a lot of graveyards. Paddy fields and more road works.
(Aside: At this point I should probably mention the roadworks. All of the roads here seem to be under improvement with numerous poor and juddery surfaces/no surface to fresh lovely surfaces. When the roads are closed off for maintenance only the trucks/buses/cars obey. The mopeds drive where they like and frequently in the wrong direction.)
We also had some interesting diversions, down around Duy Phiên, a small fishing village, to collect some very elderly people. Looked quite nice but guessing it is off the tourist trail as we got a bit stared at.
We arrived in Hué, 4.5 hrs later not knowing where we were being dropped off as we meandered through the back streets of the imperial city with people being dropped off all over the place. Just as our uncertainty was reaching a climax, the bus driver shouted to us “Where you go?” – showed our map on the phone with the street name (we hadn’t a hope pronouncing it) marked to his assistant who shouted it to the driver. 10 mins later they dropped us as close to the door to our place as they could! Excellent! It was a very short walk up the alley to our budget hotel Nhat Le Hotel at $8 (including breakfast). We were pleasantly surprised at this hotel: big room, balcony, quiet(ish)- I have earplugs anyway and Gav could sleep anywhere. Also the breakfast had some choice! First day I had a banana pancake with chocolate and the second day bread with cheese.
Oooh I’m running ahead of myself! So anyway, once we had settled in to our great value hotel we headed off to find food! We had found a recommendation for a veggie place, Lien Hoa. The menu was an interesting read too! We went for fried jackfruit with sesame, banh beo (steamed rice pancakes with some sort dried garlic topping), steamed greens, fried fig with sesame (this was sooooo good), noodles with vegetables. They came with chili, soy and some sort of clear dipping sauce (not sure what that was). This was a huge feed and we started to tuck in and then another plate arrived. Our appetiser of eight special foods- the triangles were tofu with some sort of flavouring, one was tomato- not sure what the other was I didn’t like it. Gav said it tasted like luncheon meat so he liked it. It also had some other tofu and some sort of vine wrapped items (I wasn’t a fan of them either). We washed it all down with a lemon green tea drink for Gav and passion fruit juice for me. Lovely!
While we were eating dinner a load of monks came in and had dinner with what looked like some of the restaurant staff. Anyway judging by the stern look on their faces when the saw our spread they must have thought we were right fat bastards! That and one of the waiters near us kept randomly picking on other waiters to have a bit of a wrestle/play fight. I found it slightly odd but amusing.
We went for a walk after dinner, Hué was a little bit busier than Cat Ba or Dong Hoi so we were back to having to cross crazy roads like in Hanoi and as we were closer to Hoi An (the city of tailors) there were pretty much 3 streets of clothes shops and tailors near the hotel along with some very swanky and expensive looking ones such as this one: Eldora Hotel.
The next morning, after our lovely breakfast, we headed out to investigate the citadel. We wandered down the aptly named Walking street lined with loads of little souvenir shops and cafés. Over the bridge and across the road past a pagoda and through one of the many bridged roads over the moat and under the city walls; passed five of the Nine Holy Cannons and the Flag Tower and towards the imperial enclosure.
Imperial City and Forbidden Purple City– When it was first built it married the Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese traditions with a French influence in the defensive walls. The whole site was Feng shui’ed to the last including the use of natural islands as a dragon and tiger protectors of the city. Unfortunately despite all the efforts in careful planning it was no match for the battering it got by the US airforce during the Vietnam war as it was in the precarious position of being just below the DMZ. Of the 160 buildings that were inside the walls there was less than a dozen that survived the intense fighting and bombing campaign. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993 and thankfully the Vietnamese government, who seem surprisingly enthusiastic considering it is an imperial palace, have managed to do some carefully repair of a number of sites within the enclosure with the help of dozens of countries most notably: Korea and Poland. The polish one was the To Mieu Temple. The more they restore the higher the ticket price it seems though! We paid 300K dong ($15) for the pair of us. Sadly there was little to see. Thanks America.
After wandering around here all morning, we had completely finished our water bottles and were getting increasingly thirsty. So we headed for the exit. Our entry ticket had also included a visit to the Royal Antiquities museum, which there was a free “electric long golf cart thing” transfer, so a fun two minute ride round the corner and we were at the museum. I actually quite enjoyed this one, they had some great history about the emperor Hàm Nghi (1884-1885); he was replaced by his brother by the French who then exiled him to Algiers, where he married a French woman and they follow his children and their lives which was very interesting. The collection main collection, of excellent quality, was lovingly displayed and contained weapons, coins, pottery, furniture, and household items from the 200 years of imperial rule.
After this we were very thirsty so headed off to find somewhere for a drink. Not too far away from the museum was a little strip of restaurants, none of which looked too busy (it is still low season here and it was after lunch), we decided to go into one beside something adorned with “recommended by..” signs. I ordered a coconut juice and Gav a local beer, Festival beer. As I waited for my (massive) coconut to be cracked into this guy started chatting to us, asking how long we were in Hué etc. Then started the sales pitch for an “Easy Rider” tour-he was wanted to charge us $77 for the two of us, Gav on his own bike and me riding pillion with him. We explained that this was over our budget and we’d need to check our situation before we agreed to anything. In hindsight we should just have laughed and said no. He mithered us for the whole time with books of recommendations and really pushing for us to arrange to go out with him. He even said we could do a city tour then and there for $10 each (which is still expensive). By this point I was trying to finish my coconut juice as quickly as possible and I was not enjoying it and Gav was rushing his beer just to get away from him. It was not a pleasant experience and as we walked out of there we decided to head on to Hoi An the next morning rather than hire a bike to see the famed temples outside of Hué.
That evening we went to a local place for some cheap eats. We had spring rolls again and some Nem Lui – a specialty of grilled minced pork rolls on leek storks served with rice paper, vegetables, and peanut sauce at Hanh Restaurant. I quite liked it and the spring rolls were really good but Gav was not a fan of the pork. We were starving so no photos, sorry!
After another wander it was back to the hotel to arrange the pickup for the following morning. We would be picked up by minibus and transferred to a tourist bus.
After breakfast, checking out and paying our bus fare we had a few hours to kill so went for one last coffee before leaving Hué for our next stop- Hoi An.
P.S- Feel free to comment, would be great to get some feedback from people. 🙂 Unfortunately I can’t make the text bigger without paying for it and its £85 a year 😦