24Dec2016: Arrive in Hue, Vietnam
It’s a 3.5 hour drive from Hoi An to Hue, a port city in central Vietnam. The drive takes you through the misty jungles of Hai Van pass, a windy road in the mountains of Danang. Our guide, Mr. Thong, brought us to the Cham Museum, at the foot of the pass. The Cham civilization ruled central Vietnam from the 2nd-13th centuries. The religious sculpture and artifacts showed a mix of Buddhist and Hindu influence.
Our ride was really stunning as we wound up and down the mountains, on a drizzly day. Mr. Thong wanted to trade English and Vietnamese phrases. (Ha noi khung voy duc dow = patience is a virtue and Tien khong phai la la meet = money doesn’t grow on trees).
Along the road, we had a super yummy lunch called bahn canh. When we arrived, the gentleman rolled out dough on a metal cylinder and then used a knife to quickly slice strips of dough into the boiling broth to make noodles. While we waited for our noodle soup, there were plastic plates of quail eggs and cured meat in banana leaves. Each of these small snack plates was about 15 pence per person. Mr. Thong’s suggestions had been spot on so before he dropped us off at the Scarlett Hotel, we asked for further restaurant recommendations as Hue is his hometown.
The city of Hue is grittier than Hoi An. The tourist area is much smaller and densely packed with foreigners, but it doesn’t take more than a ten minute walk to be surrounded by barber shops, flower stalls, electronics stores, and boba tea cafes for locals. You can easily find yourself in the ranks of Hue citizens running errands, filling up their scooters at the petrol stations, and taking a smoke break outside their buildings.
Though it was a rainy day, we walked as far as we could until we hit Hanh restaurant, touted by our hotel as a great spot for visitors. We enjoyed these rice shrimp dishes (below) but the best part of the night was seeing Vietnamese children celebrating Christmas. We actually almost forgot it was Christmas Eve, but Hue reminded us. Kids were dressed up in Santa themed pajamas, jumpers, and headbands with antlers. Some little girls were even wearing Mrs. Claus type dresses. It was almost like what Americans might do during St Patricks day with green glittery shirts or random headbands with shamrocks that bob up and down. Not everyone was in the spirit, but we did continue to see younger couples wearing matching ugly Christmas sweaters, or we saw Jingle Bell balloons in storefront windows.
We spotted a restaurant along our city walk called Oc Saigon. Mr. Thong has suggested that we try snails in a spicy broth (Oc) so we walked in just for one plate. We were the only tourists in the entire joint. Entire tables were sharing hot pot, and enjoying beers over ice. When a table finished paying their bill, the staff would flip the entire table sideways causing all of the leftover contents to scatter on the floor: snail shells, cigarette butts, beer caps, and napkins. Then the staff would wipe down the table while still sideways and sweep up the rubbish in less than 45 seconds! At this point, we just laughed at how we couldn’t read anything on the menu, and the owner himself, came over the translate for us. He basically helped serve us between his meal with this friends and family at the back of the restaurant. He picked out the snails we should try, and brought us Tiger beer. Such a good evening – head to Oc Saigon when you’re in Hue! We waddled home, noting the number of cafes along the streets, rather than bars. More couples having milk tea than mixed drinks made the streets feel quiet even amidst the speeding scooters and taxis.
25Dec2016: The Citadel and Royal Tombs
Our morning started with a bowl of bun bo hue, a famous soup in this region. We navigated and negotiated a cab driver for a set price to visit the Nguyen emperor family tombs as well as the Citadel- Hue’s main attraction. We saw two out of the three tombs, about fifteen km north of the city.
The Tomb of Tu Duc is basically an entire grounds dedicated to the family. The tombs were elaborate and the eaves of the rooftops were just gorgeous.
The Tomb of Khai Dinh is even more decorative, including both Vietnamese and Gothic looking artwork.
Our cab driver dropped us at the Citadel and the Imperial Enclosure, and we followed the Lonely Planet’s guide to exploring the site. The Citadel as built between 1804-1833, and consists of 10km long walls, and 10 gateways. The Forbidden City was for the emperor and concubine and female servants. Only eunuchs were not allowed to enter the Forbidden City as they wouldn’t pose a threat to the Emperor’s concubines!
It was a hot day so I tried to hide under the long halls and in the shadows of the pagodas while Corey took charge with the camera. There was a garden near the dynastic urns where we took a break and made a lunch plan. It was late in the day but we wanted to visit a spot Mr. Thong suggested.
A thirty minute walk outside of town to Huyen Anh, we had bun and these lovely wraps similar to a summer roll, but with a more noodle like wrapper. Again, we were the only tourists in the entire spot, so we basically pointed to the first two items on the posted menu (even though we didn’t know what anything was).
We spent our evening walking in awe through the largest market in Hue. The market morning starts at 3am and we were still seeing sales at 6pm. The stalls were full of goods piled to the ceiling. It left me wondering how long the items at the bottom of the piles had been there. There is so much product that everything is priced cheaply, yet vendors would still follow us around to try to convince us to shop at their stall. Of course, we were mostly drawn in by the food so we had an appetizer of dumplings and split a bahn my.
We had a pretty touristic dinner in the town’s centre, but our server was very sweet and enjoyed practicing her English with us. Recognizing it was Christmas morning back in the states, we spent the rest of the evening face timing our families and seeing our nieces and nephews putting on a show with their new gifts.
26Dec2016: Depart for Hanoi
It was becoming a habit that we’d wake up too late to get steaming bowls of noodle soup with locals. Even 9:30am is too late! We tried bun bo hue for the last time, and hit up a final foot massage before leaving for Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, and our final city in this country.
Day 1 Arrival:
- Wander through the touristic center of town and then keep walking
- You might want to hit up the Dong Ba market today
- Eat dinner at Oc Saigon
- Taxi to the Tombs and then return for an afternoon at the Citadel and Forbidden City
- Eat lunch at Huyen Anh (52 Kim Long, Tp. Huế, Thừa Thiên Huế, Vietnam) or try to find a local spot serving bahn cahn
- Walk along the river and have an evening drink, or sit in a cafe for some milk tea