A Hue old time
Hue (pronounced hway to rhyme with gay) is located in central Vietnam and was the national capital until 1945. We arrived to sunshine, much to our delight as we’ve been hearing stories of how cold central and Northern Vietnam are at the moment and apparently last week was pretty chilly but thankfully the Southern sun is following us as we travel up this long wonderful country. The two hour train ride from Da Nang to Hue was GORGEOUS, picturesque bay after bay on the one side and lush greenery and babbling brooks on the other, absolutely spectacular and has instilled in me a heretofore unimaginable desire to rent a moped and travel the coast of this stunning country with all my belongings on my back, Ma in a side car and J beside me, yes I have no idea who I am anymore sometimes either.
Our hotel, the Hong Thien Ruby, is a real treasure, down a little alley, within budget and close to some lovely food stalls and streets full of restaurants, the staff are wonderful and we’ve a large, cool and very clean room and get made to order endless delicious breakfast, sweet!
Our first day was spent pottering around, the joy of travelling for more than a few weeks is that not every day needs to be doing something, so we watched Deadpool (loved it) and caught up on admin before going on our most disappointing food tour yet. That said the bar has been set pretty high by the wonderful ones we’ve been on, it wasn’t terrible just not great and it did have good points including the lovely cyclo drivers who pedalled us around. It also introduced us to Banh Khoai at Hong Mai, a crispy and ever so tasty rice pancake covered in bean sprouts, egg, prawns, pork and beef which you top with green fig, cucumber, pickled carrot and green papaya and peanut and liver sauce and was so good we went back the next day for more despite the not so tasty sounding sauce. We also liked the last snack of the tour, a rice poppadum placed on a charcoal burner and topped with egg, mince, onions, dried beef and garlic, which all cooks as the poppadum does and then is folded in half to make a fantastic taco.
The following day was spent wandering around the grounds of the Imperial City, mostly destroyed in the American war but beginning to be restored and a nice way to spend a few hours. You can buy a ticket for 365k dong to visit the Citadel and Royal Palace and Minh Manh, Khai Dinh and Tu Duc tombs within a 48 hour period saving you about 50k dong on the individual prices.
The next day we signed up to a 220k dong (about £7) day tour of some of the main sites surrounding Hue and boy what a well spent £7 that was! We were picked up by a coach at 8am and spent the next hour driving around collecting other tourists before heading to our first stop at Minh Manh tomb, Minh Manh was the 2nd Emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty and ruled between 1820 and his death in 1841, his tomb is set in beautiful grounds surrounded by a little lake.
After an hours exploring we headed to the tomb of Khai Dinh, the 12th Emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty who reigned between 1916 and 1931, situated high up on a hillside and truly stunning internally as well as externally, both of the tombs so far were lucky to have escaped the bombings which destroyed 80% of Hue in 1968.
Having a break from tombs and all the steps involved we stopped at the Van An Phai school of Martial Arts for a really cool performance by the students including one by a girl who’d only been training with them for 3 days, before heading to our favourite stop of the day, the tomb of Tu Duc. Tu Duc was the 4th and longest reigning Monarch of the Nguyen dynasty and ruled between 1848 and 1883. The grounds of his tomb are fabulous, we walked away from the main area towards the tombs of one of his many wives and his stepson and found ourselves in a beautiful enchanting world of broken down buildings and waterways. One drawback of being on a tour is we had to rush to see everything when we could easily have spent hours exploring this relaxing idyllic place. According to Wikipedia: …despite the grandeur of the site and the amount of time Tu Duc spent here, he was actually buried in a different, secret location somewhere in Hue. To keep the secret safe the 200 laborers who buried the king were all beheaded after they returned from the secret route. To this day, the real tomb of Tu Duc remains hidden for future generations to discover.
By this time we were pretty hungry so devoured the surprisingly tasty buffet lunch at the City Tours restaurant before the group split with some going to the Citadel and the rest of us boarding the slowest boat we’ve ever been on to visit a Garden House and the Thien Mu Pagoda. The Garden house stop takes the cake for the most unnecessary place we have visited on a tour, the boat pulled up to the bank of the river and put a plank to shore in the midst of broken branches and meadow where we disembarked and made our way through the pathless greenery to the road, across which was a house and a scrubby garden. Perhaps later in the season when everything is in bloom it will be spectacular, presently there are many trees surrounded by hard packed dirt. After a doll size cup of tea and wandering around bemused we headed back to the boat in time to see a herd of water buffalo sauntering by, making the stop totally worthwhile because who doesn’t love a water buffalo.
Our final stop for the day was the Thien Mu Pagoda, the tallest religious building in Vietnam and attached to the monastery from which Thich Quang Duc drove to Saigon in 1963 and upon exiting his car, sat in the lotus position and was doused in gasoline before setting himself alight in protest at the treatment of Buddhist monks by the puppet Diem Regime. There is much that is heartrending in Vietnam, memories of the occupation and war that so recently tore this country apart are everywhere. Hue was severely bombed with both munitions and agent orange leaving a legacy of destruction and disabilities in its wake however the Vietnamese seem determined to move forward, neither forgetting the past nor living in it, their spirit and belief in a better future shining through Xx