Published: April 3rd 2012April 3rd 2012
I found my carriage on the night bus to Hue, which turned out to be pretty small with 6 beds in, 3 to a side. I was in the middle bunk and somehow managed to squeeze myself up onto the bed. The locals I was sharing with all laughed at me and made gestures that I was too big. Being tall is not all its cracked up to be sometimes!
I was sound asleep before the train even left though after the 3 days of partying in Ha Long Bay and I managed to sleep fairly soundly until about 6 in the morning. Some of the people in the cabin were just getting off at this point and the remainder soon got out their breakfaast, which they very kindly shared with
me. There was a complete language barrier so we couldnt talk I still wolfed down the luncheon meat sandwich and boiled eggs they offered me. I tried my best to get my thanks across through smiles and bowed heads as my pronunciation of vietnamese words is not very good and I have struggled even with some of the basics here, unlike in Thailand and Laos.
After spending some
time reading I watched the countryside go past, it was much more flat down the coast than up in the north, but very green and there were plenty of people working away in the fields. We approached Hue after 10 and I could see a huge number of graves and tombs dotted around the fields as we neared the town.
Hue is the capital city of Hue province and between 1802 and 1945, it was the imperial capital of the Nguyen dynasty. Hue is well known for its historic monuments, which have earned it a place in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
The seat of the Nguyn emperors was the Citadel, which occupies a large, walled area on the north side of the Perfume River. Inside the citadel was a forbidden city where only the emperors, concubines, and those close enough to them were granted access; the punishment for trespassing was death (Thanks Wikipedia!).
After we pulled into the station I managed to get a cab to the hostel, the sister of the one I stayed at in Hanoi. The hostel was excellent with great big balconies to sit and chill and plenty of good food on offer. After
a refreshing shower I hired a bike to go and explore the city. Unfortunately the only one they had left was Vietnamese sized with a lovely basket on the front, which led to every local I passed laughing and pointing at me. It was like the scene in the Goonies where Mikey's older brother steals the little girl's bike to chase after them!
First I headed over the river to explore the Citadel, a collection of buildings and ruins lying inside a large square moat and wall. The buildings are in a very bad state of disrepair and are currently being restored by the local people. It was still interesting wandering around them though and getting a feel for a forbidden city. The ceremonial hall and the theatre were particularly impressive. It was sad to see two elephants chained up to give rides to tourists.
After a couple of hours of looking round I was back on the bike for a 7km cycle along the river to one of the many pagodas in the area. This particular one housed a turtle which brings good luck if you touch its head....Im waiting to see next weeks lottery numbers! The
pagodas are not nearly as impressive as the temples of Thailand but was good to see the differing architectural styles of the buildings.
I tried to find my way to the tombs of the Kings outside the city but, due to a lack of a map and signposts and my inability to communicate with the locals I was soon quite lost and decided to head back to the city before my bike gave up on me like in Luang Prabang.
The newer part of Hue is very chilled and there were plenty of great looking restaurants dotted around the streets. I opted for a local speciality of rice, vegetables and baby clams, farmed from the river. The meal was excellent and very tasty, shame I hadnt tried it elsewhere before.
I decided that there probably wasnt much more to see in the city so I managed to book an early morening bus down to Hoi An. As usual, the bus was 2 hours late but I was used to the standing around by now. Inside it was double decker but with bunk seats rather than 2 specific levels. The sleeper seats go right back and for most
people there would be plenty of room to stretch out. Sadly not for me though but I was still pretty comfortable and unusually I even managed to sleep some of the 4 hour trip down to Hoi An.
Having being dropped on the ouskirts of the town, I spoke to another passenger, Theresa, from Denmark and we agreed to try and find a hotel with a twin room to cut costs as there are not really any hostels in the town. We soon found the
Greenfield Hotel, which offered a twin room for $16, with a pool and 2 free drinks each night. Job done!
Having stashed our gear we set out to find the old town for something to do to pass the afternoon away. Hoi An is famous for its tailors, which line the streets as far as the eye can see, offering bespoke suits from as little as $40. Whilst I would love a couple, I am a little worried that my measurements may be somewhat different by the time I need a suit again!
The focal point in the town is the river, which is lined by cafes and restaurants on both sides
and is a great place to sit and chill and enjoy a gllass of fresh brewed beer for 14p! The town was very busy and we soon discovered there was a
national holiday and also it was the day of Earth Hour, an initiative which involves all electric lights being turned off for one hour. I had never heard of it but apparently it is growing around the globe.
We returned to the river in the evening with a group we had met at the hotel and enjoyed some excellent food on a balcony overlooking the festivities. Hundreds of locals had bought candles to mark the special event and at 8:30 all the light in the town were turned off and we dined by candlelight. The locals put their candles into the river on little floating platforms and we watched them all float away dow towards the sea. As we finished eating the heavens opened and the rain that had been promised for a day or two finally arrived. Apparently the whole coast was catching the tail of a typhoon but it wasnt as bad as had been feared. We made a run for it to a nearby bar
for a couple of drinks and then got soaked on the 20 minute walk back to the hotel.
The rain had eased by the morning but it was still grey and overcast. I decided that a walk to the beach was in order so I could at least say I had seen it. As it was only 5km I decided walking for free was a much better option than renting a bicycle. It didnt take too long to walk to the coast and I was a little disappointed with what I saw. I had been told that the beach was amazing by several people, who cant have been to a lot of places around the world as I thought it was average at best. The water was very murky after the bad weather, the sand was not even close to white and there were a number of locals hassling you to use their sun loungers. I found a space away from most of the people and had a work out for 45 minutes as hadnt done anything since Hanoi. Felt good working out by the sea, am looking forward to a lot more of that when I get to
A lazy walk back along the river took me into the afternoon, which I spent snapping a few photos around town and chilling out at the hotel, before trying to determine what to do with the next couple of weeks as I would like to get to the islands
in time for Thai New Year on the 14th.
My last day in Hoi An had an early start as I had booked myself on the day trip to go to My Son (pronounced mee), a set of ruined temples of the Cham people, built between the 8th and 12th centuries and home to both Buddhist and Hindu influences. The ruins were really interesting to walk around and the tour guide was excellent. Apparently they were in a much better condition until the Vietnam war, when Nixon ordered the air force to bomb the crap out of them as it was thought that there was a significant VC camp amongst the temples. Bomb craters could be seen dotted around the site. It was a shame as I would have liked to have seen how well the temples had survived to that point over a thousand years. The
parts that remained were amazingly intact and the brickwork was largely unblemished. There were plenty of statues of Ganesh, Shiva and Brahma (sp's?) though most of the heads of the statues were pilfered by the French during their occupation and now lie in the Louvre.
After a couple of hours of being guided round the ruins, we headed back to the bus for a short drive to the river for the boat trip back to town. On the way we stopped at a small island inhabited by boatmakers and wood craftsmen. Some of the stuff they were carving was amazing and incredibly cheap given the standard, just a shame I have no space in my bag for a chest of drawers!
Back in town I had a couple of hours to kill before the night bus turned up. As I write, I am about to board for the 12 hour trip down the coast to Nha Trang. I can only hope that the weather is better down there, would be nice to hit the beach for
a couple of days before I head through HCM, Phonm Penh and Bangkok in quick succession. I cant imagine I am going
to get much sleep on the coach, even with the ridiculous seats they have!Have enjoyed the quick stops in Hue and Hoi An, both very relaxed places and good for chilling, as well as sharing a significant amount of history. I wonder how they will compare to Angkor Wat when I finally get there....
There are more photos below