Hue- All aboard the City Tour

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November 20th 2009
Published: January 14th 2010
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We arrived back in Hanoi at 5:30am after a very jarred night’s sleep aboard the rickety night train from Lao Cai with a plan to spend a day chilling and that’s exactly what we did, chill: watch movies, get laundry done and general recovery from five days of activity. While chilling and getting laundry done are always a charm particularly when the weather is cold and all your warm clothes are either caked in mud or smelling like the inside of a coal factory there is one mission you have to think twice before handing in your laundry (including buffalo chocolate caked running shoes) the morning of a 7:30pm bus departure to Hue cause Vietnamese time is somewhat life African time so when they say your laundry will be returned to you buy 5pm and by 7:15 it’s still “stuck in a traffic” you shouldn’t be surprised! After much anxiety on our chill day, the laundry delivery man arrived at 7:25 with our clean washing only to be accosted by a number of overnight bus takers all eagerly waiting to stake their clean belongings claim. One slight problem though, British guy minus boxes but on the up side acquire some girls underwear in exchange, Kenny and I minus a pair of running shoes each and sadly we weren’t quite as lucky as the Brit cause we didn’t get anything in exchange, even a pair of slops would have done….All I can say is what a mission to say the least.

Since we were embarking on a North-South Vietnam adventure from here on in we purchased an open bus ticket with four stops on rout to Saigon which is a pretty economical, albeit not the most comfy, means of getting around Vietnam. Tonight would be our first experience on a Vietnamese sleeper bus. After delaying the bus a good 20 minutes trying to get our shoes we reluctantly boarded, commandeered the back seats, watched a movie and then got some intermittent sleep throughout the fourteen hour journey to Hue with periodic vents about the fact that we no longer had shoes.

The Sun chasing South Africans were again going to be disappointed weather wise because we were greeted with a fine drizzle on arrival in Hue. Not 100% keen to walk with our heavy packs in the rain after 14 hours on a bus we commandeered the services of a couple of motor bike scooter drivers to take us to Hanoi backpackers so that we could check in, get some food, freshen up and then see why it was that we were stopping off in Hue in the first place.

Turns out Hue is the cultural center of Vietnam and was, many years back, the capital of the country and as a result is home to lots of national treasures and the ‘famous’ perfume river. Since the weather wasn’t great and given that we were pretty weary from the bus trip we opted not to spend the afternoon hacking to get to the sights but rather to sign up for a half day City Tour to see the Forbidden City, the Citadel, the Thien Mu Pagoda and ending off with a boat trip, in a dragon boat, along the Perfume River.

1:30pm rolled around and we were ushered next door to the City Tour office restaurant not realising at the time that the somewhat older crowd busy finishing their lunch was in fact the crowd that was to make up that afternoons half day tour. It wasn’t until the tour guide called out that we would be commencing
On the BusOn the BusOn the Bus

Kenny sett;ling in for the long ride
the afternoon tour that we realised we would be boarding, what can only be described as, the Fogie Express. We boarded the bus and to our delight all the older folk had naturally gravitated to the seats they had been commandeering throughout the morning leaving the font two seats of the bus open for us. Happy that we would not need to gate crash the over 50’s party further back in the bus we plonked ourselves down and got comfy as the bus started to crawl down the street. Just as we got to the end of the road a voice from the depths of the bus happened to mention that the Spaniards were missing. This resulted in us having to reverse the massive bus some meters down the narrow road to pick up two Spaniards that would, not long after boarding the bus, be dubbed “The Spanish Inquisition” for good reason. So Kenny and I were minding our own business in the front seats when “The Spanish Inquisition” boarded the bus, wife first. As she got to the top of the stairs she saw us sitting in what must have been their seats in the morning she proceeded to
On the BusOn the BusOn the Bus

not quite designed for long legs
give us a slightly put out look, collected her nondescript rain jacket from the railing in front of me before heading to join the rest of her age group in a row slightly further back. The husband on the other hand got to the top of the steps, saw Kenny and I sitting in what he considered his seats and promptly stared us down and the proceeded to wave his hand in a very rude sidewards motion while loudly uttering the words “No, move”. Kenny and I looked at him and then looked at each other, somewhat bewildered, at which point the tour guide stepped in and told him that the morning and afternoon tours were different and that he could join his wife in the other seat. He was having none of this though he promptly answered “No” and yet again motioned for Kenny and I to move. In order to maintain diplomatic ties between South Africa and Spain and avoid the outbreak of an Afro-European war Kenny and I got up and swapped seats with “The Inquisitions Wife”. And so the tone was set for the “Half Days tour”.

The Half day tour was ok, I’m not so sure that being Shepherded around by a microphone bearing tour guide with 40 older folk is exactly the way I would ordinarily choose to spend my afternoon but the citadel, forbidden city and the pagoda were nice even in the solid drizzle and at least we got to see all three sights rather than hacking all day on our own steam and only getting to see one sight. To crown the Fogie express adventure off we got “super lucky” and were privileged enough to board a super kitsch Dragon Boat which transported us down the Perfume River before depositing us on the river bank closest to our hostel. Rather thankful that we hadn’t opted for the full days tour we left the Fogie express in the drizzle and made our way to try some local Hue specialty dishes before popping in for a drink at out hostel pub and then turning in for the night in anticipation of the following days “Half Day City Tour”.

We didn’t really have an alternative aside from taking the morning part of the “Half Days City Tour” if we wanted to avoid Hacking so we gingerly boarded the bus and were happily met by far more of a mixed age group of people which, to our delight, was devoid of “The Inquisition”. The morning tour was an exploration of three of the imperial tomb sites one of which, Minh Mang, is a world Heritage must see. We started out at the Duc Duc, Thanh Thai and Duy Tan temple complex which was pretty but lacking sufficient wow factor before heading to Minh Mang which is slightly nice than the Duc Duc tomb complex but somehow still lacked the impact we were anticipating after what we had read. Admittedly after two nice but less than incredible tombs Kenny and I were pretty tombed out so we were, admittedly, banking on hitting a coffee spot for the duration of the 40minutes at the final tomb. Fortuitously the Castle like tomb came into sight as we were rounding the bend and it would turn out to be the highlight of the morning.

Khai Dinh is an absolutely magnificent tomb. It is completely unlike the other less than impressive other tombs, standing on the lush hillside allowing it to parade its gothic looking majesty. The Architecture is so beautiful and we could probably have spent hours walking around trying to absorb all the details. The inside of the tomb is just as impressive with its high walls all gilded and additionally decorated with elaborately mosaic. It was well worth traipsing around the mammoth gardens of the previous two tombs to have visited Khai Dinh since it turned out to be a thankful culmination to the back to front “City Tour”.

Once we’d completed a solid photo session of Khai Dinh we hopped on the bus one last time and after 40minutes we were redeposit in Hue town where we immediately hopped off and eagerly made our way to the Camel Tours office to see, if by some miracle, our 50+ frantic phone calls to Hanoi had resulted in the arrival of our shoes in Hue from Hanoi. Kenny and I were not very hopeful that our shoes would be returned so when we got there and were met with blank stares and no goods we were somehow not surprised. Thankfully I did a little closer inspection of the miscellaneous luggage littering the office and happened upon an unmarked plastic bag in the back corner under the staircase that thankfully contained our costly running shoes and you would have sworn it was Christmas given our display of delight.

Happy to have our shoes back we headed back to our Hostel, chilled out for a bit, got our things ready for the following mornings bus ride to Hoi An and then popped out for some fairly decent pizza with a French mate we had made. Naturally we followed up the pizza with a trip to the pub for some pool and socialising before turning in for the night.

The crack of dawn arrived all too quickly for my likening but we pried ourselves out of bed, grabbed some breakfast and donned our backpacks before traipsing down the road to catch our 8:30 bus. It just so happened that the bus pick us up then make a full circle back to our hostel to pick up some others, how we didn’t know about this I have no idea, only to head to another part of town deposit the few of us outside the drop off point for the overnight bus so that we could sit and wait for an hour. I’m not going to lie I could definitely have done with sleeping in the extra bit had I known that we would be hacking for two hours but when in Vietnam you embrace Vietnamese time by sitting with the locals while drinking tea with condensed milk, good times. Three cups of sweet tea later and a good hour and a half and we finally boarded our bus destined for the land of “One house, one tailor.”

Additional photos below
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The forbidden cityThe forbidden city
The forbidden city

admiring the 100's of Koi

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