Walking in the footsteps of the imperial dynasty...

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Asia » Vietnam » North Central Coast » Thua Thien - Huế » Hué
August 12th 2013
Published: December 18th 2013
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Don’t you just love Asian bus schedules? Hmmm… ‘Yes, should be here somewhere between 8 and 9…’ Always so precise! 😉 So once we were told that our bus would come between 8 and 9pm, we thought that probably it would come somewhere around 10 or even later… Taking into account that it was coming from Hanoi and we experienced this part of the journey the day before already, well… anything could happen… To be honest it didn’t really matter to us what time the bus would be there anyway… We were tired after the whole day of driving around Ninh Binh, had no room to stay at and relax anymore as had to check out in the morning, so all we could do is have dinner, a beer or two and just patiently wait for the bus. Thankfully there was one bathroom with shower available for everyone to use, so we had a chance to freshen up a bit as well before the long journey. It turned out to be a pretty good idea to be sitting at the guesthouse rather than walking around Ninh Binh as the bus actually came to pick us up before the ‘scheduled’ time! A few minutes before 7pm one of the guys working at the guesthouse came over to us and said ‘Hurry, hurry! Bus is waiting!’. He??? Not that we weren’t packed or anything like that, still we were taken totally by surprise… So after running around like headless chickens for a while looking for our stuff, eventually we found our luggage and were ready to get on the bus… Expectations were veeeery low after the previous bus ride, so it was more than a pleasant surprise to see a brand new and totally empty bus stopping right in front of us! Quickly we picked our seats and were ready to take off.

Apart from the usual speeding and dangerous overtaking the journey was quite smooth and I even managed to catch a few hours of sleep. When we reached Hue we were positively surprised again as the bus stopped right in the middle of the area with all the hostels and guesthouses. As usual we were surrounded with tuk-tuk drivers and a few people from the nearby guesthouses offering cheap accommodation. There was definitely no tuk-tuk needed here since we were at the right spot. As for the accommodation we decided to check out one of the offers. The room was pretty cheap, good location, fourth floor, which meant a decent view, well… It looked like we found the place to stay in no time at all! Since our bellies were growling from hunger, after dumping our bags in the room and freshening up a bit, we headed out to have something to eat. We ended up in one of the LP’s recommendations – Mandarin Café. There was no doubt about one thing – Mr Cu’s photographs depicting Vietnamese life which you could see on all the walls were absolutely incredible! Food wasn’t too bad either and once we were leaving we got two postcards with Mr Cu’s photos and a little map of Hue with a proposed itinerary around the old town. What a nice gesture! Since we didn’t really have plans for the day we decided to give this itinerary a go (well, more or less at least). We headed to the famous walled part of the city first. One thing that we noticed straight away about Hue was that the streets seemed to be way more organised than in Hanoi, despite the big amount of bikes
beautifully decorated gates!beautifully decorated gates!beautifully decorated gates!

at the citadel in Hue
that is. Or maybe we just got used to the Vietnamese ‘chaotic’ driving? Naaah… It was definitely less hectic here. We wandered around the old city for a few hours and even though we passed by the imperial citadel we decided to leave a visit to it for another day. As we were walking in the old town, we were asked numerous times whether we wanted to use services of rickshaw drivers. It was the same story with most of them ‘Hello! Where are you from sir?’ Grant was trying to dodge them, still saying he was from New Zealand or Australia wasn’t helping: ‘Ah, New Zealand, 4 million people…’, ‘Ah, Australia, 22 million people…’. And for some strange reason all of them seemed to have relatives in these countries. Poland seemed to be working pretty well though as they had no clue what to say then, haha! Still one of the drivers really surprised us with his honesty. He asked if we wanted to go for an hour tour around the old town and when we said ‘no’ he just replied: ‘Come on! But I’m bored!’ haha! Good for him for being honest, unfortunately for him we still weren’t interested, so had to decline. But maybe somebody else would help him out fulfil his time? 😉

Later on we headed to the market. Somehow a visit to the market is always on our itinerary. 😉 Well… All the smells (even though sometimes not too pleasant) and all the unusual products just grab our attention…. The market didn’t disappoint this time either – maybe not with local specialities this time but with the amount of older people around. What can I say? Just love looking upon these beautifully wrinkled faces. 😊 We headed for lunch to another LP recommendation Stop & Go Café (this time we found out about it from the sign on restaurant’s wall rather the ‘bible’ itself though). All sorts of dishes on the menu there – from Vietnamese specialities to Western classics… We decided to give some tasty looking Vietnamese dishes a try – from rice noodle pancakes and green mango salad to grilled pork sticks with lettuce and peanut sauce, simply yummy! In the evening another portion of delicious food – this time not Vietnamese though, but Indian and our first day in Hue came to an end… We didn’t really have big expectations coming to this town, still food was great and it definitely looked like a decent place to chill for a while… So far so good! 😊

Since we didn’t really know what else was there to see except the citadel, after a chat to the receptionist at our guesthouse, we booked a tour in the end. The citadel was included in the itinerary as well, but apart from it we would be seeing 3 tombs of Nguyen emperors and visiting a symbol of Hue – Thien Mu Pagoda. Normally this trip would’ve finished with a cruise on the Perfume River with the dragon boat, but since we happened to be here just at the time of the Dragon Boat Festival, apparently no boats were available. As interesting as the cruise sounded, we weren’t too disappointed we wouldn’t be taking it as seeing the boats preparing for the festival was way more exciting and interesting than the cruise itself I would say. That morning we saw dozens of boats, all colourfully decorated by its owners, heading in one direction for the blessing ceremony – or so we were told at least... It was quite difficult to find out anything else about this festival from the locals as the most important part seemed to be decorating the boats actually, still it was quite a sight seeing all these boats heading one way – a sea of dragons…

We were one of the first people to be picked up that morning. To be honest I thought that the tour would be a bit more private… instead we were sharing a big bus with another dozen people… and it looked like there might be more coming anyway, as some just skipped a visit to the citadel and would be joining us later, ah well… Once we picked up everyone from the hotel we headed to the citadel. On the way there our guide gave us a brief history of Hue. He’s English was pretty good and he sure was providing a lot of information, a lot of people or not, it looked like this trip would be worth it anyway – if only to learn about this place… Once we left the bus our guide decided to use a mike though (seriously don’t get it, it’s not as if he was speaking to hundreds of people…) and that’s where I got lost in translation unfortunately – his voice got transformed into something very mechanical and beyond understanding… No info after all then… ah well… I would just need to work on my concentration skills a bit more I guess. 😉 I have been reading about the citadel a bit before a visit here and have to say I was a little bit disappointed once we got there as was expecting much more. Looking at some of the details on the buildings that are still standing at the site you can definitely imagine that this used to be a beautiful and impressive place once but after all the destruction from the French and Vietnam wars there is not much left here to be honest. Big 6m-high and 2,5km long wall and just a few buildings left – and the main part where the imperial family was residing is unfortunately totally gone. Over 50% of the citadel was destroyed… What a shame! There is a restoration going on all around and it just makes me wonder how far they will go with this project as if they want to restore it to its original state (or at least close to it) there surely is still a lot to be done. We walked around the citadel, admiring the buildings that still stand there and imagining how this place looked like before. And then when we entered the throne room, there was an empress sitting on the throne... He??? First I thought that maybe somebody was hired to sit there to add to the atmosphere around, but taking a few steps next door made me realise that I also could’ve been the one sitting on the throne if I wanted to and if I paid the price of course, as there were a dozen new emperors dressing up in the next room getting ready for their photo opportunity. Well… What can I say? I shouldn’t really be surprised by now, right? There is always a way to make money on tourists in Asia. 😉

After a visit to the citadel we had a quick stop at some old residence (again the mike distracted me totally so had no idea what this place actually was, beautiful architecture and lovely old furniture inside nevertheless), then lunch stop at Stop & Go Café (yep! the same place from the day before, at least we knew the food would be good!) and soon after we headed to Thien Mu Pagoda. It’s set by the Perfume River so once again we had a chance to see quite a few dragon boats heading for the ceremony. We walked around the temples for a while and had a chance to witness some kind of Buddhist ceremony at the back of the pagoda. The monks were sitting around the table with some more monks standing around it and all of them were chanting. It was quite a sight. We didn’t want to disturb them so were standing and observing quietly on the side. Not sure what was going on there and what kind of ceremony that was – maybe the monks were simply having breakfast? Who knows? It was very interesting to see though.

After that we went off to see another major attraction in Hue – the tombs of the Emperors. First on the list was Tomb of Minh Mang. They surely chose a beautiful place for Minh Mang to rest – lake and forests nearby. You enter the site through a big courtyard surrounded by warrior statues and then head through a few temples and pavilions until you reach the tomb itself – or until you reach a big and closed walled area where the emperor rests. You can only sneak a pick through the gate but still it’s not possible to see the tomb. Anyway even without seeing the actual tomb it was worth to come here – what a lovely, relaxing place! Next on the list was Tomb of Khai Dinh which dates back from 1925. The site is quite impressive from the moment you enter it. After climbing the stairs you enter a courtyard with even more warrior statues than at the first tomb site. The actual tomb is located at the main building at the top. Some people may say that the place is decorated totally over the top – ceramic designs on the walls, floors, everywhere actually! Even though not exactly to my liking, it surely had the wow factor as that was exactly the word I had on my lips once I entered the main building. Very creative way to decorate the walls for sure – using all sorts of pieces from broken bottles and ceramics. What a piece of art! Later on we headed to the last tomb but first stopped for a moment at the incense making village. It was quite interesting to see the ‘production’ of the incense as well as the making of conical hats. Of course we had a chance to buy the products here as well but our backpacks were already very close to bursting so we got no souvenirs here in the end. Too bad as the handmade sandalwood incense smelled beautifully and looked even nicer. And then we were off to Tomb of Tu Duc. It was constructed around 1865 and at the time it served as a holiday resort for the Emperor. The buildings are nicely set around a lake, most of them very well preserved, with only the courtesans’ quarters left in ruins (apparently emperor Tu Duc had over 100 women – wives and concubines to choose from… Aaah… The advantages of being an emperor, right? 😉). The tomb itself can be found at the back and it was quite disappointing to be honest – nicely decorated with ceramics and very colourful gate leads to a big and empty courtyard with a stone monument set in the middle… After a visit to the previous tomb, this one seemed a bit too modest I guess. In the end we were quite happy that we joined the tour. We learned a lot about the emperors that were ruling in Hue for over 100 years and in general had a lovely day visiting all the sites.

And then we were back in the centre of Hue again. We went for an evening stroll and came by a market by the Perfume River – nothing special to be honest. The same T-shirts for sale at every stand, some shoes and bags and that would be it… Nothing exciting at all… Food market was way more interesting for sure! We headed for dinner once again to our favourite Indian place… What can I say? Once you find something that good, it just becomes an addiction. 😉

We could’ve easily said goodbye to Hue and have gone further that night as we saw all that there was to see really. Well… If you really want to you’ll find something new to see in any place to be honest, right? In the end we decided to stay another night and the next day just relaxed
Grant at the citadel...Grant at the citadel...Grant at the citadel...

...or at its exit to be precise! ;)
– walking around, having a drink here and there, trying some more tasty food, strolling by the river… Aaaah… Doing nothing feels so good sometimes! Still one day was enough… It was time to move further. Next stop: Hoi An!

Additional photos below
Photos: 80, Displayed: 32


just loved this!just loved this!
just loved this!

as if the tree grew out of the gate! well... almost!

19th December 2013

I was about to drop you a line...
as you haven't blogged for two months, and I really worry when someone I Follow stops blogging before the end of a trip. So I was really glad to see this blog! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
20th December 2013

Thanks Bob. I know I have a huge backlog with blogs... Lots of life changing decisions lately and therefore no time to take care of my travel writing... Back at blogging now :) Merry Xmas and Happy New Year to you as well!
19th December 2013

Rainy season
We were in Hue during the rainy season and the streets were flooded. It made it interesting. We met some great people. Thanks for the memories.
19th December 2013
little monk at Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue

Little Monk
cute photo
20th December 2013
little monk at Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue

Happy I could bring back some memories :) Thanks for reading!

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