Hue in a Day

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November 6th 2011
Published: January 26th 2014
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Once again we were up at 0630 and to our surprise it wasn’t to the sound of rain on the roof. A sheepish look out on to the street two stories below us showed no sign of the river from last night and there was barely a cloud in the sky.

We took full advantage of it and headed straight to the Citadel on the other side of the river. And no – we didn’t want a cyclo thank you.

We did want a drink before going in so we went back to the “cafe” that we’d been to the day before. We had two coffees, four iced teas and bought a pack of cigarettes – all for D74,000 (NZ$5). We also saw the puppy again and decided to christen him “Din Dins”

Inside the citadel is The Imperial Enclosure – a walled city within the walled city, surrounded by a moat. I could have spent all day just photographing the outside of it but as we’d arrived nice and early we paid the D55,000 (NZ3.50) admission fee for each of us and went in.

My limited vocabulary doesn’t extend far enough to explain what we saw inside… certainly not as much as the photos will once they’re on here. The first noticeable thing was not the sights but the sound. No horns, cars, scooters, hawkers, touts, tour groups… nothing. Tranquility is a relative thing but we’d gone from one extreme to the other in just a few days. Walls of noise in Hanoi to absolutely nothing in Hue.

The whole Imperial Enclosure would be roughly 500 metres x 500 metres but we still managed to spend three and a half hours wandering through the assortment of temples, pagodas, houses and open spaces.

Each place had a plaque detailing the history of the buildings in question making it easy to get an understanding of what each was used for and which member of royalty lived there.

Most were from the 1800s and many were in various states of refurbishment but it rated as one of the highlights of the trip so far. Jo was very patient with me as I plodded along taking a hundred or so photographs.

At 1030 we walked through the gates of the outer citadel and straight into our new favourite cafe again. A cute two year old girl took a liking to Jo and I snapped some photos – she was very excited to see them on the camera screen and kept trying to pose for them. Her nine year old sister taught her how to do the peace sign – a key skill for asians when posing for photos.

The lady who ran the cafe told us they were her friends children and asked if we could post her some of the photos. She wrote down the address of the shop and we promised to send them once we were back in New Zealand.

Not far from the cafe we passed a group of teens on the footpath beside some tiny kids cycles.

“You want to rent cycle?” one of them asked… grinning ear to ear.

The bike he pointed to wouldn’t have come up to my knee. Good sense of humour that.

We walked back towards Hung Vuong Inn again to rebook for an additional night. A tout on the side of the street offered us a ride on his Harley. He’d had Harley Davidson printed on the side of the tanks but couldn’t scratch the Suzuki from the side of the 125cc engine.

Lunch was traditional Vietnamese chicken, ham and cheese bread rolls with a few pork spring rolls.

Just a block down from Hung Vuong Inn is another cafe that we’d walked past several times called Long Cafe. Part of their side business is the rental of scooters to tourists. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. We handed over D100,000 (NZD$7) along with my (expired) drivers licence. In return they handed us two flimsy helmets and a key. That was it – no questions, brief instructions and off ya go son.

Jo jumped on the back with much trepidation. I could literally feel her fear as it was like riding with a lead weight on the back… no leaning into corners or going with the flow… just a very scared passenger. It’s been at least a year since I last rode a bike but it took only a few minutes to get back into the swing of it. It was just like riding a bike.

I employed our road crossing theory – I’m going and you can find your way around me – and it worked well.

We started off riding around 6 kilometres along the north side of the Perfume River to Thien Mu Pagoda. This presented a bit of trouble for the locals as two parking attendants fought over who was going to look after the bike in our absence. We’d already parked up and packed our helmets away when an old lady shouted across from an adjoining carpark… obviously upset that she was going to miss ripping off the tourists on this occasion. The locals found the whole thing exceptionally funny.

The pagoda itself was not in the same league as the ones we had seen earlier in the morning inside The Imperial Enclosure but the real reason I wanted to visit was that it housed the 1956 Austin A95 that the monk Thich Quang Duc drove to Saigon in 1963 where he proceeded to set himself alight in protest against the government policies against buddhists. Whilst this is an incredible historical martyrdom in it’s own right, my interest was aroused as a photograph of the event graces the cover of Rage Against The Machine’s self titled album.

Rain was again threatening but we had errands to run. We collected the photos of the kids that we had taken earlier in the day and delivered them to our friends in the roadside cafe.

For the next hour or so we cruised (very cooly) around the banks of The Perfume River.

We returned our ride and booked a private car to take us to Hoi An at 0800 the following day. The US$60 price tag was much higher than the US$4 each it would have cost to do the 4 hour 150km drive in a bus but there are several points of interest along the route that we would have missed had we taken a bus.

As the rain fell, we sat back in our room at Hung Vuong Inn and I took the opportunity to back up the 1000 odd photos I’d taken.

We feasted at the cafe downstairs on chicken curry, a beef, prawn and squid hotpot and another pork, prawn and bean sprout rice pancake. With two cokes, a beer and a mango shake, the price of D230,000 (NZ$23) was unbeatable. We were in our room listening to the dulcet tones of an air conditioner, a wall fan and rain on the roof by 1930.


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