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Published: November 22nd 2015
The train from Hanoi to Hue was the third train ride we had so far in Vietnam and had the worst toilets!!!! Minimal usage by me! Once the sun came up there was great scenery watching out of the corridor windows - rice field, buffalo pulling ploughs - the usual stuff.
We had not bothered to book a hotel room thinking that there would be hustlers outside the train station. Unfortunately there weren't but we had picked a desirable hotel online so asked a taxi driver to take us there - took him a while to find the Hong Thien 1 Hotel that was tucked down an alley - and yes they had rooms - we agreed on the first one that was shown to us - huge room with 2 double and 1 king bed, lots of windows - all for $25.00 including breakfast AND it had a swimming pool.
Late breakfast was a short walk away at the Hanh restaurant where we had Bahn Cuon ( BBQ pork and cilantro wrapped in soft rice paper) and Bhan Khoai ( rice pancake with pork and shrimp) - and of course iced Vietnamese coffee (with sweetened condensed milk), my
The Nguyen dynasty was founded in 1802 and the capital of Vietnam was moved from Hanoi to Hue. The Citadel was built between 1804 and 1833 and has 10 Kms of walls as well as a 30 m wide moat and 10 gateways. The Imperial Enclosure and the Forbidden Purple City were our destination for our afternoons exploration. Crossing the Trang Tieng Bridge over the Perfume River, we entered the citadel and were quickly accosted by a couple of cyclos - they insisted that the gates did not open until 1:30pm and for an exorbitant fee they would take us round some of the temples and residences. Luckily we ignored then and soon discovered that the Imperial Enclosure was open ALL day.
The Imperial Enclosure is a citadel within a citadel and contains the emperors residence, temples and palaces. A lot of it was destroyed during both the French and American wars ( only 20 of the original 148 buildings remain. Fortunately it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and much restoration is going on. While there certainly are a lot of ruins and piles of rubble, the restored buildings are beautiful - I particularly loved
the long galleries with scarlet painted doors. Lots for gold lacquer, murals on ceilings and walls and heaps of ceramic sculptures - all made for lots for photos.
It was stinking hot and we caught a taxi ( so much cheaper than a cyclo) back to the hotel for a refreshing dip in the pool. The irony is that we brought rain jackets and umbrellas with us expecting monsoons in this part of central Vietnam - it is hot and clear blue skies though and we needed our rain gear in the north where it was supposedly the DRY season. I will be happy if we never get wet again - my soaked shoes from Sa Pa trekking lay smelling in a plastic bag until I finally managed to dry them in Hanoi using a combination of hair dryer and lying them on the balcony in front of the air conditioning unit.
For a totally different treat for our taste buds it was Indian food for dinner! And as for breakfast the next morning - we got to choose 2 food items and 2 drink items - banana pancakes with chocolate and bread with butter/jam/ cheese - the
bread was an extremely fresh small baguette. And juice and iced coffee of course.
For our explorations south of Hue to visit the mausoleums of the rulers of the Nguyen dynasty we rented a motorbike. We had planned on getting two but I chickened out as I was expecting a moped and they were heavier motor bikes ( automatic) - I was quite happy riding on the back while Kelly navigated through the traffic. Heading out in the countryside we got "picked up" just a bit south of town . It was obvious we had no idea where we were going and the friendly fellow said that as his house was between the two tombs we were planning on visiting, he would show us the way - and practice his English at the same time.
The tomb of Khai Dinh was fabulous - there are no other words to describe it. Access was via a steep staircase right beside the road and there were three more steep staircases inside before reaching the main building which contained the most beautiful mosaics on the walls. In the honor courtyard there were a number of statues of civil and military mandarins
as well as a couple of horses and elephants - all intended to accompany the emperor in the afterlife. This tomb is relatively new, having been built in the 1920s hence the great shape that it is in.
A further 2 Kms along a country lane we arrive at the tomb of Minh Mar - while not as visually stunning as the previous, it was none the less quite beautiful, set in a forested area and including a couple of lakes. Again there was the typical honor courtyard with mandarin statues and some beautiful pavilions.
Then our new "friend" invited us back to his home for tea. He lived in a very simple one room shack and made us green tea. He explained that this area was considered South Vietnam and that after the Americans withdrew, the North Vietnamese ordered all those who served in the South Vietnamese army and who owned a gun, to hand the guns over. And then they imprisoned them- the length of imprisonment depending on their army rank. Our friends father died after two years in prison. Later he broke his arm while felling lumbered for house and his wife left him -
this is starting to sound like a county song. The suspicious radar really got active when he told us about his two children who were studying hard so they can go to university but it is so expensive to send them to school. At the end of it all, it had been a very interesting morning so Kelly gave him a small amount of money and he led us back to where he had picked us up - and no doubt he lurked around looking for the next bewildered tourists.
Heading back into town we crossed over the Perfume River and visited the Thien Mu Pagoda, a 21 m high octagonal tower. Then time for lunch before heading out to the coast - my lemon juice had a very interesting large seed in the bottom and when I asked the young lad serving us what it was, he came back with google translate on his tablet - it was a salted dry apricot !
As maps do not exist beyond the basic city centre maps given out by the hotels, we did a google search on Kelly's iPod and found a back road to An Thuan beach. Google
maps tracked our position fairly well and we only had a couple of miss turns. Who would have thought that the alley to our left was actually the "road". The secondary road ended being a concrete causeway running through shrimp farms stretching out on either side -as it was rather narrow it was good that it was bike only.
Time for a short swim in the warm ocean before heading back into town into the setting sun and lots more bikes on the road. Kelly comments about driving. "While driving in Vietnam you have to forget all your road rules from home, it's almost like driving under the influence. If your're in front you have the right of way, when you pull in from a side street into the main traffic flow you don't look or yield - just go. What we think of as careless driving actually works here due to the fact they are not aggressive drivers and actually give way - NOT LIKE AT HOME."
The dinner search led us to pho stand right near hotel- talk about fast food. We had barley sat down on the little plastic stools when we were asked if
wanted beef or chicken. Shortly after, 3 deep fried pieces of bread were on the table shortly followed by steaming bowls of pho - fresh garlic and chillies were on the table as condiments and of course the standard ate of greens which included basil and no mint ( a change from Hanoi). Really delicious.
From there it was an evening promenade along the riverfront. Neon lights everywhere including the opposite side of the river reflecting in the water. Even the Trang Tien bridge was lit up in ever changing colours. There were so many people about it was like it was a weekend or holiday - which it wasn't. There were lots of small shops selling various souvenir type stuff. The best part of the evening was stumbling onto a fabulous martial arts/Kung Fu street exhibition. The finale was a fellow leaning forward and placing all his body weight onto two spears that had the metal ends at his throat. The bamboo shafts were curving under his body weight. Then a concrete block was placed on his upper back and broken with a sledge hammer. And he was not injured. Amazing.
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