After surviving the rickety night bus from Hanoi, we spent two lovely days admiring the city of Hue. It is much more peaceful than Hanoi, with a wide river separating the main town from the old citadel.
We managed to secure an excellent room for $12 US a night, it was spacious with a balcony and modern bathroom. Following the night bus it was just what we needed, so we elected to stay for two nights before moving on.
We spent the first day slowly meandering around the old citadel, which is a mixture of ruin and restoration. Walking through the old courtyards and buildings within the walled city and learning about emperors, princes and mandarins who had previously inhabited it. The citadel was inhabited up until the 1920’s but was heavily bombed during the war with the USA, so it appears much older.
After a restful sleep and leisurely breakfast, we decided to undertake a tour of the rest of Hue by motor bike. Every destination in Vietnam is crawling with xe om (bike taxi) drivers, offering tours and rides for under $15 US. We opted for a guide with good English who would show us the sights around Hue, After a brief introduction we were given helmets and hopped on the back of the two motorbikes. Weaving our way through the traffic and off road down country lanes and dirt tracks we got to see local life and some of the most interesting sights of the city. First stop was the elegant Thein Mu Pagoda were we saw young monks bring educated and spent time wandering the peaceful grounds.
Next we visited the lion and elephant enclosure, which was a large ring in which the emperor pitted elephants against tigers in a fight to the death. Our guide showed us all around the outside and brought the spectacle to life with his stories. Following that we had a stop at a shop where we were taught how incense is made and watched conical hats being weaved. Then we hopped back on the bikes and went off road to Bunker Hill, an American bunker and lookout post over the river. Again our guide told us some great stories and the views across the river were lovely in the afternoon sun.
Our next stop was the tomb of Tu Duc, a sprawling complex which also includes tombs of his wife and adopted son. The tombs date from the late 1800’s but like the citadel, feel much older due to their state of disrepair and the damage caused during US bombing. Our final stop was to a local burial ground, which may sound macabre but was actually quite a spectacle. Our guide showed us colourful graves of local people pointing out Buddhist and Catholic graves with their differing religious markings. The sprawling grave yard covered a huge amount of land and it was surprising to see how large the plots were, considering the size of most peoples homes are smaller. Our tour complete, we were dropped back off at our hotel, feeling like we had done a great job at seeing the sights of Hue.
To keep our costs down, we try whenever possible to eat street food or the local food we see Vietnamese people eating. It often involves squatting on tiny plastic chairs at the road side with little idea of what you are eating, but usually the cheapest and tastiest way to eat. Our final evening in Hue we stumbled upon what appeared to be a rice buffet, with a mixture of dishes to choose from. After the usual pointing, nodding and holding up of fingers we were given a seat and brought some food. When we began to eat all was not as it had first seemed, firstly everything was cold and secondly we had been given an offal stir fry. There was definitely something meaty in there, which was most likely liver or tongue, but the rest of it consisted of spine, hoof and bum hole. We pushed it to the edge of our plates and concentrated on our cold rice, cold fish and cold soup with tiny cold shrimps in. This was most certainly the worst meal we had eaten in Vietnam, but street food can be a lottery and as the saying goes, you win some you lose some! Walking back to our hotel we looked at all the other places to eat which we could have chosen and splashed out on an ice cream to remove the remnants of god only knows what from our palates.
Aside from the bad taste left in our mouths by the offal stir fry, Hue was a lovely city which we really enjoyed spending time in.