PLEASE NOTE FOR ALL FUTURE TRAVELLERS – HUE IS BLOODY WET!!!! However, embrace it, buy a poncho, smile with the incredibly friendly locals and get stuck into seeing some of the most impressive tombs and palaces in Vietnam.
Hue is the former capital of Vietnam and imperial city of the Nguyen emperors. We arrived on an afternoon bus from Hoi An and found a fantastic and surprisingly cheap hotel, the Tigon Hotel, to base ourselves. We both felt a bit in need of some home food so went to the Gecko Cafe for a lovely, steaming bowl of pasta. Spot on.
The next day, we rented bicycles and headed into the traffic to visit the imperial citadel. As we arrived through the desperately impressive Ngo Mon Gate, the heavens opened, so we sheltered in the impressive Thai Hoa palace (Hall of Supreme Harmony).
The rain had its benefits, as it chased away a lot of tourists, so we had a fair amount of peace and quiet to explore the beautiful walled citadel in. The sun came back out pretty fast, so we were able to wander around the numerous palaces, temples, gardens and ruins of the former Forbidden Purple City, learning about the Nguyen dynasty and their many concubines. A highlight was learning that three of them used to stay late for paperwork, rather than joining concubines – one because he was conscientious, one because he found the women noisy, and one because he was a bit too dim to do all his work in the day. Poor bloke!
That evening, we tried some local specialties. Hue has its own unique cuisine, fostered by picky emperors. The local specialties (Banh Nam, Banh Beo, Banh Lac and more) are, it seems, shrimp in gooey rice starch prepared a variety of ways, but usually served in a banana leaf. Some were good, some less so. The thicker it is, the chewier it is, was a general rule to be observed. Still, try anything once!
The next day we were less lucky with the weather. It started with rain, continued with rain and to nobodies surprise, continued with rain. We put off our plans to visit tombs and pagodas to the next day and spent most of the day in various cafes and restaurants enjoying plenty of Vietnamese coffee, food and our books. Rest days are always appreciated!
Still, as we said at the start, Hue is bloody wet. Apparently they have two seasons – wet and wetter. So, when we woke up in the morning and it was still raining, there was nothing for it. We would see the tombs in the rain or not at all. We rented a motorbike, bought ponchos and set off in the persistent drizzle. The tombs were worth the miserable ride!
We visited two very different tombs in the mountains outside Hue. The tomb of Khai Dinh was set on a hill, with an imposing mausoleum at the top of several staircases flanked by statues of horses, soldiers, elephants and mandarins (the advisors, not the fruit). The rain didn’t even ruin it – the mist hanging in the surrounding hills was very atmospheric.
The second tomb was that of Emperor Tu Duc, and was set over a much larger area, with a complex of temples, palaces, concubine houses and gardens for him to use while alive (because apparently he liked hanging out at his own tomb), then an open air mausoleum for him and the empress.
Noodle soup is a popular specialty in Vietnam, and having been rained on was what we needed, so stopped for a huge bowl of Bun Bo Hue (beef noodle soup in dark broth) to warm up a bit.
Our final visit of the day was Tien Mu Pagoda, perched on a hill overlooking the Perfume River just outside Hue. At this point – cold, bedraggled and tired – we decided to call it a day on the sightseeing and headed back. After a hot shower (thank god it’s not Cambodia!) we went to a lovely little restaurant run by a super friendly Vietnamese guy for some great pork stir fry and a couple of beers.
Our time in Hue at an end, we returned to Da Nang on the train, along a stunning coastal railway with the sea on the right and mountains on the left. In Danang we collected our passports, ran a couple of errands and even managed to get to the cinema to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Verdict – excellent!
Only $12 for a double room with ensuite (inc bath), tv, seating area, wardrobe, wifi (intermittent), air con. One of the best budget hotels we have stayed in. Free hot coffee when it’s raining, good bicycles and motorbikes and they can do cheap breakfast if you want. Super friendly, helpful staff. Recommended.
Bus from Hoi An was easy and about $6, direct from our homestay. Dropped us outside town so had to get a taxi into Hue.
Train to Danang only 72,000 VND. Comfy, air conditioned seats and great views. Food options onboard as well.