With the distance between Hoi An and Hue not all that great, we opted to take a day bus so we could take in some of the sights as we rolled along, parallel with the coast.
At this point in time I hadn’t discovered that many Vietnamese skip breakfast (despite rising before sunrise), so it still always bamboozled my why less than an hour after boarding a coach between cities, we’d find ourselves pulled over at a rest stop with our driver tucking into a bowl of noodles. With the benefit of the information I was to later learn, it was little wonder he was ravenous!
It did nevertheless give us the chance for some brief bathroom respite and the chance to take in the gorgeous scenery.
Arriving in Hue, is pretty much means you’re at the halfway point of any journey north or south (Hanoi is 700km north & Saigon 1100km south). This former city was once the Imperial Capital and it’s historic buildings are yet another UNESCO World Heritage site.
By a complete stroke of luck, our visit also happened to coincide with the final days of the Hue Festival. This week long affair is held every two years part of the festivities also included a beer festival!
Before setting out for a day exploring the historical sights of the city, we went to a restaurant not too far from where we’d chosen to stay (yet another place that we’d found from our Lonely Planet guidebook).
This was to be our first taste of Bun Bo Hue, and what a taste it was! This spicy, sweet and sour soup is sensational and we were very glad to have tried it.
Despite it being very hot and humid, we spent a good half a day exploring the Citadel and it’s surrounding grounds. Greeted by the enormous Cot Co flag tower at the edge of the ramparts, it really is an imposing sight.
Much of the Citadel was destroyed by American bombing during the war (ironically as they attempted to liberate the city after it was captured by the Viet Cong) and for a long period after the war it was left in neglect.
In recent years there has been much reconstruction however, but Sarah, having seen it 6 years ago, feels that the sacrifice with these changes is that the place has lost some of its authentic feel.
Around the citadel grounds, there were a plethora of local children (and adults) running around flying some elaborate and spectacular kites. It was rather cool watching them go about their business for a while.
By the time we’d exhausted the citadel and a nearby museum that was full of old military hardware, and actually had a fairly decent archaeological exhibition, we were pretty hot (and thirsty).
In the course of our travels we’d noticed a large tent that had been erected by the river, and with all of the Huda branding (a local beer from Hue) this could only be the location of the beer festival. We made note of this place for later.
That evening as we crossed the Perfume River, the night was already abuzz, with local performances on the river itself (on floating stages) and sky dazzling with lights galore.
We made our way on to the Huda beer tent to find the area packed with people and the tent area itself cordoned off and circled by security. After cutting a few laps trying to find an entrance and/or a place to buy tickets, before it became apparent there was neither. It looked as though everyone who was going, was already in! So, we did what any self respecting Australians in need of a beer would do, we snuck in!
Buying ourselves a round, we realised that this really was a local affair, as we saw only one other westerner. Undeterred we stayed to watch the entertainment for a bit (in the form of a Vietnamese pop star) and toast with a few tables of new friends. Mort, Hai, Ba, yo! (basically, 1, 2, 3, cheers). It was fun for a time, but then we decided to wander on and catch the citadel at night, which proved quite spectacular.
It was amazing to see people everywhere and bumper to bumper traffic at 9pm in the evening… I’d hate to see rush hour!
Making our way back towards our hotel, the night had one last celebration in store as they timed their fireworks display perfectly with our return stroll across the bridge. Luck had provided us with sensational unobstructed views!
One of the other iconic tourist attractions around Hue are the “Tombs of the Emperors”. As already mentioned, Hue was once the imperial capital, and scattered all along the Perfume River are 6 ancient tombs, the furthest at 20km from the city.
This outing for the day marked another milestone. It was the first time that i’d known Sarah, and in fact the first since she’d last been in Vietnam that she had ridden a bicycle!
The roads weren’t great, but we were in no hurry, and it proved a lovely (albeit hot) day for the ride. It certainly made the beers taste that bit better again!
We only made it as far as the tomb of Tu Duc (the closest to town) through a combination of the heat and the fact that our directions to the other tombs were fairly vague. Thankfully, despite Tu Duc being the most popular, it wasn’t overrun with tourists on this particular day.
Our last hours in Hue saw us trying to find a souvenir that Sarah had already bought… six years ago! On that trip as part of a tour group, a purchase of one of Hue’s famous conical hats (the same as the conical hats throughout the country, only these hats have images and patterns in them, visible when held up to the light) had been sent home with a recently made friend with the intent of meeting up to reclaim it on her return. The problem being, they never saw each other again.
So we found ourselves traipsing through another market, a brief haggle later and we were moving on with 2 brand new hats in tow.
In the spirit of adventure, we’d also opted to make the next leg of our journey by local bus, so after sitting around a bus depot in the heat for several hours, we grabbed a couple of Banh Mi (with a liberal splash of chilli) for the road and on we went!