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krisek Hue - A travel report by Krys
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Hue,  Vietnam - flag Vietnam -  Th>a Thiên-Hu«
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krisek's travel reports

On Water. Vietnam Trilogy - 2. Hue & Perfume River

  15 votes
Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
After the Mekong Delta and Saigon, Hue was a bliss! I instantly fell for this magical place. It once was a capital city and the legacy left by the emperors was mind-boggling. The richness of the architecture set among natural beauty made my day.


Hue - Forbidden City
Hue - Forbidden City
“Established as the capital of unified Viet Nam in 1802, Hué was not only the political but also the cultural and religious centre under the Nguyen dynasty until 1945. The Perfume River winds its way through the Capital City, the Imperial City, the Forbidden Purple City and the Inner City, giving this unique feudal capital a setting of great natural beauty.” – UNESCO.

I arrived at Hue late in the evening, during the hours of darkness, and the town looked very mystic. I checked in to a hotel quickly and promptly found out that there was no electricity after 9 pm. The electricity came back at 8 am. I got up early, as I wanted to quickly book a boat trip on the Perfume River to see the tombs of the emperors. I figured that if I could spend half-day on the river trip, then I would be able to spend the afternoon around the historical citadel, and the Forbidden City of the former emperors.

I wandered from my hotel to the end of the street and on the corner, I found a travel agency, which advertised exactly what I wanted to do. I enquired about the availability and got booked on a trip that was leaving within an hour. I was instructed to wait for a car to take me to the riverbank, where I was to board a boat. I waited and waited and waited. Nothing arrived. The trip was to start at 9 o’clock and by 9.30, there was no sign of the car to pick me up. The girl in the office was calm despite me looking ever more impatient. She eventually chose to lie to me and told me that the traffic was bad (I could see no cars around at all) and the car was late. In fact, they forgot to pick me up and I ended up on a back of a motorbike chasing the boat like mad, in full rain! That wasn’t my preferred form of travelling in this kind of weather!

The agency was so lucky (or indeed it was me, who was lucky) as the motorbike caught up with the boat at the last stop reachable by land from Hue. That was at the Tien Mu Pagoda. After this point the boat didn’t stop for about an hour.

Favourite spots:
Hue - Thien Mu Pagoda
Hue - Thien Mu Pagoda
Tien Mu Pagoda, a symbol of Vietnam was shrouded in mist. It was majestic and almost graceful. Simply lovely! But I had to rush. I was late! I had to board the boat.

The boat was actually a floating home of the family who navigated and serviced it. They also served lunch – small and very basic, but the entire boat trip extravaganza cost me all USD1.5! The vessel was very narrow and long so it was important to keep the correct weight distribution. The family would order every now and again, who should seat where. They had two single rows of plastic armchairs along the two sides of the boat, and sometimes couples had to be split so the captain could navigate around the numerous cargo boats passing by.

It was a great relaxing day and the only pity was weather, which comprised of light rain and a mist. It was a great disappointment after gorgeous weather at the Mekong Delta. However, I chose to believe that it made the whole escapade more dramatic.

What's really great:
Minh Mang Tomb Gate
Minh Mang Tomb Gate
The emperors’ tombs differed in form, size, architecture and landscape they were situated among. Some of them were extremely colourful and picturesque, and some were dark and of ‘heavy’ built. Most of them however had been built in the Chinese style with many arches and roofs decorated with mythical river animals. Red, dark yellow, grey and blue dominated the colour palette.

The most interesting tomb was the one of Minh Mang, who ruled between 1820 and 1840. It was a brilliant example of majestic architecture and perfect composition of the surrounding gardens and forest. Its territory was vast and housed a number of gates, small palaces, temples and worship buildings. Emperors were building their tombs as soon as they became rulers to include a tomb for the emperor himself, a tomb for his wife and a small temple she could mourn him if he was the first to pass away. Plus, there were temples for the emperor’s concubines. All set in a carefully sculptured garden with ponds and bridges.

Sights:
Hue - Forbidden City Main Gate
Hue - Forbidden City Main Gate
The town of Hue itself was very nice and had a local feel compared with Saigon. Hue attractiveness was facilitated by wide pavements, riverfront parks and walks, interesting mix of French colonial, traditional Vietnamese and contemporary architecture. There was also plenty of greenery in the town and the main alleys were planted with trees, which made it pleasant to wander about. I wish I had had more time to see more of the area. Well, in the afternoon, when weather minimally cleared, I went to see the amazing Imperial City (Forbidden Purple City) listed by UNESCO as World Cultural Heritage. I was genuinely impressed with this one. It was so sad however to see that a lot of it had been destroyed during the American War and never re-built. It was still quite difficult to see how splendid the Imperial City had been. The site was vast and I underestimated the time necessary to explore it properly. I had to rush to be able to see everything before it got dark.

Accommodations:
Emperor's Tomb near the Perfume River
Emperor's Tomb near the Perfume River
Thai Binh Hotel, where I stayed, was located just 400 meters from the Perfume River. So, I could stay at the royal city until the very last minute. The hotel was decent. The room was large and the bed was comfortable. There was satellite tv as well, with some good movie channels, but I didn’t watch much - there was no power for the most of the night. The hotel was bam slam in the middle of action packed area. I started to count the bars, pubs, restaurant and hotels, but I quickly lost count. If it wasn’t a perfect location in Hue, then it was very close to it. I wish all cities in the world had a spot in the centre like that, which offered a range of good quality and affordable accommodation right opposite the best bars and restaurants, catering for travellers on various budgets. The perfection of the location cannot possibly overemphasised. I could chat to fellow travellers in a superb bar just a few yards from the entrance of my hotel.

Nightlife:
Hue - the Purple City
Hue - the Purple City
I was convinced by one of the owners to step into one of the bars in the centre to have a drink. I was actually quite discontent that the very next day, I was leaving early in the morning to the airport for my flight to Hanoi. Otherwise, I would have partied more and enjoyed my drink a lot more, or in fact have a bit more of it. The place was called Cafe On Thu Wheels. Ms Thu was the landlady, who ran the pub. It was indeed a very relaxed place full of chilled out people – most of them travellers. The walls were written all over by visitors in many languages and colours. Even ceiling was covered in writing. My fellow Poles left their opinions as well. Naturally! They, for example, said that “the Vietnamese are fu**ed up people. You should bargain for everything!” I think I would agree with that statement although not to the very letter. Ms Thu had an excellent choice of music – from Bob Marley to Sting to Travis to Massive Attack. I wish I could stay longer.

Hangouts:
Hue - Forbidden City
Hue - Forbidden City
As I was sipping my drink, watching the street outside, a kid approached me and asked if I would agree that he cleaned my trek boots. I didn’t want to do that at first, but the boots did need a polish and as I was going to the capital city of Hanoi, I realised that this could’ve been a good idea after all. He took off my footwear and took off! Of course, my first thoughts were about him disappearing from my life with my boots. Many different thoughts crossed my mind at that moment, actually. That was in fact the only footwear that I took on my trip to Indochina. Then, I started considering many different scenarios what I was going to do for the rest of the trip, if I lost them. Just as the scenario #17 flashed in my head, the boy came back with my boots shining good, almost as new. The service cost me dear – VND 10,000, but I didn’t regret this, as shoe shining is a genuine way of making money. It’s also good to support local initiative. And I was glad I didn’t have to do it myself.

Restaurants:
Perfume River - Transport vessel
Perfume River - Transport vessel
I wanted to conclude this great day with a yummy meal. There were a number of promisingly looking restaurants and bars scattered around the town. It was a difficult choice and since I had not yet (by then) had an opportunity or luck to try a local speciality, which I would consider nice, I thought it was important not to spoil the day at its very end.

Mandarin Cafe was eventually my choice. It was run by Mr Cu, who was also a very good photographer! I had not eaten yet and I was already happy to have come there. His pictures were fascinating and I wished I would develop such skills in the future as well. The pictures showed the people, life and landscape of Vietnam. Lucky me, Mr Cu was also serving excellent food. And cheap! For my supper I had fried yellow noodles with shrimps and loads of garlic. I was in heaven! I cannot remember how much I paid for the meal but it was very cheap. It was a good day.

Next part of the trilogy, part 3, is on Hanoi & Halong Bay.

Other recommendations:
Hue - Citadel
Hue - Citadel
I sat down in the pub enjoying a cold beer trying some of the wooden block games. My fellow travellers were raving about the great location of Hue and how easy it was to travel around Vietnam, and around Hue. There were three other interesting places to see in the vicinity of former capital. The Demilitarised Zone was just 2.5 hours drive to the north. A spectacular old city of Hoi An and the remarkable ruins of the Kingdom of Champa in My Son, resembling Cambodia's Angkor, were about 3 hours drive to the south of Hue. If I ever wanted to go back to Vietnam it would be to this central region - around Hue.

Published on Monday March 3th, 2008


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Thu, Mar 13 2008 - 05:01 AM rating by downundergal

I like your writing style using many personal observations and humour rather than just cut and dried facts. I was planning on visiting Vietnam next month but have had to put my plans on hold at this stage so I am enjoying reading your trilogy.

Thu, Mar 06 2008 - 02:04 AM rating by rangutan

..... continuing pleasure ..... (funny too!)

Tue, Mar 04 2008 - 11:08 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Wonderful report, as usual in all your writings.

Tue, Mar 04 2008 - 02:55 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

wonderful report and very briefly written ,you have collected lots of information about the place,excellent

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