On 10th January 2018 we got the morning bus at 7am from Phong Nha to Hue. The cold and rainy weather that had engulfed Phong Nha once more was also meant to be in Hue so we weren’t feeling too optimistic for clear skies. For this reason, we only booked one night in the city at a hostel called FA Backpackers.The hostel was good with really friendly and helpful staff that even invited us to have lunch with them the following day and made sure we were warm and comfortable during our stay.
I have visited the south of Vietnam before and this is the first place on our trip that I have already been to. It was three years ago that I travelled here with my mum, dad and brother and so I was interested to see what I would remember or how different things would be.
After getting settled, our first port of call was to get some lunch. The hostel recommended a place called Hanh which did a variety of local food. It was really busy when we got their (always a good sign) and we enjoyed our food here. The staff spoke great English which was helpful, particularly with me being a vegetarian. I ordered rice pancakes which came with a bowl of sauce and lettuce leaves, Vietnamese fig slices and other vegetables. One of the waiters then came over and showed me how to eat it like a local would which was really good so that I would enjoy it the most – it was tasty! We have tried to eat Vietnamese food the whole time we’ve been in the country (it’s very easy to only eat western food if you wanted to) and it’s worked out for us so far with all of our meals from noodle soups, fried rice and noodles being really good. The Vietnamese know how to cook good food!
After lunch we headed to the Imperial Palace (also known as the Citadel) which is the main attraction in Hue. The complex is quite large but doesn’t have much signage so it’s hard to really get a good grasp of the place and it’s significance. I later googled the Imperial Palace and found out that Hue used to be the former imperial capital of Vietnam and that this structure was the emperor’s residence whilst also having temples, palaces and the main buildings of state here. The whole structure is enclosed in 6 metre high walls. Self-proclaimed Emperor Gai Long (recognised as emperor by China in 1804) commissioned the building of the Imperial Palace in Hue which started with thousands of workers building a wall and moat that was 10km long! The structure used to be significantly bigger than it is today with only 20 of the original 148 buildings surviving the extensive bombings during the numerous wars Vietnam has seen.
Emperor’s in Vietnam reigned until the mid 1900’s and the original emperor’s palace is walled in the east of the complex with a number of palaces being added later on over the many years of ruling emperors. The citadel has the Huong River to the east of it. This river is often called the ‘perfume river’ but in the bad weather we didn’t see the reasoning for this (I think it’s linked to the colour it normally is) as we crossed the river from the main part of town to reach it.
We walked around the citadel and had a look at the different buildings which were painted red and light blue and had detailing on the roof and ceilings. The gardens were also landscaped with large tortoise shaped bushes in the centre. Whilst we were there, there was also reconstruction work happening with a sign saying they’re continually trying to restore the citadel even all of these years later.
The weather wasn’t great with grey skies and spitting rain. I think this definitely took away from the place as, when I had previously visited, the sky was bright blue and it was very hot. We have seen some great palaces (Seoul has a lot of great ones) so when I asked Niall what he thought of the place he wasn’t overly impressed. Again, this is likely also linked to the grey and cold weather but I think this isn’t going to be somewhere that would blow you away… worth going to see though if you’re stopping in Hue.
With the weather being bad we didn’t fancy traipsing around getting cold and wet so headed back to our hostel. We had more good food later on where I had a great vegetable and tofu noodle soup that reminded me a lot of the laksa’s in Malaysia (noodle soup is the perfect food for the cold weather) and we just relaxed a bit – something we needed with all the travelling and busy days we were having.
The next morning we headed to Hoi An (we had great milkshakes while we were waiting for our bus) and were keeping our fingers crossed that we would be able to escape the rain. The weather was seriously getting us down and it was making everywhere look a bit miserable. It also meant that our originally mode of transport to get to Hoi An was no longer an option. We had wanted to do the Hai Van pass (made famous from Top Gear) as it boasted stunning views over the coastline and mountains. The rain and low clouds would have not only made the 6 hour drive cold and uncomfortable but it would have also made it completely pointless as we wouldn’t have seen a thing the whole way (it would have been a repeat of the Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand)! Disappointed was an understatement but the weather can’t be controlled so we had no choice but to carry on.
We don’t really think Hue has too much to do. There are bits we didn’t go and see so maybe in the summer we would have spent longer here but it did give us good food and a hospitable hostel so, from that point of view, it was a good place to stay. We did notice though that we were hassled a lot more to buy things from vendors and Niall was often asked if he wanted drugs from men on motorbikes which was a massive difference from the places we had visited further north. It would be interesting to see if this was a common theme the further south we went and it wasn’t never too intrusive so I don’t think it will impact on our time here. So far, we have only encountered lovely people in Vietnam and I’m sure that’s likely to continue as we head in to Hoi An.
Sending Love x