It’s been a while since I’ve updated our travel blog. This is because the past few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind – we returned home from Asia, spent running errands, trying to see friends and family and get ready for the next leg of our travels in Europe. So now we are actually in Europe.
In spite of that, I am going to continue with our travel tales where we left off in Vietnam. My last blog post was a bit of a negative one, so this one is going to be nice and easy including lots of sightseeing 🙂
Once we both recovered from our bouts of travellers’ sickness we got back in the road and made our way down towards the middle of Vietnam, towards the royal city of Hue. In my previous blog post I described how we had to reorganize our onward journey and accommodation from Hanoi. The hardest part of that was getting our overnight train ticket changed at Hanoi train station. Vietnamese are not great at waiting in line. Even with the number system, where you have to take a number and wait your turn I had to become very pushy and stand my ground if I didn’t want 5 opportunistic locals to push in front of me. I took full advantage of my 5ft 9 frame and towered above the pushy Vietnamese passengers, guarding my position at the front of the queue.
The two tickets costs 1600000 VDN, about £53. Not exactly cheap, but cheaper than flying. Plus let’s think about it this way: back home £23 won’t even get me to London and back – a 35 minute journey.
The overnight train from Hanoi took 15 hours, which made this journey our longest so far. It wasn’t as comfortable as our overnight trip to Chang Mai, but it was definitely a lot more comfortable than our train trip to Koh Tao! This time we were sharing a teeny-tiny cabin with a Vietnamese tour guide, who was taking a group of 30 tourists to Hue; and a 29 year old Irish teacher who works in an English boarding school. We had a good chat with the Irish guy until he traded our company in for a hot single female. Meanwhile the Vietnamese guy withdrew into his bed by 9pm.. Not to cast stereotypes or anything…
On arrival at Huè the next morning we quickly found our guesthouse. It was quite a comfortable little place with lovely staff (working 24 hour shifts!!!) and a steal at only $12 a night.
Huè itself is a pleasant little town, but its draw for tourists lies on its royal history, its palaces, pagodas, and emperor tombs. The city lies by the Perfume River and is perfect for exploring on one of the many dragon boats that are lining up along the riverbank.
Our first day in Hue was spent walking around the city, being hawked by street-sellers, taxi-drivers, scooter-riders, cyclo-taxis, boat-tour-sellers, and so on… Somehow we still managed to get to the Citadel 🙂 . I did fall for the sad-puppy eyes of a pineapple selling old woman, so we bought some pineapple at over-inflated price, only for her hawker friends to jump at their chance and push us to buy some of their pineapples too. No ladies, I’ve just bought some, stop with the hawking!!!!!
The Citadel was very interesting though and we spent a few hours walking around it – or what remained of it, as most of it was bombed by the US in the Vietnam War. Of the 160 buildings that existed in the Imperial City, only 10 (!!!) remained. Hue itself is now declared a UNESCO site and the remaining buildings of the citadel have been restored.
We only had a couple of days in Hue, so we wanted to make the most of our second day by signing up to an all day guided excursion of the most popular sights. We briefly toyed with the idea of renting a scooter and touring the tombs around the city ourselves, but we thought the better of it considering the insane Vietnamese traffic.
Looking back on it it was the right decision as we got to see way more with a tour group.
The tour itself was incredibly cheap!: we did the Dragon-Boat tour and paid $5 each for the whole day! This included the pick up from our hotel, 8 hours of programs, a tour guide AND a buffet lunch!! I thought this was all a bit too good to be true, so I did some Googling before signing up and found out that this price will not include the entry fees at each and every place we stop. So we went to the sales office armed with this information and found out that in total the day would cost more like $20 each. We still thought this was a good deal and signed up. However as this arrangement was not made crystal clear at the point of sale, most of our tour group did not realise they had to pay for the entrance fees and kicked up a right fuss. An Irish couple even refused to get off the bus at a couple of the sights because they did not want to pay the fee.
We thought this was a bit petty and our poor tour guide had to explain over and over about the fees. Ultimately we are still only talking about a few dollars per sight, so if people would rather stay in a hot bus for an hour just because they don’t want to pay a few dollars, that’s up to them. But then again we did our research well in advance and knew exacty what we were getting for our money and what we weren’t. $5 would have been too cheap even by South East Asia standards…
Adam and I went along for all the programs of the day and had a very tiring, but packed full day!!!
We were picked up at the hotel at 07.30am and driven out of town to the first emperor tomb of the day, Minh Mang Royal Tomb, which is the final resting place of a Nguyen Dynasty emperor.
The tomb and its surrounding park offers some beautifully landscaped gardens and lovely architecture.
The next tomb we visited was Nguyen Emperor Khai Dinh’s Royal Tomb. This tomb was the most monumental in style and according to the local tour guide Khai Dinh’s tomb was purposefully designed to be difficult to visit: the tomb was built on the side of a mountain with 127 steps leading up from street level, not helped by the scorching mid-morning sun..!!
The climb was worth it though, the views as well as the tomb itself were spectacular!
The last tomb we visited was the Tu Duc Royal Tomb which was designed as a tribute to the fourth Nguyen Emperor’s life. Tu Duc is the longest-reigning Nguyen Emperor on record. Towards the end of his life, the Emperor retreated into his tomb, creating a fantasy-land where he could compose poetry, hunt, and console himself through his concubines.
I must say this tomb was the least impressive out of all three, and as we visited it towards the end of the day most people of our tour group including us were really tired and dragging ourselves around the grounds. The tour guide gave up by this point as most of the group just went off exploring and did their own thing.
Apart from visiting royal tombs we also stopped at a Vietnamese conical hat and incense making village, although to be fair as lovely as this sounded on the itinerary, the ‘village’ was in fact a row of stalls by the roadside where some local hat and incense makers could sell you some of their wares along with some other souvenirs. We bought some chopsticks from a very pushy lady, but we have got used to the fact that in Vietnam even if you buy stuff people are going to be pissed of with you for some reason. I can’t quite work that one out.
We also stopped at a local martial art troupe / school who gave us a ‘very special’ performance. They were actually really good, breaking tiles with foreheads and dancing with swords, etc.
After a rather lovely buffet lunch we continued by dragon boat down the Perfume River. We were taken to our last stop of the day, Thien Mu Pagoda, which is a historic temple in the city. It has seven stories and is the tallest religious building in Vietnam and it is regarded as an icon of Vietnam and a symbol of Hue.
Phew. And that concluded our day tour of Hue. We took a leisurely cruise back to town on the dragon boat and stumbled off, hardly able to walk from tiredness. We went back to our guesthouse and collapsed for the rest of the day. We were so exhausted that that evening Adam and I had our first real fight of our travels so far. Over whether to go out to a restaurant or just grab some noodles by the road. Real, serious stuff. To be fair by now we had been travelling for 6 weeks, spent every waking hour of that in each other’s company AND had both just recovered from travellers’ sickness. I think it was about time to have a tiff. 🙂