Hue Away

4 02 2009

Hue, Vietnam

I would have loved to have taken the train all the way up the coast of Vietnam, but being more expensive and much slower than a bus, we usually opted for the bus route. The only exception to that rule was the ride from Danang to Hue, which is supposedly one of the most picturesque parts of the Vietnam train line. Having secured our tickets in Nha Trang, we boarded the train and found our seats. Though it appeared that the person who sat there before us had used the area more as a waste disposal bin than a seat, a train attendant eventually came by and cleared it out so that we could enjoy the journey without trying to keep our feet off the floor. The windows were a bit dirty, which hampered our picture-taking abilities, but the view was indeed astounding. The train passed by rice patties and lakes then wound around the edges of the mountains that border the coastline, giving us breathtaking shots of the deserted bays and clouded islands.

View from the train to Hue
View from the train to Hue

Our wonderful hotel owners at the Huang Huong picked us up from the train station and brought us to the little backpacker haven of Hue. Hoi An may be considered the cuisine capital of Vietnam, but Hue seems to have the prize for largest amount of great restaurants. Everywhere we looked we found good grub at great prices. Our first stop was a little vegetarian food hole call Tinh Tam, meaning Calm Soul, which made faux meat dishes that would please any carnivore. We also noshed on great Italian food, creative Vietnamese entrees, and some excellent fresh pastries.

Thats not meat.
That’s not meat.

Aside from endless amounts of eating, we decided to finally submit to the guidebook enticements and do a little touristing. We were hesitant to go on any tours because of the many bad stories we had heard. Though this doesn’t happen all the time, we have encountered our fair share of reports of tourists being rowed out to Halong Bay and then told that they have to pay more in order to be brought back to shore, or of people who try to visit a temple only to have a couple of local gangs force them to pay a “fee” to enter the free sight. We decided to take our chances and sign up for an eight hour tour of the tombs and temples of Hue, which was to include lunch and transportation, though not the entrance fees to see the two major tombs. Well, we get on the boat and the first thing we are given is a menu. We are told that lunch is provided, but it is basic and most people want something else. Lovely. We decline, happy that we brought some snacks. The first sight we hit is the Thien Mu Pagoda, an old Chinese temple that is still used by monks today. Though a fairly normal looking Chinese pagoda, the coolest feature about this place were the wooden temple guards with real facial hair.

Real hair on the guards!
Real hair on the guards!

The next site was the Tu Duc Tomb, an old Chinese Emporer from back in the day when Vietnam was ruled by the Chinese. Inside was a big pond surrounded by various pavillions, concrete ruins, and family tombs. It’s no wonder the Vietnamese begrudgingly maintain these old facilities; though beautiful and majestic, they are a constant reminder of an invader who lorded power over their land. To this day relations are strained. The Chinese refer to Vietnam as “the one that got away.” To get to the Tu Duc tomb, visitors must ride motorbikes, which our boat tickets had already paid for. Unfortunately this is one of those ugly situations where tourists can get scammed. While I got to the site and back just fine, Gage was forced to pay for his return trip, or risk being abandoned by the roadside. It’s hard not to let things like that color your impression of a place. Needless to say it put a damper on the trip.

At the Tu Duc Tomb
At the Tu Duc Tomb

The next tomb was for the Emporer Minh Mang. Apparently old Mang had a thing for Gardens and ‘mountains’ making his sight a little more photo friendly. The pavillions were usually set atop little hills, which were affectionately called mountains. Considering how small people were back then, I suppose I could see where they got that impression.

The Minh Mang Tomb
The Minh Mang Tomb

There was a stop at another pagoda too, but honestly, I don’t remember the name and Gage and I joined the half of the boat that opted to stay on the outside and not pay to go in. Eight hours of touring is quite a bit and with several of us feeling the sting of scams or ill treatment, we were ready to call it a day. Though our ‘lunch’ was paltry and we were a few bills lighter than when we left, we kept our eyes on the prize and remembered that there was good food and a warm bed waiting for us at our hotel, and we also had some lovely pictures for our blog. Hey, not all places can be perfect, and I would happily return to Hue again. I just wouldn’t do any touring.

For more pictures of Hue, click here.

Suggestions:
The temples & tombs can also be seen by bike, though it’s a bit of a ride and you’ll need a good map. If I had to do it all over again, I’d see the tombs on two wheels. Actually, if I had to do it all over again, I’d just get a nice hotel and enjoy the lovely Hue cuisine and give the tombs a miss. History freaks, commence your attack.
– Vietnamese coffee is a lovely treat, but I would like to give a special shout out to the unsung hero of Vietnam, the Vietnamese hot chocolate which is often made with a healthy dose of sweetened condensed milk. It’s heaven and is a great way to come down from your caffeine addiction.

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One response

6 02 2009
Kathy

Gage – this reminded me of your “experience” in Mexico when you were arrested for…..?? Geeze!! Still…. an incredible memory. It’s “stuff and junk”, as your dad would say, like this that will make your Living Spree never-to-be forgotten. And, you will have treasured naratives and pictures for forever. This is why we create hard bound photo albums. Yah – we have them in digital, too. But, just like reading a hard bound book, as opposed to a paperback? …..need I say more?

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