After spending a lengthy amount of time in Hanoi and Halong Bay, Jamie and I made our way down to Hue. Many people skip this leg of the journey and opt instead to head straight on to Hoi An, but Hue is worth a visit for more than a few reasons.
After devouring as many beers as possible (and a $4 bottle of vodka) in Halong Bay, not to mention the free beer flowing at Central Backpackers Hostel in Hanoi from 7:30-8:30 every night, we were in the mood for some solitude. Hue fit the bill perfectly. Arriving on a sleeper bus at about 7am in central Hue, Jamie and I made our way over to the hostel with which we had reservations, Jade Hotel. This was no hostel… it was more like a 4 star resort in comparison to what we were used to.
Walking in to the hotel after spending a sweaty night on the sleeper bus, getting as much shut-eye as we could muster on beds built for people no taller than 5’1″ while the driver honked and swerved like he would get paid extra for doing so, we were greeted with a hot towel, fresh fruit, and unlimited free breakfast. After we shovelled down our food like cavemen while being served by what seemed to us like the staff at Downton Abbey, we proceeded toward the desk for check-in. As we motioned for our monstrous travel bags, a guy swooped in out of nowhere and hoisted all of our luggage upon his shoulders. “This way, please.” He led us up to our room which was spotless, quiet, and decently pretty. Cable TV (with English , Air conditioning, a bathroom that had a curtain for the shower… HOLY SHIT, DID WE EVER HIT THE JACKPOT! Although we did manage to get out and see a decent amount of Hue and the surrounding area, we were perfectly comfortable just chilling in our room for our first 4-5 hours in the city. When you’re travelling for 6 months, sometimes you need a bit of time to just do nothing. This was about as good a spot as any to do just that. For any travellers heading to Hue, if you’re in the mood for some peace and quiet, be sure to book a few nights at the Jade Hotel.
Through the hotel, we managed to rent out bicycles for $1 each per day, which we used to trek around to a couple of various temples in the area. The former Nguyen city palace, is at the heart of the city and is surrounded by massive brick walls that guarded the emperors of Vietnam from the surrounding world. The palace is an interesting site more for the sheer size of it than anything. The palace was heavily bombed during the Vietnam-American war, and an aggressive restoration project is currently underway to restore the area to what it once was.
The other the temple that Jamie and I managed to get out to see was the Pagoda, just west of the city. Of all the temples that we have seen in Asia thus far, this was probably the most interesting (of course, we have not yet visited the legendary temples of Angkor Wat). The pagoda was tall and somewhat impressive, but what was really intriguing was the Buddhist monks that seemed to flock to the temple and sing songs of prayer in front of a well lit shine. There was also a sky blue car from the 60’s parked in a garage and roped off from the public. As Jamie and I approached, we noticed a sign above the garage that described the car’s significance. A Buddhist monk from Hue used the car to drive down to Saigon during the Vietnam-American war, where he burned himself to death in protest of the religious intolerance of the American backed Ngo Dinh Diem (the leader of South Vietnam during the war).
On the note of the Vietnam-American war, Jamie and I also managed to do a tour of the DMZ (de-militiarized zone) while in Hue. The tour included a stop at the base of the Rock Pile (an American base upon the top of a mountain during the war), the Ho Chi Minh trail (a road used by the Vietnamese to supply forces in sothern Vietnam during the tour), Khe Sanh (one of the largest American military bases in Vietnam during the war), and the Viet Kong tunnels (where villagers would live underground for days, weeks or months when the Americans were shelling the area). Overall, the tour was quite interesting and the highlight was without a doubt the tunnels, but very little evidence remains from the war (which is a good thing, really) so it’s near impossible to get a grasp of the kind of destruction and tragedy that occurred in all of these spots during the war.
If you’re on a tight time schedule, then perhaps Hue would be a place you could skip or even stay for one day or so. However, if you have 3-4 weeks to spare, then it’s a good place to stop and catch your breath while getting to see history from the Vietnamese perspective.