Our journey to Hue from nearby city Danang in Central Vietnam had us go through a mandatory discomfort in a small, cramped bus (and being puked on by a seat mate) before finding peace in another old city that lives in the present.
By the time we arrived in Hue, it was nighttime but we drowned our worries of dealing with overbooked dormitels by eating heaps of rice and beef.
We didn’t have to worry, really. Hue City Hostel (40 Chu Van An Street) had more than enough space for two weary travelers. The hotel staff was friendly and accommodating; their chic dorm room (with paintings and red/white wall decals) was unbelievably cheap for its kind.
That’s how we ended up sleeping until noon the next day. Clearly, we were getting too comfortable in a dormitel that was so much better than the crappy ones we’ve had in Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An.
We rented a motorbike to catch up on our flexible (and Wikitravel-based itinerary). We drove to the Thien Mu pagoda and a temple of literature beautifully located by a river.
When we could walk around no more, we rested our weary feet.
By the Perfume River, we sat. Until we saw the sun set, marking another day of our tiring travel.
Watching tourist boats that pose a sort of genteel royalty by their designs, anyone couldn’t tell which way the rapid goes. Song Huong, which is translated as river (song) and perfume (Huong), has the calmness of a lake amid the daily traffic of those small sailing vessels under three bridges Trang Tien, Cau Phu Xuan, and Cau Da Vien.
Although river cruises and tours to royal tombs and pagodas keep the food coming to their tables, the locals continue to rely on the river for their everyday life. Fishing boats are still among those docked at the riverbanks. Carrying basins of clothes and detergents, women sometimes do laundry using the river water. The smell of their fabric conditioner did not miss our nose while having late lunch in a riverside restaurant on Thursday. Although its name does not describe the river literally, being there in time for their laundry left us no reason to argue why it’s called the Perfume River. But, some Vietnamese say that “Huong” is a female Vietnamese name.
The river draws a line in the middle of Hue City in Central Vietnam. At the one side, the Imperial City surrounded by moats stand valiant and untouched. Its bricked walls keep the legend of Nguyen dynasty since the 17th Century. The Purple Forbidden City stays protected inside.
It was on top priority of our itinerary and we had to make sure we’d wake up early for it the next day.
Touring the Purple Forbidden City was like attending world history class on June at school. Everything about it is exciting – for the first 20 minutes.
After some time of walking around the ancient, Confucian philosophy-inspired oriental architectures (and after walking under the heat of the sun like students in a Philippine public high school), our curiosity waned.
Exhaustion and hunger started to kick in after we explored the forbidden city of 2.5 kilometers in perimeter and surrounded by moats.
But that’s not to say that we didn’t take notes. We did. And we’re more than ready to ace a pop quiz about the Palace of Supreme Harmony, Thai Hoa Palace, and the Noon Gate.
The majestic Noon gate features strong stone brick foundation and five entrances (each for certain kinds of people who reside in the city). The entrance at the center of the gate is solely reserved for the emperor – no one else. That’s why we had to go through the left gate (used by soldiers in the past, and now visiting tourists in the present; the Vietnamese who toured the place pass through the right gate and pay a smaller amount for the entrance fee).
The Palace of Supreme Harmony basks under the sun in its glory: from the Oriental roof decorations, to the lacquered details of dragons in columns, and to the finely crafted gold-plated throne. All these are said to be in harmony of each other, just like the emperor’s relationship with his subjects. Chinese poems about peace and prosperity throughout the Nguyen dynasty can also be seen hung by the ceiling.
All these beauty are reserved for our eyes only; the museum doesn’t allow visitors to take photos. Bummer.
The second part of the tour had us driving around the Imperial City to get to the Hue fine arts museum. It housed a number of ancient relics: from fancy ceramics from China and France, to ancient weaponry and coins.
Spittoons and spears and books with pages of copper became topics of conversation. Soon after, we drove back to the city for some lunch in a food place that Jesse Googled.
We didn’t take naps after eating lunch. Our last few hours in Hue had to be meaningful. We’ve yet to cross the tomb visits in our itinerary.
We visited Tu Duc where we witnessed more old spots of resting places of important people in Vietnam. Emperor Tu Duc was the fourth ruler of the Nguyen dynasty. The tomb that we visited was constructed in three years with some 50 monuments that used to stand erect around it. The area used to be an alternative city where the emperor would go to for “working vacations.”
Tu Duc tomb is said to be one of the finest in Hue. It is an excellent example of Vietnamese Buddhist aesthetics and architecture. It has a lake, wooden pavilions, and temples dedicated to the emperor’s wives and concubines.
The best part of the visit (other than the thrilling motorbike ride) was dressing up with royal clothes and having our photos taken in a throne. We donned replicas of king and queen robes and posed for the camera like we were Asia’s Next Top Model.
At the end of the day, we sulked in the lobby of our hostel and washed our tired souls with Hue beer. Then we realized something: we missed to experience night life in Hue.
A quick Google search gave a solution: a quick visit to Brown Eyes (56 Chu Van An), just a few meters near where we sleep.
The small bar/nightclub was packed by mostly young European tourists and some Vietnamese. The interior of the bar isn’t something a partyphile would describe as “cool” but that’s the beauty of it. The hodgepodge of graffiti, lights, posters, and flags of different countries make the bar appealing to anyone who wants a good time.
And while we didn’t have to dress up to enjoy some beer and music (the bass in the speakers were a delight and their playlist wasn’t bad, except for the occasional Gangnam Style and Call Me Maybe moments), Jesse was too worried about being stepped on by people wearing shoes. His solution? Dance next to European backpackers who are also wearing flip-flops.
Lorie spotted a Vietnamese bartender who looked like Filipino actor Polo Ravales too. That, along with the temples and ancient architecture, was another great sight in Hue.
(Lorie and Jesse were both fellows of FK Norway’s exchange program in Asia)