Travel / Vietnam

Hué: Imperial Fortresses, Birthdays and Beaches

We returned to Hanoi for a night after our whistle-stop tour of Halong Bay, before beginning our journey south. Vietnam is a fairly easy country to travel through. It’s so long and thin so it’s quite easy to decide where to go, you either work your way from the bottom to the top, or vice versa, like we were. We boarded a train in Hanoi and it took nearly all day to get to Hué, our next destination. Although the journey was long, it was a nice way to travel. Toby and I were put in a comfortable cabin with two Vietnamese women and their two young sons. They were very friendly and shared their lunch with us over a conversation in broken English and elaborate hand gestures. The two young boys were learning English at school, and their mothers forced them to converse with us, much to their embarrassment. We arrived in Hué quite late at night and we were very tired.


Hué’s main attraction is the imperial city, located across the Huong River (also known quite poetically as the Perfume River, although it doesn’t smell of anything, we checked) from the new city enclosed within its old city walls. It was once the imperial capital of Vietnam. We spent our first day walking around the walled fortress of grand palatial buildings. It was a lovely place to explore and it was in different states of dilapidation; some areas were still pristine, and others seemed to be crumbling before our eyes. We all got some lovely photos of beautifully painted pillars, large looming archways and intricately shaped windows.


During the Vietnam War, Hué was the site of one of the bloodiest battles, and initially orders had been given not to shell the city because of its historical importance. However, this unfortunately didn’t last and many of the ancient buildings were destroyed. Of the 160 major buildings, only 10 remain. It was made a UNESCO site in 1993, and there are ongoing large scale restoration projects.


The next day was Toby’s birthday, so we let him choose the day’s activities. He decided he would like to rent mopeds and drive to the Thiên Mu Pagoda, the tallest religious building in Vietnam, with seven stories. It was a fairly interesting looking building, but the highlight was the beautiful gardens with really exotic flowers and bonsai trees. It was also a really easy and enjoyable drive and we joined a throng of locals also on their mopeds heading in a stream in the same direction. It felt a bit like we’d joined some sort of very unthreatening and relaxed biker gang.

Later in the day we went to the beach. We got on our mopeds and drove to the sea. It felt more like a local beach and it was pretty much deserted. There was one man in a hut who we paid to park our bikes, and there was also a family playing in the sea. After a while a manic dog came to join us, who was hilarious to play with, if a little annoying. We let Grace, the dog whisperer deal with him and I took some photos of them playing together.


We also enjoyed lots and lots of food and Toby had two birthday cakes! We shared one with the family who ran our guesthouse, which we also did last year for his birthday in Bolivia. It’s a sure fire way to make friends quickly! The second cake was brought out by the lady who ran the L’Aubergine restaurant, who made delicious Vietnamese food and excellent chocolate cake

The time then arrived for us to leave and continue south. All in all, Hué was an interesting place to visit. The new city isn’t much to get excited about, but the imperial city was really interesting. If travelling through Vietnam I’d definitely recommend it for a couple of days, even if you only had time to visit the imperial city and nothing else.


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