Next up, Hue!
We left Hoi An and started the three hour journey to Hue (pronounced “way”). Have any of you seen the show Top Gear? They have a Vietnam Special episode that travels the same journey we took but by motor bike. The drive is spectacular!
You wind up a two lane road through the mountains and along the coast. We were pressed against the tour bus glass the entire journey. The beaches along the way are beautiful and pristine. We stopped at one beach while in transit and everything was perfect except the incredibly hot sand. Yikes!
Hue is a cosmopolitan city in central Vietnam. We had limited time in Hue (one night) and the majority of our visit was at the Citadel. The Citadel has all of the architectural beauty that you crave when visiting Southeast Asia.
One of the most fun parts of the day was our transportation to the Citadel. We had pedicabs lined up to bike us to the Citadel, about a 15 minute bike ride from our hotel.
I had been nervous about taking the bikes because I had heard that they try to overcharge you but we negotiated a group rate and were off! I’m glad I did it at least once, it was a fun experience.
Built in 1804 the Citadel and internal Imperial City were occupied until around 1945 when the reign of the Vietnamese Monarchy came to an end. The Citadel is the entire area including the walled Imperial City and the look out posts. The Imperial City is made up of multiple moats, large gardens, a thick and tall exterior defense wall, and over 160 buildings.
Inside the Imperial City is the Forbidden City where the King lived with his wives (no other men allowed). At one point there were over 500 wives living in the Imperial City, amazing! After weather and war damage, only 10 buildings still stand in their original condition. In 1993 the city became a UNESCO World Heritage site and they are now working to restore more of the city.
I really enjoyed walking around inside the Imperial City. The buildings are so ornate! You can tell a lot of time and attention to detail were given during its construction. We were able to enter the large temple and see the shrines to several of the Vietnamese Kings that resided in the Imperial City. It’s amazing to think, what a different way of life!
After we left the Citadel we went to the Thien Mu Pagoda, a historic Buddhist temple. Besides being on beautiful grounds the temple is famous for being the home base of Thich Quang Duc, the Monk who drove to Saigon/ Ho Chi Minh City during the Vietnam War and lit himself on fire in protest of the discrimination Buddhists were facing in 1963. The Austin Motor Vehicle he drove is still housed there on display.
One part of the Thien Mu Pagoda visit that I really appreciated was the Monk’s housing of young boys who live there and are studying to be Monks themselves. If a family can’t afford to feed and house their sons they are able to entrust them in the care of the Monks where they are educated and taken care of until they are 18. At that point the boys get to decide if they want to become Monks themselves or go back out in the world. It’s kind of fascinating to be walking around the temple grounds while young boys dressed in traditional garments are playing soccer and running in and out of dorm style housing.
That night after a little shopping we went to happy hour at a cute bar across the street from our hotel. You’ll find that the term “happy hour” is used loosely in Vietnam and is essentially a ploy to get tourists in the door. This time we actually got a great deal, buy one get one free. Make sure to have cash on hand though as most places don’t accept credit card.