Blurb: "Hue, city in central Vietnam and capital of Thua Thien Province. Hue lies on the Huong River (Perfume River) about 15 km (about 9 mi) west of the South China Sea and about 650 km (about 400 mi) south of Hanoi. The city is an important trade center surrounded by rice fields. Chief economic activities include tourism and the manufacture of textiles and cement. Hue is connected by road and rail to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The city is also served by Phu Bai airport, originally constructed as a United States airbase during the Vietnam War (1959-1975). Many historical buildings are located in Hue, largely a legacy from its time as a capital of the Nguyen dynasty (1802-1945). Inside the city are the Royal Citadel, Flag Tower, Royal Palace, and Royal Tombs. Hue's Forbidden Purple City was once reserved for the royal family; it was severely damaged during the Vietnam War. Outside the city is the religious site known as Nam Giao Hill, or Heaven's Altar."
We checked into the Thai Binh Hotel - a BIG mistake. We had already planned our guesthouse but allowed a wee man who came aboard the train and chatted to us, to change our mind. Bad bad idea. The hotel started off well but later that day the A/C cut out...well, didn't blow out cold air. We reported this as it was 39degrees and we weren't paying to boil. They decided to argue with us about it...then finally 'believed' us! We said we would go out whilst they fixed it. We came back 3 hours later to find an 'engineer' smoking in our room, sitting on the edge of our bed. Nothing had happened with the A/C and they tried to put us in another room where we discovered that basically, all their A/C units were a bit...umm...crap quite frankly. So, hot and sticky we told them we were leaving...they then tried to charge us for a night's stay!!! We had only been there 6 hours, 3 of which we had been out because of their A/C failing. We proceded to have a BIG arguement with the girl on the desk and also her boss via phone who would only talk to her cause he didn't speak english apparently. We offered them half the money because they were proving reluctant to return our passports to us...Paul was getting redder and redder in the face as he repeatedly asked for our passports back! You see, in Vietnam they keep your passports the first night so as to report into the local police station... Anyhow, we finally came to an angry agreement and stormed off!
We hauled our big bags down the road to another guesthouse - Binh Minh Sunrise Hotel(http://www.binhminhhue.com). This was far better. Family run and very welcoming and, the A/C worked just fine! We relaxed for a while and then headed out for a welcome drink at the 5star hotel just down the road, The Imperial Hotel (http://www.imperialhue.com). Usually the best view of any city is from the bar of a top star hotel...this is Hue's only 5star and is very new. We went up to the Panarama Bar, A/C (a big thing with us you can tell!), good wine and traditional live music. We spent a very relaxed evening there and decided we'd definitely return although, we were a little perturbed by the Vietnamese guy who kept spitting on the floor...hmmm...nice... On our way out that night we got dragged by a member of staff into the Piano Bar where there appeared to be alot of cameras - we got a free glass of water, oh the generousity!! It was quite a hoot though. We finished the evening with a stroll over the bridge...you would have thought we were celebraties, people stopped to say hello, hold our hands or just stare - it was pretty unnerving. A hot night too, we were to spend most of our time in Hue hot and sticky - the lights on the bridge were very pretty and the festival was in full swing. Hue Festival: http://www.huefestival.com/index.htm
Today was another scorcher! We hired a scooter to get us around in the morning, good fun and got us alot of attention! We visited the Citadel but were only able to manage a couple of hours wandering around as the heat rebounded off the floor incessantly and with no wind it took your breath away. The buildings of the Citadel are spread over a wide area, all very impressive but quite exhausting. We visited an art gallery on site - www.phonghuegallery.com - where we purchased some lovely prints by the artist/owner who also drew wee sketches of us!
The Citadel blurb: "The Citadel, square in shape and almost 10km in circumference, 6m high, 21m thick and 10 entrances. On the to of the walls that surround it, 24 bastions are established for defensive purposes. Hue's royal complex has been officially recognised by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site."
Next job, to find out about the Festival, its events and how to book. This turned out to be a mammouth task as nowhere had any leaflets or knew where to send us. Finally we found a small office where it cost us $35 each for a ticket to the Festival Feast - it seems there are two prices, locals and tourists. This was the case for many things, we wouldn't mind however, the gap in prices was HUGE. Next, lunch at the only A/C restaurant we could find "Fancy Restaurant"! This was to become a regular haunt of ours, the service was sweet, the food...interesting...
We began our evening at our fave bar again, The Imperial's Panorama Bar. Where we took some lovely aerial pictures. Another walk across the river and then dinner at a French Restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet, La Carambole. Very nice (fab garlic prawns!) and...we spotted a few familiar faces from our travels there too! An interesting note, we have found Vietnam to be very good on wine, i.e. nice French/Chilean Red and at an affordable price too - unlike Thailand... We finished the evening with coffee at the Imperial, they had Latte on the menu, we ordered Latte and 30 minutes later...were asked if we could help make the Latte!
Got up early this morning, 6.30am, to go on a bike ride out to the Thien Mu Pagoda...excerpt from Lonely Planet:
"The Pagoda was a hotbed of antigovernment protest during the early 1960's. Surprisingly, it also became a focus of protest in the 1980's when someone was murdered near the pagoda and anticommunist demonstrations started here. Monks were arrested and accused of disturbing the traffic and public order. Things calmed down and a small group of monks, novices and nuns now live at the pagoda. Behind the main sanctuary of thee Pagoda is the Austin motorcar that transported the monk Thich Quang Duc to the site of his 1963 self-immolation. He travelled to Saigon and publicly burned himself to death to protest the policies of President Ngo Dinh Diem. A famous photograph of his act was printed on the front pages of newspapers around the world. Many Westerners were shocked less by the suicide (and copycat ones that followed) than by the reaction of Tran Le Xuan (the president's notorious sister-in-law) who happily proclaimed the self-immolations a 'barbecue party' and said, 'let them burn and we shall clap our hands'. The US press labelled Madame Nhu the 'Iron Butterfly' and 'Dragon Lady'. In November, both President Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu (Madame Nhu's husband) were assassinated by Diem's own military."
An interesting place with a rather sensationalist history... Full of tourists... We had a walk around the small area and then hopped back on the bike and set off on the 12km ride along bumpy roads and polluted highways to the Tomb of Minh Mang. It was very windy on the river road and we had a couple of worrying moments where I thought Paul, I and the bike would fly off!! A hot day so the air was like an oven, however it was great to get out of the town and to drive through small villages, staring at the inhabitants as much as they stared at us!
We almost missed the entrance to the tomb but were made aware when a group of locals all came running out into the road waving their arms at us - worked better than a big neon sign would that's for sure...and hey, keeps people employed! We took a 200m walk to the toomb which is famous for its 'natural look', i.e. it fits into the nature surround it. It was built between 1841 and 1843 and is apparently one of the most majestic of the Royal Tombs. Its pretty big and nicely kept, the gardens and river that run along side are gorgeous and we enjoyed them despite the relentless heat.
Afterwards we walked back to the entrance area where the local cafe owner was keeping an eye on our bike. She was a sweet lady, very keen to practice her english and discuss the world. She was around 30 years old and had 6 children!! The oldest was 12 years old and the youngest 2...crikey. She was kind enough to talk us through a quicker route back to town and...we were off.
Lunch was a funny affair, our primary objective was to find somewhere with A/C as we were pretty hot and dusty. We ended up in a locals trendy cafe where nothing was in english apart from the music TV that was blaring out. We used our LP to help us order but what we got was very odd. Pieces of an emaciated chicken which had been deep fried to death, after being butchered with a machete...some sweet bread (green in colour), chips and a very chewy lump of beef. Hmmmm...it was bloody awful. Plus, they charged us rather alot of money too. We reckon they saw an opportunity to stiff another daft tourist - well we definitely fit that bill!
Oh and a wee pointer for you...watch out in restaurants here, if you order something in the menu that they don't actually have in the kitchen they will come back with a substitute - i.e. Something that is NOTHING like what you ordered in the first place! So, when we pointed to a picture of a burger and they nodded we stupidly thought that that was what we were going to get - Ha! They came back with omlette in a baggette. Hmmm...seems that just telling you they don't have something and that you need to order something else is not an option they take. This has happened a number of times to us and although amusing can prove costly if the restaurant expect you to pay for the substitute even if you don't want it!
Our last night in Hue we spent at the Festival. We bought tickets for the Royal Feast - pretty pricey as we got to pay the bumped up 'tourist' price. However, we set off on our wee motorbike towards the Citadel. When we arrived the place was really pumping! The square across from the Citadel entrance contained a huge open-air stage where numerous local acts were doing their very best impressions of Eurovision Song Contest entrants... There was tiered seating and lots of funky lighting - very entertaining. The Citadel itself looked beautiful, all lit up. We used our tickets and joined the throng inside the courtyard, awaiting the grand opening of the Citadel doors. It all kicked off at 7pm, fireworks across the top of the Citadel...followed by a whole host of panicked guards running by us with fire extinguishers! The fireworks had set some of the garden area on fire!! Once the gates opened we entered a real little wonderland. Vietnamese singing, dancing, all traditional costumes. Artworks, displays, lots of lights and colour...and if there's anything SE Asians know how to do its neon lighting and tonight they were doing it to the very best of their ability! We wondered to the dining area, open aired courtyard with around 100 tables - all with white tablecloths and rather ornate centrepieces. The tables faced a big stage where various battles, tableaus, stories etc. were acted out during dinner. The costumes were amazing, dragons, soldiers, royals...and many chinese influences. Behind the stage a large sheet showed projected images, pretty cool.
We were joined at the table by an interesting assortment of people - obviously the waiters at the entrance were ferrying any 'foreigners' to our table, keeping us all together...keeping an eye on us maybe... Anyhoo, there was an American/Taiwanese couple, she was very useful as she understood many of the traditional stories being acted out on the stage and kept us informed, nice people (Adam and Eva would you believe...?). Also, a french couple, the wife drew more interested looks than I did as she was the darkest black you have ever seen, absolutely stunning she was and the Vietnamese were goggle-eyed! Then the last couple, also mixed race - Indian and French - very sweet and had some great tales to tell. If you were planning a dinner party you couldn't have asked for a more diverse and interesting group of guests.
The food, unfortunately, was rather bland but hey, it looked great. After dinner we had a wander through the grounds to watch the goings-on. There were free games set up for locals and it was fun to watch them all gather round playing fete-type games. We were press-ganged into having a go at the 'stick into a vase' game...we failed miserably but provided the audience with much hilarity.
There was an lively assortment of artwork and freestanding lit sculptures. The colours were wonderful along with the organisation of such an event. We had a great time and were glad that our last night in Hue was such a good one.