After a couple of days in Hoi An it was time to head further north, this time by bus, to the old Imperial City of Hue. Our journey started by taking us over the Dragon Bridge in Da Nang, past the marble mountains surrounding the city, and up a mountain full of switchbacks to Hai Van Pass, part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Let me state for the record that Vietnamese bus drivers are completely on par with Greek, Tanzanian and Mozambican bus drivers: insanely crazy.
We survived the trip and enjoyed the amazing views that Hai Van Pass had to offer both north and south. It was at this point in the trip that I started to see the lush jungle vegetation that I’ve always associated with the Vietnam war. The kind you see in movies; thick, impassable and impossibly green.
Arriving in Hue in time for lunch, I sought out my own meal, once again favouring a local meal over a more western style one with the group. I can eat tuna salad anywhere . . . I probably won’t have Banh Ram It ever again! After lunch, it was time for our motorbike tour of Hue and it’s surroundings. I really recommend taking a bike tour of Hue, as the city’s sights are spread far and wide around the country side. For about $15 USD, you can have a half-day tour of some of the royal tombs, a fancy bridge, and an old French bunker . . . all very worthwhile, but perhaps more importantly, by being on the bike you can escape, if only for a moment the oppressive, sticky humidity of Hue.
I have lived in a LOT of hot sticky places, but Hue was by far the hottest, most humid place I have EVER been. I’m talking I drank SO much water/Pocari Sweat/electrolyte mix/juice/pop and STILL felt like I needed to consume more liquids to replenish the sweat that was pouring out of every pore. One would think that riding on the back of a scooter at high speeds in shorts and a t-shirt would be so low-entropy that it would keep the sweating at bay for perhaps more than two seconds upon dismounting said scooter. But oh no, that would be incorrect. As soon as the scooter reached any kind of speed less than 40 km/hr, the nearly unbearable humidity would again take hold, causing me to literally ring out my tshirt upon my return to my (thankfully air conditioned) room.
We did see some pretty cool stuff on the back of the bikes, including a beautifully restored bridge not unlike the Japanese bridge in Hoi An. The Royal Tomb we visited was vast, with impressive grounds and temples throughout. It was being restored, still showing impressive scars from the Vietnam War, and the actual tomb itself was off-limits to visitors, only open to remaining members of the royal family on a single day each year when they are allowed to come and pay their respects.
Next up was a bit of off-roading as our bike guides took us to an old French bunker that was built in the late 40s, used by the French against the Vietnamese, and then occupied by the Vietnamese and used against the Americans. Set atop a hill overlooking the Perfume River, one could see how it was a perfectly placed viewpoint, and in the now-peaceful countryside, offered stunning vistas.
Halfway through our tour for the day, the dappled sunlight and light breeze made a perfect spot to take a group picture . . . even better was the view of our drivers taking a picture of us!
Next up was a quick stop to see how the traditional conical hats and cinnamon incense were made. Both a highly skilled, repetitive and labour intensive process. I tried my hand at coating a stick with the sticky cinnamon incense, but will spare you the video of my uncoordinated attempts. Suffice it to say I need to stick to my day job!
The last stop of the day was the Thien Mu temple, built overlooking the Perfume River over 400 years ago. At 7 stories high, it the tallest religious pagoda in the country, and each story represents a different Buddha.
Behind the pagoda was a series of temples and courtyards, all beautifully manicured by the monks that still live there. The sun was setting and the shadows stretched long across the grass as we were leaving. A final scooter ride took back to our hotel for a much needed shower before we headed out for an evening of fun!
Hue is randomly known for a club called Brown Eyes . . . apparently the #1 nightlife attraction on Trip Advisor. Everyone wanted to go, and seeing as there was little else to do (besides sleep), I agreed to go too. We bought matching shirts, drank two for one drinks, and danced to all the hits from 10 years ago until the early morning. The air conditioning of the club didn’t really do much, but it was still a fun evening. After all, I have to be able to say I’ve partied on every continent, right? Just like nights out in every other place I’ve been to, there is always some sort of alcohol-absorbing food that is readily available immediately upon exiting the club. Hue did not disappoint. There was a friendly lady selling delicious Bahn Mi right outside the door, and it made my 2am, 10 minute walk back to the hotel that much more enjoyable . . . and with a wake up call a mere 4 hours away, I needed all the help I could get!