Gate at the Imperial City

Hue and beyond

Hue appealed as a city. A large river flows through the middle with walks on either side. It also helped that the sun was shining! After breakfast I headed for the waterfront where there were many hawkers selling boat trips. I declined and kept walking.

Dragon boats
Dragon boats
At the Imperial City
At the Imperial City

The Imperial City was on the opposite side of the river and this was my destination. It was built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries so is relatively young. Much of it was destroyed during the Indo-China wars but it has since been restored, although this is an ongoing project. It was magnificent. There were many tour buses outside but because the grounds are extensive it did not seem crowded. I strolled all around it for the next three hours admiring not only the temples but also the gardens.

Lunchtime 'food court'
Lunchtime ‘food court’

By the time I emerged I was hungry and thirsty. I walked away from the tourist area and looked for a local cafe. A lady selling noodles and barbecued pork beckoned me over. I sat at one of the ubiquitous plastic tables and I enjoyed my meal until I found out the price. Either Hue was much more expensive than the north or I was being exploited! I should have asked first.

I meandered back to town and decided on some respite from the heat in my room before my motorbike food tour that evening. Being too nervous to drive a one myself, particularly in the traffic of Vietnamese cities, I had decided I would combine two desires – to try the food and experience life as a motorcyclist rather than as a pedestrian. I had felt as though I had been taking my life in my hands each time I crossed the road so far.

Fan picked me up promptly, and we spent the evening zipping hither and thither, stopping at various cafes I would never had found on my own. We started with Banh Beo and Nam, both made from rice flour and filled with pork and shrimp but one was steamed and the other crispy. Next stop was Loc, a pancake made from tapioca flour filled with shrimp and pork again. Following that was Bank Khot, rice pancakes with prawn, eggs and ham, wrapped in rice paper and served with grated papaya and lettuce. We crossed the river to eat Thit bo mong pho mai and Thit ba chi nuong, these being barbecued prawn and beef with okra which we dipped in chilli and mayonnaise. By this time, I was full, but we still had noodle soup to go. This on its own would have been a meal for me! Whilst I had sampled several noodle soups by then none of them were served with a lump of jellied blood in it. It didn’t appeal! Our last stop was back across the river for dessert soup. I had noticed the stalls earlier and wondered what they were. There were 20 different flavours made from ingredients such as mung beans, soya beans and taro. Fan recommended banana and coconut, taro and one other. The stall holder topped the mixture with coconut milk, dried coconut and lumps of ice. Fan instructed me to mix it all up. There was no way of identifying the individual flavours after that! To my surprise, I ate it all but went to bed feeling very bloated.

Dessert soup
Dessert soup

The following day did not start well. I had booked another motorcycle sightseeing tour. They didn’t arrive. After contacting them, it appeared there was some confusion over my online booking so we arranged for the tour to start at 1pm when they had found a guide. All the guides were female university students and this was the reason I used that company.

Finding myself at an unexpected loose end, I had to think what to do. Back to the river, I went! I walked all the way along, past the railway station beyond the Imperial City, crossed a bridge further up and walked back along the other side. The walk was mostly in the shade which I appreciated. At one point, the noise from the cicadas was deafening and the racket from the traffic was inescapable.

My guide, On, arrived on time and we set off for the village of Tuy Chanh. It seemed a long way, past rice fields, but she assured me it was only 4kms. We admired the covered Tanh Toan Bridge which dated from the early 18th century and then went into the small agricultural museum. Fishing, cooking and farming implements were on display and an old lady demonstrated the winnowing and grinding of rice whilst croaking the songs she used to sing when doing it in her younger days. The operation was not sophisticated.

Old Bridge at Tuy Chanh
Old Bridge at Tuy Chanh

Back on the bike, we went across town to Lavin Decor. A young female entrepreneur had set up this business as a homestay and shop in which she employed deaf people to make beautiful paper flowers. We each had a cup of help-yourself herbal tea (not the tea bag variety!) and chatted to her for a while before setting off again to Vong Canh Hil.

Making paper flowers
Making paper flowers

This had a view of the river and is a popular spot for admiring the sunset. It was very peaceful away from the noise of the city. On didn’t like it. She was afraid of the silence and being alone. I loved it!

We passed artistic displays of incense sticks as we drove to Tu Hieu Pagoda where we arrived just as a monk was banging the drum for prayers. He began to chant and I would have liked to have listened for a while but we had to get to Kai Dinh’s Imperial tomb before it closed.

Here, I went in alone and climbed up all the steps to the temple at the top. There was an abundance of ornate ceramic decorations on the walls and elaborate painted ceilings. It was also closing, and the staff were keen to move people out.

We negotiated the rush hour traffic back to town. On had been anxious about driving in the dark but we were back in the city in plenty of time. My tour finished with dinner at a vegan restaurant near the hotel. I tried not to notice the rats that emerged from the drains and raced around the tables!

My room was blissfully quiet until the rowdy music started again in the nearby bar. Have I said I can’t cope with loud noise?

The next day was moving day once again. I was spending one night in Danang prior to flying on to Singapore and had booked a shuttle bus again as I wanted to travel over the Pass. I didn’t read the small print of the booking and found myself back at the village I had visited yesterday so I waited in the bus whilst the other passengers had a look. We had two more stops before the Pass. Firstly, at a service station with shop counters and an abundance of staff hovering and the next at a deserted resort on the beach. It was a beautiful setting where we could stretch our legs for about 15 minutes and look at the shops.

Deserted resort
Deserted resort
Entrance to my hotel's street
Entrance to my hotel’s street

The Pass itself was spectacular as we climbed higher and higher. The bus stopped along with hordes of others next to a hill where the remains of some American bunkers perched. I walked up, took some photos, ignored the traders and returned to the bus. It wasn’t long after that we were in Danang, the third largest city in Vietnam. It was very modern. I had booked a hotel near the beach. The road was so new, there was still sand at the entrance and the bus driver dropped me off as near as possible for which I was grateful. The English of the reception staff wasn’t the best but, like everywhere I have stayed in Vietnam, they were exceptionally helpful.

I left my bag in my immaculate room and walked down to the beach. I had had grand ideas of exploring, but my energy was low and I spent the whole afternoon flat on the sand after a dip in the blissfully warm sea. It was wonderful and just what I needed. With hindsight, I realised I needed a rest day long before this as I had been getting irritable and weary.

That evening I hunted for a local cafe that didn’t have the menu in English. I picked something by looking at the pictures and had got no idea what it was. A lady (owner?) arrived and pointed to something else which she said I would like. Too late, I’d already ordered. It was chewy and gristly and I still have no idea what it was. The beer was good though and the rats once again provided my dining entertainment!

Danang beach
Danang beach

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