Spending a relaxed Christmas in Hue, central Vietnam before the onslaught of Vietnamese roads again…
The 4-hour train trip from Da Nang travels through gorgeous coastline providing stunning scenery.
As you head north, you’re shrouded by tall hillsides on the west of which the train cuts through these, then you arrive out on the other side of steep coastline on the eastern side – beautiful trip.
Conquered by the Viet Cong and held for 24 days with the slaughter of around 3,000 people, then bombed by the American forces, which largely destroyed the city, Hue (pronounced Hway) experienced very tough and tragic times during the Vietnam War.
During recent times, the riverside has seen a revamp and nowadays the Perfume River (Hương Giang) is Hue’s main landmark, which makes for a very pleasant promenade.
Regardless of the time of year in Hue, carry an umbrella or rain jacket. I have a great poncho I bought in Rurrenabaque (Bolivia) back in 2011 and it’s still going strong.
Hue’s weather is renown to be infamously bad and I can’t agree more.
Apparently, this bad weather is due to the Truong Son Mountains just to the south, which appears to entrap all the moisture. Consequently, the city is usually misty, drizzly or rainy. For most of our 8-day visit, I describe the rain as mostly torrential.
Regardless of the weather, we make the most of the time here meeting some really lovely and friendly locals, especially in The One coffee shop – the daily haunt as after all, it is Christmas time.
There’s much to see when you’re based in Hue.
Apparently, the Tombs of the Emperors, located along the Perfume River travelling south of the city is a great site to visit.
Imperial Citadel (Đại Nội)
A must see in Hue and for around 105,000VND (USD$5) entry and one not to be missed is the Imperial Citadel.
The architecture is gorgeous and there’s also a Korean-made video that re-creates what the Citadel would have been like during its illustrious time.
Protected by fortified ramparts 2 kilometres by 2 kilometres of 2 metres thick and ringed by a moat, this walled fortress is a massive 520-hectare sprawling complex.
An impressive palace, temples, pavilions, moats, walls, gates, shops, museums, and galleries grace the grounds.
Intricate art and costumes from a Vietnamese past are also featured.
Leave yourself a good day to explore the Citadel, as there’s a lot to take in but also a lot of history to read.
Imperial City – Bao Tang Royal Palace
Pay an extra USD$5 entrance fee and you can enter this palace.
The guide books are not updated and it seems that all prices are way off – gotta love the way guide books publish outdated information. I didn’t go into the palace.
Although Dong Ha is a closer starting point to do the DMZ Tour, many travellers stop in Hue as there’s more to do in this city.
Many hotels and travel agents can organise the famous DMZ tour but the Canary Boutique Hotel organised this tour (USD$18), which is supposed to be a full day starting at 07:00hrs and returning at 18:00hrs.
Picked up at our hotel then with the usual driving around everywhere until the small minibus is rammed, this time, there’s a revolt…from the tourists.
An Indian couple and a German tourist obviously not used to the Asian ‘way’ of bus travel starts whining about how we need a bigger bus. Wanting their money back and refusing to go any further if a larger bus isn’t provided, so we’re dropped off at the tour agency and here we wait…and wait for over an hour.
By the time a bigger bus arrives, we’re almost 1.5-hours’ late in starting the tour – not great as we end up racing through all the sights to still arrive back at Hue by 18:00hrs.
What is truly embarrassing is that on our bus is a local wheelchair-bound lady who really struggles to get on and off the bus. Not once throughout the day does she make a scene like the other tourists.
Picking up our (hard to understand) English-speaking guide at Dong Ha Town, we stopp off at Doc Miue Fire Base – complete with a propagandist museum – Hien Luong Bridge, Ben Hai River, and Cua Tung Beach. Following a rushed tour to these sites we arrive at the Vinh Moc Tunnels, which are amazing and the highlight of today.
Continuing on to the Rockpile, Dakrong Bridge, Ho Chi Minh Trail, Highway No. 9, Ethnic Minority Village – on the side of the road and only for a 10-minute break – before travelling to Khe Sanh Combat Base. This tour is too rushed.
As you can imagine, there’s much to ram into the day with such an itinerary – it doesn’t help that our tour started very late then it’s a mad rush. In hindsight, we should have opted out and done this tour another day.
To give you an idea of this packed day, our same tour company used to start this tour at 06:00hrs so as to get through all the sites.
You stop for lunch at the tour agencies’ restaurant, which serves terrible food at inflated prices.
I suggest you take a walk outside and onto the street to seek some other place to eat. I don’t appreciate paying 3 times a local restaurant’s price for fried noodles, especially when it’s awful 2-minute noodles and not even real noodles.
Canary Boutique Hotel on Tru Street has to be one of the best-priced hotels in Hue.
All staff are super friendly staff, but especially managers Ruby and Bhoung – always smiling, having a laugh, and help with whatever you need.
Very clean, room is serviced daily, fridge, kettle, great hot water, and good wi-fi in room. A couple of dogs yelped early in the morning for a while, which affected the sleep quality, but this is Asia.
On arrival the bed even has fresh rose petals and towels are sculptured into cute piglet sculptures.
After a wonderful stay of 8 nights, it’s very sad to leave this hotel.
After 9 months on the road and eating out every day twice a day, decide to spend Christmas day differently. Visiting our favourite The One haunt for the morning’s coffee fix – after the initial Viet coffee fix at breakfast – then retire to the Canary for the rest of the day.
Christmas dinner includes red wine, lovely cheese, freshly baked baguette, sliced ham, black olives, and chocolate for dessert – purchased from the Big C Supermarket.
These types of western food we take for granted at home, are expensive throughout SE Asia or sometimes just hard to find so a wonderful Christmas treat!
On 03 Hung Vuong Street, this funky cafe only opened a few days and serves excellent coffee, shakes, cakes, and savouries.
A great atmosphere, loads of seating,and visited by many locals but also foreign tourists – price range: drinks: 15,000-45,000VND; cakes and savouries: 15,000-30,000VND.
The service is excellent from the friendly staff, which make every effort to ensure you have a pleasant experience – Hà Gia Quý Khánh is always smiling and eager to help.
There’s also good free wi-fi here. In Hue for a week and The One serves the best coffee.
Stroll along 21 Vo Thi Sau to Sunlight, which advertises a Cappuccino and it’s priced accordingly on the menu. You expect a Cappuccino, right? Wrong! Instead, it’s a 3-in-1 instant coffee mix and passed up as a Cappuccino – awful.
The pizza isn’t the best here and my Vietnamese dish is average. The red wine isn’t good. The service is OK; however, I’d nearly finished my meal when my partner’s pizza turned up. This bar is recommended in the ‘bible’, so thought to give it a go but don’t bother.
Big C Supermarket
On Ba Trieu Planning Area, Hung Vuong street, Phu Hoi Ward, this supermarket is your go-to for all your grocery supplies – popular throughout Vietnam and Thailand, there’s even a cinema at the top floor of this mall.
Leaving Hue for Dong Hoi
This journey is said to be picturesque…