19.10.2016 - 22.10.2016
Having avoided Typhoon Sarika we arrived midday and found it eerily quiet on the streets, we felt like the city had been evacuated and we are wandering around oblivious. But that was clearly the ' down' time as a busyness returned as the day progressed and the city came alive at night, but not as chaotic as Hanoi.
The 20th October was 'Women's Day' in Hue and flowers were being sold from every corner and bouquets of all sizes transported on motorbikes everywhere you looked.
We were amazed at number of locals out socialising in restaurants and bars to the late hours every night, all dressed to impressed.
The visit to the Vinh Moc Tunnels to see how the villagers built and lived with the hand made tunnels for 6 years during the American War.
We didn't find the Xe Co coffee shop sooner 😜
Nothing really 😊
We wandered the streets by day and by night. The city is quite sedate by day, with lots of silk shops offering ready made or tailored clothes that could be ready in just 4 hours and you couldn't go far without being offered hand made cards and hand painted traditional scenes on silk or if by the water a ride up the Perfume River. By night the city comes to life with general hustle and bustle, the cafes and restaurants lit up with lanterns and effective lighting and music blaring from some of the pubs. The riverfront was also lit up with fairy lights and lanterns and with people selling their wares and stalls offering food and drink popping up everywhere. This was also the hang out for lots AND LOTS of young adults: milling around or sat in groups talking, playing music and singing.
We had pre organised a day tour to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) with a Vietnamese veteran as a guide and this was certainly worth the money as he provided an insight into his own involvement in the war as well as general information about the French and American wars and events at the places we visited.
Mr Vinh - our guide, came from Hue and was compulsory enlisted to the South Vietnamese Army but because his English was very good he worked as an interpreter for the American Army in the intelligence branch for names such as Nelson, Ramsey and General Colonel Powell (April 69-70). His position was Sargent First Class of Republic of Vietnamese Army and because of the work he did he was awarded the Army Commendation Medal by America. He was wounded by a grenade and was in a military hospital and after the war he was captured by VC local forces in Danang and Imprisoned as a prisoner of war. He did not admit to having worked for America Army Intelligence, saying he was only an engineer in the South Vietnamese Army and was sent for reeducation and eventually released but had to reapply for Vietnamese citizenship.
Our trip to the DMZ began traveling north along Highway 1, passing a number of VC local forces cemeteries with hundreds of unmarked graves for the unknown fallen soldiers.
Our first stop was at La Vang- the Holy Land in the Hai Lang District, a catholic sanctuary famous for Mother Mary"s appearance in 1798. The area was used as a VC base during the war and as a result was badly bombed by the Americans.
Next we travelled through Quang Tri City - where the citadel was completely distoryed by B52 bombers, and the countryside of Quang Tri Province along the South China Sea.
Further north the Ben Hai River marked the boarder between North and South Vietnam and the DMZ stretched 5 km each side of the river and the 100km along it from the South China Sea to the Laos broader. The DMZ was created as a result of the Geneva Convention in 1954 to end the French occupation.
The Hien Luong Bridge crosses the river and a line marks the location of the boarder between the north and south. On the North side there is a UN Office- which was used to hold meetings regarding the maintenance of the DMZ, a North Vietnam Governmrnt flag pole and a museum. There is now a new bridge for traffic, but it is possible to walk across the original bridge and to stand with one foot on side of the boarder.
North of the river lies Vinh Moc Village and the Vinh Moc Tunnels which were crested by hand to provide a safe place for the villagers as the area was being heavily bombed by the Americans. The tunnels have 13 entrances and reach 38m underground, having sleeping, cooking and bathing areas as well as weapon storage and meeting rooms, and the villagers lived within them overnight or during bombings for 6 years with 17 babies being born underground.
After breakfast the next day we took a cyclo over the Trang Tien Bridge and Perfume River to the north side of the river for a self directed tour of Hue Citadel. The cyclo ride itself was an adventure, especially when turning left into the oncoming traffic and jumping a red light to cross the bridge.
The Citadel is heavily fortified with distinct sections: the Imperial Enclosure and Forbidden Purple City forming epicentre of Vietnamese royal life for the Nguyem Dynasty.
The Imperial Enclosure is a Citadel within a Citadel housing the Emperors residence, Palace, Temples and main buildings of State with the Forbidden Purple City for the sole use of the Emperor.
The Citadel was badly bombed during the French and American wars with only 20 of the 148 buildings within the Imperial Enclosure surviving and the Forbidden Purple City being left in ruins.
We walked as the Emperors' would have done to enter the Imperial Enclosure: through the Ngo Mon Gate and over the Trung Dao Bridge to the Thai Hoa Palace. We also saw the Halls of the Mandarins, Can Chanh Palace, Emperor's Reading Room , Co Ha Gardens, Royal Theatre and the To Mieu Temple Complex within this complex. The To Mieu Temple Complex is a walled complex containing Hiem Lan Pavilion, the to Mieu Temple - housing shrines to seven Emperors and the nine dynastic urns- each dedicated to one Nguyen sovereign
After a hot and sweaty morning visiting the Citadel we caught a cyclo back for a cool down by the pool.
Eating and drinking:
Our first stop for lunch was the Mandarin cafe were the owner- Mr Cu's photography coveted the walls. Here we tried some local Hue specialities: Banh Khoai- rice pancake with shrimp, pork and veg served with peanut sauce, Hue beef noodle soup and fresh spring rolls with pork lemon grass skewers DIY style. Great food at reasonable prices.
Le's Garden offered a quiet relaxed setting to recharge with local beer snd cocktails, especially when 2 for 1 during happy hour(s).
In addition to the regular Vietnamese coffee offerings T'House had all the 'western' coffees including their own 'layered' latte which consisted of a macchiato, latte and coconut milk which was sweet and yummy, The egg coffee was also thick and creamy but a little costly.
Little Italy was full of locals celebrating Woman's Day but we managed to get a table on the rooftop to enjoy the view and our free caramel vodka shots before sharing a pizza and pasta.
Shiva Shakti Indian was unexpected delight, great service and yummy food at reasonable prices.
We found Xe Co coffee shop quite by accident when wandering down a quiet street on our last night and we wished we had found it earlier. An awesome tiny, eclectic cafe with just locals sitting at an array of different miniature table and chairs/ our table being a window shutter with legs. We were provided with complementary tea and the drinks were all reasonably priced, including the egg coffee which was very good.
The coconut coffee at Tipsy was very good, as was the Banh Khoai and Banh Mi pate, but double the price of the street vendors. The staff were great at helping us with our Vietnamese and we learnt a few more words to add to our list.
Asia Hotel- Asia hotel- located in a great spot on south bank, the large rooms were well equipped with huge comfy beds and views over the city.