We had just one full day in the city of Hue. We got the train there from Danang as we had heard it was one of the most beautiful train rides in the country. However, my aforementioned P.S. on our previous blog explains why I didn’t quite enjoy the train ride to the max. Despite this the scenery was very pretty and we arrived in Hue for around 3PM.
We had decided to check into the Google hotel – how could we not with Jack working in online marketing! Not sure how Google themselves would feel about their trademark being used but if it’s any consolation it is a great hotel that isn’t doing their name a disservice! The hotel is a bit of a cross between an awesome backpacker hostel and a slick hotel. The room was huge and the bathroom and shower the best we have had on our whole trip. We were also given iced tea and a fruit plate when we arrived. Downstairs there was a restaurant and pool table and an unbelievable happy hour – FREE Bia Hoi from 5PM – midnight. Ridiculous.
On the first night we explored on foot and had a nice meal before going to bed early, once again this is explained by my previous P.S. We didn’t partake in the crazy happy hour.
The next morning we hired a motorbike for the day so that we could speed around and see the many sights the city has to offer. Our first stop was the ancient citadel, a walled city with a moat that was built in the early 1800’s and was home to Hue’s emperors of old. The citadel was badly damaged in Vietnam’s wars and is slowly being restored to its previous grandeur.
Outside the Citadel:
The area inside is pretty huge with several buildings including a large ballroom with the Emperor’s throne on a raised platform in the centre where he would preside over important celebrations. We weren’t allowed to take photos here.
Everybody had their place in the citadel, the royal family were obviously the most important and lived in the Forbidden Purple City within the Citadel walls. There were also numerous concubines who were allowed to live here. The only serving staff allowed inside the Forbidden Purple City were eunuchs because they posed no threat to the concubines. There was also a theatre for entertainment, living quarters built specifically for the Emperor’s parents, numerous gardens and lakes for relaxation, Pagodas for worship and official office areas for administration and national and international relations.
Some of the restored areas:
An ancient pagoda:
We also had some fun feeding the giant carp in the royal pond, as soon as you dropped some food in the water hundreds of greedy faces popped up with mouths gaping hoping to get a taste!
Me feeding the fish:
Greedy fish faces:
Hue has an extremely humid climate and after a few hours exploration I was about to melt into a little puddle so we decided to move on. Getting back on the bike was a welcome relief as we sped along the banks of the river towards the Thien Mu pagoda with the wind in our faces.
The Thien Mu pagoda is one of the most iconic buildings in Vietnam. Built on the banks of the perfume river, it is a seven story pagoda surrounded by gardens with each level being dedicated to a Manushi Buddha – a Buddha that appeared in human form.
Thien Mu Pagoda:
After this we had decided to visit some natural hot springs 10 miles out of Hue, this was partly due to the fact that we had to check out of our hotel room in the morning and were catching a night train in the evening with no means of having a shower in between! It seemed like the perfect excuse to try out the thermal baths as well as get ourselves squeaky clean before the train journey.
What we noticed first about the hot springs was the smell, it was extremely eggy due to the sulphur. We got changed and sat by the stinky thermal pool, feeling a little unsure about it all. We decided to get in and had another shock, the pool temperature was over 40 degrees – SCORCHIO! We immersed ourselves for as long as we could before getting out again to cool down. After a while I decided to shower and get rid of the eggy smell that clung to my skin. Once we were clean and egg free we hopped back on the bike to Hue.
After dinner we got a taxi to the train station and boarded for Hanoi. The journey takes 15 hours, from 8PM to 11AM and we had booked a soft sleeper cabin. We only booked the bottom bunks but the two beds above us were empty, so we had a cabin to ourselves which was lovely. We actually managed a good 6-7 hours sleep. We were excited to arrive as Hung, a lovely friend of my Dad’s who lives in Hanoi, was collecting us from the train station and had kindly invited us to stay with his wife and son in his home for the first two nights in Hanoi.
As we started to arrive into North Vietnam in the early morning the weather was dark and drizzly, it looked a million miles away from the hot and sunny south with everybody wearing rain macs on their mopeds. I took a few photos from the train window.
Early morning drizzle:
Getting closer to Hanoi things started to liven up – a guy was having his hair cut in a pop up barbers right next to the train tracks:
We arrived at our next stop around 11am, all excited to explore a new city – HANOI!