Friday, July 31, 2009

A visit to Hue

Day 1: departure. The flight arrived in Hue at noon. It did not take much time to get out of the terminal (a small airport) and got in a Mai Linh taxi to the hotel. My first impressions when I got to Hue were hot weather (maybe 36 degrees), local people’s accent (difficult to understand them), and peace (not much traffic).

The hotel was in the center, near the Perfume River and Truong Tien bridge. The room was fine, facing the street and we could see the river from the balcony. After relaxing a bit we went out for lunch. There were many restaurants nearby. I chose one opposite the hotel. It looked nice, but it was so busy, no table left. We had to go to another on the same side as my hotel. The food was fine except the vegetable soup with crab. It was different from the northern cuisine. Then we went back to the hotel to have a nap.

At 4.30 we started the tour . We walked over the bridge. It was one of the landmarks in Hue, very famous. It came into poetry and folksongs. Here was an example:
Cầu Tràng Tiền 6 vài 12 nhịp
Trang tien bridge has 6 arcs and 12 spans
Anh đi mà không kịp tội lắm em ơi
I went over it (to meet you) but not in time, poor me
Chẳng thà không biết thì thôi
If we did not know each other, it would not be a matter
Biết rồi mỗi đứa một nơi sao đành
But we do and each person is at each end, which is sad

We went into a supermarket at the foot of the bridge and bought some water and fruit. We walked back to the hotel and left the purchase there and continued the tour. The roads here were small and so peaceful. But the pavements were not well-cared. We could find some houses with a garden or a green hedge.
We had dinner in a floating restaurant near the bridge. So windy, cool and a good view of the river and the bridge in the evening. My son realized that the bridge lights changed colours, which was magnificent.
We finished dinner at 8 pm. Still early. We decided to take a boat ride and listen to Hue folksongs (there were 2 performances: one at 7 pm and the other at 8.30 pm). The band had 8 singers and musicians. They performed about 10 songs. Honestly, sometimes I did not recognize the lyrics. In addition, the sound quality was not good. No micro, no amplifier, no speakers. Some Vietnamese people even talked louder than singers. One of the song they sang was Ly 10 thuong (10 reasons why I love you). Anyhow, I had one more experience. We went back to the hotel at around 10 pm. Time to sleep to refresh for the next day’s tour.

Day 2 in Hue started with a tour to Vi Da ward. I wanted to visit this place because it was also in poetry. A well-known romantic poet, Han Mac Tu (1912-1940), wrote a poem about this village. And the poem was in literature course book I studied long time ago Đây thôn Vĩ Dạ (Here Vi Da village)
Sao em không về chơi thôn Vĩ (Why don’t you visit Vi Da village?)
Nhìn nắng hàng cau nắng mới lên (To look at the sunlight over the areca trees in the morning)
Vườn ai mướt quá xanh như ngọc (Someone’s garden is as green and fresh as gem)
Lá trúc che ngang mặt chữ điền (Little bamboo leaves cover a square face)

Gió theo lối gió mây đường mây (Wind goes wind’s way, cloud goes cloud’s way)
Dòng nước buồn trôi hoa bắp lay (Water flows sadly, corn flowers sway lighly)
Thuyền ai đậu bến sông trăng đó (Somebody’s boat is mooring at the moon river pier)
Có chở trăng về kịp tối nay (I wonder if it carries the moon in time tonight)

Mơ khác đường xa khách đường xa (Dream about a visitor)
Áo em trắng quá nhìn không ra (Your dress is too white for me to recognise you)
Ở đây sương khói mờ nhân ảnh (Here smoke and fog make the figure unclear)
Ai biết tình ai có đậm đà (I don’t know if your love is deep)

Long time ago it was a village but now it is the city. I walked along the main road and tried to find areca trees and gardens, not many left. The village was on the banks of two rivers Perfume and Như Ý (To your liking / As desired) River. There were still boats on the river, there were still corn trees and the sun shone brightly. And we came back to the hotel over the Vi Da bridge.
The day before I booked a city tour visiting some royal tombs, Thien Mu pagoda and a garden house. The receptionist said the bus would pick us up at 9.20. I told my mum and son to stay at the hotel waiting for the bus (they seemed a bit tired) and I rented a bike just around the corner to cycle along Le Loi street. I passed some universities, hospital (famous for curing heart diseases) and the National School (where Uncle Ho studied) and stopped in front of the station (I stopped here some times when travelling by train). On the way back to the hotel I went along some other streets: small and peaceful and not very busy.
I returned the bike and walked back to the hotel. And here came the bus (big and air conditioned). We went to the citadel and the bus picked up a group of 20 other people. They booked a full day tour. We just joined them.

The first stop was a shop selling Hue specialties: candy and tea and sour shrimp sauce. I bought some for my family and friends. The second stop was An Hien garden house. Whoa, an ancient house in the middle of very large garden with so many trees. A mandarin used to live here. The third stop was Thien Mu pagoda, a pagoda commemorating a fairy lady. It was on a hill with many pine trees.

The pagoda was so famous that it had a model as a souvenir and that it was in postcards. We walked to the end of the place and back. It was really hot. We drank a lot of water. And we sweated a lot.
After the pagoda, we went to the center to have buffet lunch for 30 minutes. Then we started the tour of 3 royal tombs: Minh Mang, Khai Dinh and Tu Duc. They were on hills and far away from the center.

Minh Mang and Tu Duc tombs were in large areas with many trees and lakes. But Khai Dinh tomb was on a side of a hill and the structure was made from cement, no trees, no lakes. When we visited Tu Duc tomb, there were some buildings we could not enter because they were in bad conditions, dangerous for visitors. I tried to visit as many places as possible within the time budget. I had some photos taken in Khai Dinh and Minh Mang tombs. My Nokia did not produce nice photos while I wanted some nice photos for my mum.
On the way to visit Tu Duc tomb we called in a ‘conical hat and incense stick producing village’ as introduced in the leaflet. But in fact it was a roadside shop with two women making these two things. It was here where I bought a small boat and my mum bought some hats.
After Tu Duc tomb we went back to the city by ‘dragon boat’. So hot in the tombs and now so cool and fresh on the river.
We relaxed a bit and had a shower and then went out to have dinner. I found out that there was a vegetarian restaurant in Le Loi Street called Bồ Đề (Bodhi tree) restaurant. And my mum was half Buddist (she eats vegetarian dishes on certain days). So we walked to the restaurant and had dinner there. Only my mum finished her food. I and my son could not.
We were so tired after the city tour. So we went back to the hotel. My mum and son could relax. It was still early, but they did not want to be out anymore. I went to the cafe around the corner and ordered a drink and an ice cream box and enjoyed the city atmosphere in the evening. So many tourists walking in the street.

Day 3 was for the citadel. I intended to include this tour in the tour of royal tombs but my friend advised me not. Luckily I took the advice. We had no energy after the tour of royal tombs. We decided to spend the whole morning traveling in the citadel. We went there by rickshaw. Firsts around the citadel. Then the rickshaw drivers dropped us at the main gate. It was not as hot as the day before. (In fact, it rained a bit when we were visiting a small exhibition room). We went into the citadel without the tour guide. But the photographer, the information boards and the tour guide of a group helped us.
Walking to explore the remaining of the ancient palace was really tiring. It was peaceful and a bit holy in some temples. There were so many plastic animals. My son asked me to take this photo for him. I had to lift the animal up and he crawled inside. When visiting the citadel I was rather disappointed when I saw so many buildings were destroyed and there was a lack of information boards and there was rubbish in some places and some things from the festival left, no one put them away, and the grass was not beautiful. However, workers were doing the preservation work. Hope after that the citadel would be more beautiful (it must take long long long time). We ended the tour after 11 am. We went to the restaurant (which was introduced in some tourist book) and had Hue specialties: banh khoai (cake) and bun thit nuong (noodle with grilled pork). The restaurant was small and dirty and bad service (I mean the waitresses and waiters were not very friendly). And the food was greasy and fat. But it was cheap. We slept in the room until 5 pm.
Then we went to another restaurant to try other Hue cakes (5 kinds) by xe om. My mum and son liked them (these cakes used to serve royal members). They ate happily (partly because they were hungry, noodle makes you full easily but hungry easily too). I found it nothing special (maybe I was difficult in eating strange food). Then we walked to the restaurant called Paradise (also in Le Loi street), a nice restaurant with a good view of the river and the bridge. While walking, I saw a mini restaurant in a small lane selling sweet soup called Che Hem (sweet soup sold in a small lane). Hue specialty. I told my mum and son to stop there and try it. 3 people ordered 3 different tastes. We continued our journey to the Paradise (I had a map, so easy to find the street). A modern style restaurant serving European and Hue dishes. We ordered a pizza, French fires and roast chicken. I hardly ever ate. We strolled along the river bank back to the hotel. Windy and fresh here. Le Loi was the most beautiful street in Hue (I think). The third day in Hue finished.
Day 4 was for shopping. We went to Dong Ba market, buying nothing here. This market was like Dong Xuan market in Hanoi, a wholesale market, selling everything. Like other markets in Vietnam, it was busy, dirty and smelling. They offered things at high prices. Then back to the supermarket we went to on the first day. I bought a handbag, Biti’s sandals and a big bag for my mum and denim shorts for my son and then went to a Bun Bo Hue (noodle with beef and pork) restaurant in Ly Thuong Kiet street. I could not finish my bowl, again.
In general, the trip was successful. We visited must-to-see places and tried must-to-eat dishes in Hue. And we experinced the hot weather here. (I had a slight headache and took some medicine). I was a bit sunburnt.
We checked out at 11 am and left for the airport in a Mai Linh taxi. The tour to Hue ended.