Central Vietnam: A Tale of Two Very Different Ancient Cities. #2: Hue

Hue took some time to grow on me.  Not as obviously beautiful as Hoi An, but it has its charms.  Hue was the old imperial capital, and so of course I had to check out the imperial Citadel.  It was a very hot, sweaty day of biking around, but well worth it. 

Entering the old gated imperial city.
Entering the old gated imperial city.

Hue

Some restored mosaics.
Some restored mosaics.
Turtle hedge!  Why are animal hedges so entertaining?
Turtle hedge! Why are animal hedges so entertaining?
Old imperial city in ruins (Hue Citadel).
Old imperial city in ruins.
So glad I chose to wear my red hat so I could be color coordinated with the palace.  (Hue Citadel)
So glad I chose to wear my red hat so I could be color coordinated with the palace.

Hue

I love the effort that went into holding up this tree.
I love the effort that went into holding up this tree.

I saw the weirdest squat toilet yet in a coffee shop I ended up in for lunch – just a tile floor with two raised piles of tile to act as food beds.  Just pee on the floor and rinse it away.  The variety of toilets in Asia is quite entertaining.  I also spent time wandering around (where I was often asked by locals to sit with them to practice their English), and drinking at the DMZ bar (mostly with a new friend, Will). 

Scenes around Hue.
Scenes around Hue.

Hue

Fun graffiti?  Of course I need to stop by junker bike to take a photo.
Fun graffiti? Of course I need to stop by junker bike to take a photo.
Riding by the river.
Riding by the river.
Thien Mu Pagoda.
Thien Mu Pagoda.
Yep, that's real hair on that life-sized statue.
Yep, that’s real hair on that life-sized statue.
Trying yet another kind of light Asian beer (at the DMZ bar).
Trying yet another kind of light Asian beer (at the DMZ bar).

After the amazing food I had in Hoi An, and being left to eat rice porridge with mystery meat my first night in town (the Vietnamese eat pretty early so there are not too many late night options), I did some leg work to hunt down the famous imperial Hue cuisine.  Apparently the emperors who lived in Hue refused to eat the same dish twice.  Talk about food snobs!  I found some good stuff but quickly got tired of gelatinous rice cakes, which were everywhere.     

I decided to skip seeing the real DMZ (I decided I had seen enough about the war), and instead go on a day trip to Phong Nha cave.  Somehow I didn’t quite know what I’d gotten myself into since I booked through the hotel without seeing an itinerary.  But as we started to pick up others – who all had their luggage with them since they were not doing this long journey as a day trip – I realized I had signed up for 8+ hours in a van.  Yikes!  I almost aborted the trip, but then figured I had nothing better to do, really, so what the hell.  At least the cave was amazing and well worth the trip. 

The DMZ and the river separating North from South (we just stopped to take photos).
The DMZ and the river separating North from South (we just stopped to take photos).
Waiting for our boat to the cave.
Waiting for our boat to the cave.
Of course the water buffalos love the water.
Of course the water buffalos love the water.
...and so do the kids.
…and so do the kids.
Cruising to the cave.
Cruising to the cave.
The entrance to Phong Nha cave.
The entrance to Phong Nha cave.

Hue

Striking my Asia pose.
Striking my Asia pose.

Hue Hue

On the way back I was the only one in the van (i.e., the only one dumb enough to do the round trip in one day) and was trying to sleep to pass the time.  The guide asked if it was okay if we picked up his friend and gave her a ride to the university.  Yeah, sure, fine.  The excitement came when we dropped her off at the university, which is over an hour outside of town.  Some locals begged the guide to let them ride into town with us since their bus reportedly was really late and nowhere to be seen.  At first he agreed to take two people, but then we added another five.  It was near mayhem as they all piled into the van with their various baskets and bags. The guide seemed to have been ambushed and was a bit beside himself with this situation. It somehow reminded me a clown car at the moment.  Then the locals started chatting excitedly and it was really lively.  I was a bit groggy from my nap, but curious to see where this situation would go.  But then my guide shushed them like school children and the rest of the ride was quiet and uneventful.  I think he really just wanted a nap himself.

A highlight in Hue was the motorbike tour I took with Thinh, who Will recommended to me.  He took me around to a couple of tombs, to the Japanese Bridge, and best of all to the monastery where he himself studied for eleven years.  We caught the monks eating lunch, which means we saw the elaborate prayers they do over their food before eating.  It was about twenty minutes of praying and chanting.  Their ability to do that while hungry proves their patience.  Thinh is a devote Zen Buddhist and eagar to share his wisdom.  He was very excited that I was born in the year of the snake, since he said it’s a lucky match with his water buffalo.  Since we made it through the day in one piece, I guess it was a lucky match!  He also basically gave me a fortune to take with me (sitting down to handwrite me a long note), and gave me some spiritual guidance, which was actually just what I needed.  It’s not often that I come away from a tour feeling like I’m in a better place mentally. 

Hue also has a Japanese bridge, but it's out in the boonies.
Hue also has a Japanese bridge, but it’s out in the boonies.
Scenes from the back of a motorbike.
Scenes from the back of a motorbike.

Hue

One of the many cemeteries we sped by.
One of the many cemeteries we sped by.
The monk's breakfast.
The monk’s breakfast.

Hue

The cutest bug I've seen!
The cutest bug I’ve seen!
Tomb of Tu Duc.
Tomb of Tu Duc.
Guarding the tomb.
Guarding the tomb.
Making friends.
Making friends.
I love the ruined parts.
I love the ruined parts.
A view of the tomb of Khai Dinh.
A view of the tomb of Khai Dinh.
Scenes from the Tomb of Khai Dinh.
Scenes from the Tomb of Khai Dinh.
A nice view for a final resting place.
A nice view for a final resting place.
Getting in touch with my dragon side.  According to Thinh I was born on a dragon day, which means I'm fiery (i.e., impatient).
Getting in touch with my dragon side. According to Thinh I was born on a dragon day, which means I’m fiery (i.e., impatient).

Hue

Playing with my reflection.
Playing with my reflection.
Big, happy Buddha.
Big, happy Buddha.
The view from the peace bell, which was a hike up the hill.
The view from the peace bell, which was a hike up the hill.

So while I didn’t fall in love with Hue, I did love the people I spent time with there.  And I learned that there are an uncountable mix of toppings for gelatinous rice cakes…

Hue
Another kind of gelatinous rice cake, this one wrapped in a banana leaf.
Sunset over Hue.
Sunset over Hue. Time to move on…

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