Exploring Hue, Central Vietnam by motorbike and dragon boat!

April 29th 2019

Here’s to another spectacular day of sightseeing and exploring Hue, central Vietnam, care of Intrepid tours! We progressed from adventure to adventure throughout the Hue area on the back of a 125 cc motorcycle driven by a local guide.

Some of the highlights included: 18th century covered bridge, local markets, 17th century active Buddhist monastery of Thien Mu Pagoda, a dragon boat cruise down the Perfume River, lunch at a nunnery, the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc, and a dinner together in the home of a local Vietnamese family who were close friends of our guide.

All these experiences were magnified by the fact we had been lucky enough to be in Vietnam during their Re-unification National Holiday! Let the adventure unfold…

After admiring the view of Hue “Hway ” from our hotel window in the early morning, we met our “Tiger Team” in the lobby of the Gold I Hotel 28 Ba Trieu St . Just at the base of the staircase, we met our local motorcycle drivers for our day of adventure!

Yesterday was Cyclos… Today we had more speed on our whooping 125cc motorcycles! Before we commenced, Jay led us through a safety lesson ūüėČ. As the day progressed, I discovered my driver spoke some English… “Hello” and “quack quack” (each time we passed duck farms!) I practiced my survival Vietnamese, “Xin chao” (Hello) and “Cam on” (thank you). We mutually recited “quack quack” whenever we passed flocks of ducks!

After a quick tour through Hue a city of over 455,000, we were off heading towards Thanh Toan.

Hue is in central Vietnam and was the national capital from 1802–1945. It’s history includes the Nguyen Dynasty Emperors. A major attraction from this era is the 19th Century Dai Noi Citadel (built between 1804–1833) which was heavily fortified including a moat and 2m thick stone walls. Inside the Citadel is the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Imperial city with palaces, shrines, and memories of a past existence and royal history in spite of extensive damage due to several horrific wars.

Here is a video showing highlights of our day exploring Hue on the backs of 12 motorcycles!

We took our first stretch break by the rice fields and duck ponds dodging a tractor which happened to cross the narrow back road as we were chatting together. We continued on our adventure to Thanh Toan where many local Vietnamese were visiting the 18th century famous bridge, the market, and the neighboring village.

Thanh Toan Bridge is situated at Thuy Thanh commune, Huong Thuy district. It is 8km east of Hue. We enjoyed observing fishing boats, lanterns and decorations, and the Vietnamese version of BINGO which was very upbeat and energetic with its chanting and drumming excitement. The market was fairly small.. but very diverse and traditional..

People dressed in traditional clothing were being photographed beside the famous covered bridge.

The bridge was built in the time of Emperor Le Hien Tong from the mid 18th century. Tran Thi Dao, the wife of one of the emperor’s high ranking courtiers, who grew up in the area, provided the money to build it. The tiled roof makes it quite unique for its age and it spans an irrigation channel.

Although this site was included in our tour the entrance fee is normally 30,000 Vietnamese Dong/person.

Our next stop was the Buddhist monastery of Thien Mu Pagoda. 4 km southwest of the Citadel on a hill overlooking the Perfume (Huong) River you can locate this Pagoda.

Thien Mu Pagoda was constructed in 1844 under the reign of Emperor Thieu Tri and is known for its unique 21m high octagonal tower. It is also renowned as the location which houses the car of a former monk who drove to Saigon in 1963 to set himself alight to protest the poor treatment of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese regime. 

As you can tell from the slow movements of the people and the multiple sun umbrellas and hand fans in the video, the temperature was oppressive–hitting nearly 40 degrees while we were walking around the grounds.

Happily, our next adventure was a dragon boat cruise down the Perfume River before eating a vegetarian lunch at a nunnery.

As a previous member of a dragon boating team in Canada….this was a fun excursion (although we weren’t paddling and getting soaked in the process!). There were merchants on board promoting the sale of intricate pop up cards, wooden toothpick bookmarks, and other souvenirs.

Time for a break from the sun while eating a delicious vegetarian lunch at the Nunnery.

Back on the motorcycles for our final destination of this tour–the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc located 5 km south of Hue. This elaborate, beautiful and expansive tomb was constructed between 1864–1867 and designed by the benefactor himself.

Tu Duc is the longest-reigning Nguyen Emperor on record. Although he had over a hundred wives and concubines, he was unable to father a son (some information indicates it is possible he became sterile after contracting smallpox).

This mausoleum also known as Khi√™m Tomb, was built with the intention that Emperor Tu Duc would use it both before and after his death.

In addition to the extravagance of his mausoleum, the Emperor is remembered because he demanded forced labor during its construction.

It’s so disheartening and surreal seeing bullet holes and damage from bombs intertwined with such magnetic detail and artistic beauty.

Back on the motorcycles…It’s time to return to Hue and air conditioning in our Hotel!

Tonight we have another special event planned…Our amazing guide, Jay, has organized an authentic home visit with a family in the Hue area. We all assisted with money to buy the groceries and the family will be cooking an authentic Vietnamese dinner hosted in their own home.

Here is a short video of our host family and our lovely meal sharing and learning about different cultures.

We are all so grateful for this wonderful experience. Another full and amazing day! I loved Hue! Tomorrow we travel through mountains and beaches to our next destination Hoi An, Central Vietnam.

 

 

 

Overnight Train to Hue. Oi, troi oi! Comfy Cyclo Tour–fun way to explore!

April 27th and 28th 2019

Another day/night packed with adventure, care of Intrepid tours. Our group of 12 plus our leader, Jay, will be departing from Hanoi in Northern Vietnam and arriving in Hue, Central Vietnam, via Vietnam railways overnight train! Oi, troi oi! This would be an experience we wouldn’t soon forget!

During our bus trip we passed interesting architecture–influenced by previous historical association with France.

We also passed several public schools where uniforms were worn by students and these fit youngsters did not ride buses, instead as they exited the school most jumped on bicycles as their means of transport home.

Around noon we re-connected with our luggage, refreshed and relaxed at Hong Ngoc Cochinchine Hotel in Hanoi in preparation for the overnight train experience. Many of our group decided to have massages and/or take an optional Hanoi Street Food tour. In Hanoi’s Old Quarter there is much to explore and extensive food options.

A popular market in the Old Quarter of Hanoi is Dong Xuan Market. It is a fascinating gathering place for locals 900m north of Hoan Kiem Lake. Thanks for these awesome pictures Jess!

While about half of our group attended the Hanoi Street Food Tour, others had done this awesome tour earlier, so decided to visit another popular location for dinner–Hanoi Food Culture. It was relatively pricey and we noticed that most of the clientele were foreigners, but the food was lovely.

We had been advised to stock up on food and drinks for the overnight train trip and avoid eating/drinking from the train vendors. We picked up some supplies from the extensive options in our area. The honking from vehicles and activity around here is quite intense until about 11:00 or midnight, then it slows down for about 6 hours during the night.

We headed off about 9:00 p.m. to Ga Hanoi Train Station. Jay was busy during the day fixing our reservations because the train company had split up our tour group into different carriages with other tour groups. He spent multiple hours at the train station until our group of 12 were placed in 3 carriages together. Thanks Jay!

Trains classified as SE are the best quality train option apparently. There are 4 main ticket classes: hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper, and soft sleeper. Only the express trains offer air conditioning. The trip from Hanoi to Hue via express trains takes approximately 13 1/2 hours leaving about 9:30 p.m. and arriving about 11:00 a.m. There are 4  narrow sleeping bunks in each carriage (each supplied with a pillow and a sheet), a tiny table, a narrow aisle, and a door. This is an example of the soft sleeper (highest level) carriage with 4 of our lovely Intrepid group–At the start of the adventure! 

The toilets (which left much to be desired) were located at the end of each carriage. We used them as little as possible! Our carriage was ‘air conditioned’ (or so we were told)…

Here is a short video of our overnight train experience from Hanoi to Hue. You can’t hear the Foreigner child who was screaming for hours. There is a photo near the middle of the video showing several people standing in the hall by the open windows. The air conditioning was either freezing cold or blowing heat during the night. We gathered in the hall to try and breathe and locate somebody to fix the extreme heat variance problem.

We located 2 females working for the train company. One was sleeping on the floor near the toilets and the other one was throwing up by a carriage divider. We were all pretty excited when we reached our destination and disembarked the train! Welcome to Hue!

Hue is pronounced ‘hway’ and the city is located on the Perfume River. This city was the Imperial capital of the Nguyen emperors. Sadly, many of the buildings were damaged and destroyed by bombs during the Vietnam war (which they call the American war). However, we were to discover there is much to see and experience in this fascinating city.

Our Hotel was not ready when we arrived, so we headed to a restaurant beside the Perfume river for lunch and karaoke Jay style! Our guide, Jay, is getting married soon and we convinced him to practice the song he plans to sing to his bride. It was very beautiful and touching for us all.

Our base for the next 2 nights is Gold I Hotel in Hue. This is our view of Hue from our hotel room.  

We settled into our rooms then headed off to visit the war damaged ruins of the Hue Imperial Citadel complex. The Hue Citadel (Kinh Thanh) was built between 1804 and 1833.

Although war damage is obvious, the Citadel  was heavily fortified with 2 m thick walls which ran 10 km in length. Plus there is a moat and 10 gateways.

We walked around the Imperial Enclosure with locals and other tourists. One focal point is the 9 dynastic urns which are huge bronze urns commissioned by Emperor Minh Mang and cast between 1835 and 1836. They are decorated with landscapes, rivers, flowers and animals.  

We saw the Thai To Mieu Temple Complex and the Halls of the Mandarins.

After we completed the walking tour of Hue Citadel with Jay, most of our group chose the optional Cyclo Tour around Hue.

What a fun and relaxing way to get a sense of a community! Each of us sat in our own Cyclo while a male driver behind us peddled the bike. Generally we traveled single file in a long line of 8 cyclists. I feel certain we were quite a spectacle!

We traveled everywhere from major highways to back alleys! Children would run and practice their greetings “hello” and wave when we drove past. We were able to view sites and local spots that we probably would not have known about. I enjoyed the experience so much there is 2 parts to this movie adventure.

Cyclos were tons of fun… but tomorrow we explore Hue on motorcycles!!!