Should I visit Hue? The decision on whether to go to Hue or not was a tough one. It was a day trip from Da Nang and involved a two hour drive each way. We knew there were a lot of cultural places to visit, but we weren’t convinced it was worth the drive. In the end we decided to go and booked a private car to take us. If we were going to be driving for a while, we thought we should do it in luxury. Our driver picked us up promptly at 8am and was a lovely young Vietnamese man. He spoke some English, so we were able to talk about Da Nang and ask questions along the way.
Our first destination was the top of the Hai Van Mountain Pass. The skinny road weaved in and around the hills, as we headed higher into the green mountains. Trucks dotted the road, which meant the driver pulled onto the other side of the road to pass them as we drove around sphincter-clenching blind corners. Along the way were small stalls dotted against the road selling cold drinks and promising the “best view” on the mountain. At the top, we stopped and walked around some old ruins and looked back at the city of Da Nang. The haze blocked the view to the main city, but you could still see for quite a distance in all directions. We headed back down the other side of the mountain, stopping briefly at Lang Co Beach. It was a perfect beach resort, white sand, wooden boats sitting on the beach edge; it was straight out of the movies.
In Hue we stopped at the Tomb of Khai Dinh. It was completed in 1931, so wasn’t actually that old, despite the architecture looking that way. Soldier statues dotted the way to the tomb, which was at the top of three tall flights of stairs. It was around 38 degrees, so we sweated our way up the stairs. Seeing stars at the top, we were able to somewhat cool in the tomb itself. Inside the tomb was meticulously detailed with golden colored artwork. An impression of the king sat proudly at the center. We were forced to stop for a cold beverage on the way down and promptly headed back to our air conditioned vehicle.
Our next stop was the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady. This is the unofficial symbol of the city, its seven storeys standing boldly next to the Perfume River. We wandered the green, manicured gardens, escaping into the shade wherever we could. We entered a Buddhist temple that required removing shoes and hats. A monk sat in the corner, with his pale colored robe flowing to the floor, quietly observing the tourists wandering through breaking the rules, with a pained expression on his face.
We stopped briefly at a street market to get lunch, but we weren’t hungry at all in the heat, so we got a couple of cold drinks and got back in the car, our only safe haven from the heat and smells of the market. The driver dropped us off at the Old Citadel, a UNESCO heritage site, in the middle of Hue. We were to spend the next two hours wandering the grounds. The Citadel was incredible. It was massive and broken into three sections, each inside the other, with moats and walls around the outside. Many of the original buildings had been damaged or destroyed in the war, but significant restorations had taken place to transform it back to its former glory. We wandered the beautifully decorated temples, meeting houses, accommodations, and resting areas of its former emperor. We stopped in a contemplation garden and watched the fish swim as we escaped the sun. The internet informed us the “feels like” temperature was now 48 degrees. Until this moment I had never worried about my skin melting off my body before.
It was a slow wander back towards the exit, stopping every 5 minutes to sit in the shade. Along the way we passed a temple that was being restored. The workers seemed more focused on attaching LED lights to anything still standing instead of proper restoration. One of the workers stopped to take a leak and promptly started peeing on the wall of an ancient building. I tried to avert my horror-stricken eyes, but I could not believe what I was seeing. We quickly walked on and headed for the exit. I was done in Hue.
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