We flew into Hue and had the hotel pick us up at the airport, that seems to be the best way to avoid the taxi scams. The hotel we stayed at has definitely set the bar for customer service. I don’t think we have stayed in a hotel where the staff have been so attentive. Every time we entered from outside they wanted to make us a fresh fruit smoothie so that we could cool down. At breakfast they had quite an extensive menu and if you wanted you could order every single item, all complimentary. They were always encouraging us to eat more or offering to make us something else after we had finished, just in case we were still hungry. Aside from the service our room was spacious, beautiful, and spotless….okay it’s obvious I really liked this little hotel. I also couldn’t believe you could stay somewhere this nice for $28 Canadian!
Hue is quite an interesting place to visit, there’s a lot of history here and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. It used to be Vietnam’s imperial capital until the country was divided in two.
In the afternoon we visited the ‘Citadel’ which is also known as the Imperial City. It’s set along the bank of the Perfume River and in many ways it kind of reminded me of the Forbidden City in Beijing. It’s like a city within a city and a small enclosure inside the citadel called the Forbidden Purple City is where the Emperor and his concubines would stay.
We organized a tour the next day to see the Imperial Tombs which are outside of the city. Our guide shared a lot of information with us about the history of this specific area. The first site we stopped at was Minh Mang Tomb. This was Gordon’s favourite of the three we visited. I personally loved the ‘lake of the new moon’.
The second one we visited was Khai Dinh Tomb and this one was my favourite. It was so opulent and the mosaics were amazing.
The third one was Tu Duc Tomb. This tomb was expansive and included a lake and an island. It was very peaceful here and apparently no one knows where the emperor and his treasure were buried.
We also stopped to see a Kung Fu demonstration which at first we thought might be cheesy but surprisingly it was really enjoyable.
While on the tour we visited a traditional garden house. It was beautiful and they were growing all of our favourite fruits in their backyard.
The last stop was at the Thien Mu Pagoda built on a hill overlooking the Perfume River. Each of the 7 levels is dedicated to a manushi buddha – one that appeared in human form. It was peaceful here and we sat and listened to the monks chanting for a while. There are some interesting artifacts, one is the car that took the monk Thich Quang Duc to the spot where he burned himself to death in 1963 in Saigon.
The following day we did a tour to the DMZ specifically to see the Vinh Moc tunnels. The villagers moved inside these tunnels to escape American bombing raids, sometimes for as long as 17 days. It was eerie and mind boggling to think that an entire village lived and functioned inside these tunnels. The sheer resilience that the Vietnamese people have is impressive.
We also saw the river and bridge that separated the north from the south. We heard stories about the devastating effects of agent orange in this area and how it continues to effect the lives of the locals here. We also had the misfortune of having a flat tire on the bus, so we killed an hour or so dealing with that…it was a long hot day.
That was our time in Hue, definitely a quick stop but worth the effort. Hue holds a lot of important history for Vietnam and if you enjoy that sort of thing, which we do, then you need to go there.
The next morning the hotel organized a car and driver to take us to Hoi An, and sadly it turns out that he was a shady character – we managed to avoid his scam. As soon as he had us in the car, he told us his sister in law owns a tailor shop in Hoi An and we would get a good deal if we had clothes made there. We already knew about this scam so we just said okay knowing full well we weren’t going to step foot in that shop – we didn’t feel like arguing with him the whole way to Hoi An so we played along. We made a couple of stops along the way, one at the lagoon where they have pearl farms, then at Hai Van Pass where the views were pretty – but the high mountain pass in Sapa was much more impressive to me.
We also stopped at the Cham Museum in Da Nang, it was a worthwhile stop with lots of information and artifacts from the Cham people. We learned some things about My Son which is a UNESCO Site that we would be visiting while in Hoi An.
The dragon bridge in Da Nang was very cool and apparently on certain days in the evening the dragon will spew fire and water, unfortunately we didn’t get to see that part.
Before we left Da Nang, we made a quick stop at China Beach. It was a nice city beach and it went on forever. We saw a huge jellyfish on the beach here…we didn’t go swimming!
Our last stop was supposed to be at Marble Mountain but first our driver stopped at a marble carving store. Although the carvings were beautiful, everything was really expensive – we wouldn’t buy anything because clearly he would get a commission from the store for bringing us in. We did have a look around and a sales lady stalked us like we were criminals – Gordon was joking that we should split up in different directions and freak her out but we were nice and didn’t do that. Finally she asked if we were going to buy something, we said no, and then all of a sudden she was no longer friendly and we were shown the door out. Gordon loved the solid marble lion and I would have loved to take home one of the marble tea lights but they were so heavy.
We finally arrived at Marble Mountain and this is where we really lost our patience with the driver. He showed us where the cave was and that was all fine but we also noticed an elevator going up the mountain. We asked him about it, he told us the area on the mountain was strictly for Buddhist Monks and we could not go up there. We bought our entrance tickets for the cave and went in for a visit. This cave is nicknamed ‘Hell Cave’ and I can see why, there were some scary looking scenes inside and it was creepy. Once we started making our way up higher inside the cave then the scenes changed to represent ‘Heaven’, and there were beautiful carvings on the cave walls and stairwells. It amazed me that it’s all solid marble. The stairs going up to a lookout though were really steep and narrow and that felt a bit sketchy but it was worth doing.
When we came out of the cave, the driver was standing at the exit trying to hurry us to the car. I wanted to go see what this elevator up the mountain was all about, so I told him to wait a moment. He clearly didn’t want us to go over to the elevator, probably because we would catch him in his lie…and we did. Everyone was welcome to buy entrance tickets and take the elevator up and that’s exactly what we did, without telling him. We thought he could figure it out on his own and sit there and wait (even though we were a bit worried that the car and our luggage would be gone when we got back). It was beautiful at the top of the mountain with lots to see – when someone tells you that you can’t go…don’t listen to what they say, go see for yourself!
When we got back to the car he wanted to take us to the tailor just to show us where it is…he got a firm NO from both of us and we went directly to the hotel. Then he had the audacity to ask us to give him a good review because the hotel would reward him for it…we assured him that we would be giving feedback alright.
Where we stayed: Hong Thien Ruby Hotel (Beware of their car service)
Written by: Tammy Hermann…Live~Love~Travel