One of the “must-see” in Vietnam is the Road from Da Nang to Hue. In fact, National Geographic included this scenic route as one of the 50 Places of a Lifetime under the Country Unbound category. And passing by this route twice, first via a train to Hue (which the experience warrants a separate entry later) and on the back of a motorcycle on our way back, it definitely is a road worth tripping.
“Who are the people in your neighborhood…In your neighborhood? …In your neighborhood?” Or so the Sesame Street song goes.
The song made me think of interesting things I’ve seen just looking out of the window from the places I’ve stayed. When I stayed in Ngoc Mai hotel in Hue, Vietnam, I was amused to see a couple of Elephants across the street when I went out of our room’s veranda after waking up. It’s not everyday I wake up to see elephants across the street. Surely made my morning.
Taking off from Tomb of Tú Ðúc in Hue, we drove of for a few minutes up to a hill top where another Tomb is nestled among its lush greenery. The impressive Tomb of Khai Dinh, with intricately dragon-adorned tier of stairs, gates and structures, is one of the well preserved tombs in the area. Constructed for over 11 years since 1920 (though Emperor Khai Dinh ruled only for 9 years in Vietnam during), the tomb has some Western influence since the emperor himself was able to visit France.
Another thing I learned about the Vietnamese is that they are very lazy when in comes to breakfast. Our guide Lee Tien, told us that most of them after waking up and before going to work usually just stops by at the nearest corner food stall and eat a quick Vietnamese breakfast.
Still part of Hue’s UNESCO sites are the numerous Royal Tombs scattered along its area. Most of these are form the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) which is the last of Vietnam’s Royal families. There were 13 kings then but for some reasons there were only 7 royal tombs constructed on the hilly regions just south of the Imperial Citadel. In order to access to these tombs, you can hire a scooter or a motorcycle to drive you in each tomb, most popular though are the Dragon Boats which will cruise you along the Perfume River. Dragon boats, which are the leisurely way to travel, cost about $3 USD per pax for a whole day including lunch. Downside here is once you docked on different points; you still have to hire a xe om (scooter) to take you to the tombs since. And you know you have to haggle for a really good price and a good price starts around $1 USD and in addition to that is the 55000 Dong in each of the tomb entrance. It takes a couple of days to see all the tombs. For us however, having only limited time, we were able to visit two tombs, via motorcycle (which we contracted for the duration of our trip). Our first stop it the Tomb of Tu Duc in Hue.
Lost in Lanterns. A Vietnamese girl inspects each lantern for tonight’s festival
We had no idea there would a festival in Hué at this time of the year. The Guide Books nor the internet doesn’t have any information on this, so we felt fortunate to have witnessed their celebration of the Chao Mung Festival 2006 in Hué. We were also worried at first since we don’t have any reservations in any hotel there. Thanks to Lee Tien, one of the Easy Riders, a group of Motorcyclist we met in Da Nang, he managed to book us a Hotel in Hué since there was an influx of tourists who are also attending the festival, most popular lodgings are taken. They booked us a double bed room in Ngoc Mai hotel, a bit distant from the central city but manageable enough and the rooms are elegant and cheap for $12 USD per night.
One reason why I’ve chosen to go to Central Vietnam instead of the popular cities of Hanoi in the north or Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) in the south is because the Central region has a concentration of 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites all quite accessible from the regions main gateway city of Da Nang. UNESCO’s got quite a lengthy list, which I doubt I could cover all of them in this lifetime. And you could never go wrong visiting these sites as they are carefully selected, funded and preserved.
The Ngo Mon Gate and Bridge
Our first stop is up to the city of Hué (h-way). I didn’t expect Hué to be such a big and modern city and was surprised to see how developed it was. I was imagining the place to be smaller, provincial like, with all the sights just a walking distance from each other. Though the place somehow caught up in urban development, the city still have the Complex Monuments spread out across the city along by the scenic Perfume River. These historical monuments, despite being stricken by war managed to survive and earned its rightful place in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.