While my wife and I were staying in Da Nang, one of our days was dedicated to visiting some of the sights in and around the central city of Hue.
The Da Nang portion of our holiday was very laid back and unplanned, and the decision to go to Hue as opposed to some of the other options nearby was made the night before. Because of this relative lack of planning, and because there was a lot that we wanted to see in one day, we made the very uncharacteristic decision to go on a tour.
Regular readers of my blog will know that as I am not a fan of tours. Shuttled from site to site, being shown what others think you want to see means that you miss out on so much and lose the opportunity to truly immerse yourself in the place that you are visiting. Discovery and exploration in the sense that I’m used to when travelling is not an option.
Being the only people on the tour bus (more of a car really) meant that my wife and I got to chat a lot with the guide. Our guide was very knowledgeable, having lived in the area his whole life. He had fought for the South in the Vietnam War and had many interesting stories both personal and about the areas that we were visiting.
To the guide’s credit, despite the fact that we did not get to venture away from the tourist sites on this day, my wife and I learned quite a lot about not just the history of the sites, but an array of interesting topics.
The Hai Van Pass is a 21 kilometre long mountain road that gives amazing views across the South China Sea and the Annamite ranges. It’s one of the most scenic places that I have driven through. Historically it was one of the most dangerous roads in Vietnam, however in 2005 the Hai Van tunnel opened and today the tunnel makes most of the traffic passing through the area, which has made the pass a lot safer.
Site of the US Marine Corps Battery A, 1st Light Anti-Aircraft Missile (LAAM) Battalion, left behind after the Vietnam War.
At the northern end of the Hai Van Pass is the fishing village of Lang Co.
A while later, we reached the Tomb of Tu Duc which lies on the outskirts of Hue. There was plenty of amazing scenery and picture perfect scenes of rural Vietnamese life along the way to Hue, and it was a shame that, as we were on a tour, we didn’t get the opportunity to stop and walk around there.
The Tomb of Tu Duc is fascinating to walk through. “Tomb” in the sense used here is not simply the spot where Tu Duc is buried – in fact it’s a walled complex of 50 buildings, residences and relaxation spots that Emperor Tu Duc used to use when he needed a break. It was built between 1864-67. There is a temple area and the tomb area.
Moving to Hue itself, we had some lunch (another failure of tours in general, this was one thing that was completely expected). The venue catered for western tourists and the food was appalling. It barely resembled the kind of street food that my wife and I had been eating throughout the trip when adventuring ourselves. It was a shame to waste a meal but alas.
Hue was the capital of Vietnam during the reign of the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802-1945 and is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Along Hue’s Perfume River lies the Thien Mu Pagoda. Built in 1601, it is the tallest temple in Vietnam. Over the next few centuries it was expanded. Major renovations and expansions occured in 1714, and the 7 story Phước Duyên tower was added in 1844.
The Imperial City was constructed between 1805-32. It was walled and contained defensive turrets, a most and several structures inside including palaces, shrines, temples, royal residences and administrative buildings.
A lot of the structures were destroyed during the Vietnam War and what remains is being painstakingly restored. It’s fascinating to see sections that are part way through restoration and contrasting the ruined sections to the renovated sections. One can only imagine how grand the entire city must have been in its heyday.
The restoration is really restoring the grandeur to the buildings that still remain.
It’s truly sad that so much of the Imperial City was bombed to oblivion.
I really enjoyed visiting Hue and seeing all of the sites and scenery along the way. If I could go back and decide whether or not to do a tour, I’d probably still go for the tour. Given the time constraints that we had my wife and I wouldn’t have been able to have seen as much in one day if we’d gone solo and one day wouldn’t have been enough time to have explored as much as we would have liked. The ideal would have been to go solo and spend a week exploring, but this time it wasn’t possible.
The fact that we were the only ones on the tour made the whole experience a lot more pleasant than it otherwise would have been. It was certainly worth doing it this way as opposed to piling onto a crowded bus as we got the undivided attention of the guide and were able to learn a lot more than just that which specifically related to the sites.