Monday, January 14, 2013

At Hue for the Holidays

The weekend before New Years Eve Michael got it into his head that it was time we visited Hue, the old Imperial City of Vietnam. We had heard a lot about it, and he figured, we have 2 days, let's take the bus! That was the first interesting part of the trip...

The bus was an experience all in itself. We got to the bus station amid confused looks from the locals, there were no other tourists there, and it was kind of a scary place. We tried to buy tickets inside, but they said we had to purchase them at the bus, but when the bus finally came they tried charging us double the price, so we had a lady from the ticket station buy them for us. Sadly, in the minute's time it took to have the lady work things out, the bus had already filled most of the way, leaving just the very back part of the bus open - it's a shelf behind the back seats, no leg room and we were kind of squished in there with about 4 other people. To our amazement, when we thought the bus was full it turned out that it wasn't - they started to put stools between the seats in the middle of the bus and they kept putting more and more people on, even 4 or 5 stools around the door, plus additional packages for shipment. Plus, the bus made regular stops along the way like a regular bus stop, and even more people and packages got on. We rode with our knees under our chins this way for about 2 hours, it was crazy.
In the end, we finally made it to Hue in one piece and we able to get a taxi to our hotel, and it worked out all right. Our hotel was interesting, maybe $10 for the night, and the reviews were great that the staff were really kind, which is always a big plus. The funny thing is as the hotel was inexpensive we reserved the "Deluxe" room instead of Standard thinking it would be nicer amenities, but when we got there it just turned out to have 3 beds instead of 1.
As it was the rainy season, it was raining - note the water coming through the wall of our room :)
It rained THE ENTIRE WEEKEND, but we did have some fun amid the storm. 
Hue is a total tourist city, there were a lot of tourists everywhere, and the town center is primarily made up of hotels, tourist-geared restaurants, and tourist shops. Michael was even offered drugs and other shady things while we were walking the streets, a first for us in Vietnam. 

On our journey through the streets on a particularly cold day we were approached by an older Vietnamese woman carrying a large pole with two box-like things on either end, and a shop owner came out to tell us it was hot/fresh tofu. It looked really good, so we got some. The lady got out a bowl from one of the boxes, and then got the tofu out of the other box, then she added lime and sugar. It was hot and one of the best things we've ever had. 
There was a really cool night market along the river, and there we found the best cookies EVER. We saw some tourists buying some and since they were like 50 cents we decided to give them a try. It was HEAVEN.
They were made up of two thin wafers that tasted like ice cream cones, and in the middle was fresh shredded coconut and a large serving of what we think was coconut candy/taffy. We went back for more before we left the market, it was that good. And get this, they were sold out of what looked like a  briefcase on the back of the guy's bike:
This photo was taken when we had all sought shelter from the rain under the bridge. Most of the food stalls were under there and Michael bought some really tasty Bun Thit Nuong, one of our favorite dishes with noodles, fresh herbs, and grilled meat, and it was awesome until rainwater from the bridge dripped into it - ewww.....
Hue at night was cool though, here's a photo of a floating restaurant and it's cool neon lights. Everything in Vietnam uses colored lights, it's awesome.
We ate some really good Hue food, and we bought a crazy painting depicting Vietnamese food just for the occasion:
At the end of our trip we left said painting in a taxi and thought it was gone forever, but we were really lucky Hue City isn't too big because we called the taxi company and were able to get it back, an awesome trip highlight as we are notorious for leaving/losing the cool things we buy in different places.
Other than tofu and cookies, we wandered around town mostly, seeing the Imperial City of inner Hue that is still surrounded by a large wall. The palace was neat, but as a lot of the more impressive parts of Hue were destroyed in the war, it was not the most impressive place to us, but it was really cool to see a glimpse of Vietnamese history.
Here's a cool statue at the Palace in Hue.
A cool pathway along the palace grounds.
The palace grounds in the rain was really cold, but it made for some really awesome shots.
This was the theater at the Palace where they would entertain the Emperor.
We also visited 2 tombs of past Emperors, the most awesome of which was the tomb of Emperor Tu Duk, who was apparently very small in stature but huge in presence. He had a harem of like 200 concubines (never had any kids), hundreds of servants died building his palatial tomb that he used as a getaway or office before he died, and the 200 servants that buried him were all decapitated so that no one would ever know where his treasure was as it was buried with him.
The grounds of his tomb were amazing and beautiful, especially the area shown above that looked like something out of the movies. There was even a large forest-like area with tons of trees, it was really breathtaking.
Here is a detailed shot of the archway in the previous picture, can you see what critters are looking at you? Totally fascinating artwork.
It was really fun until we tried to get back to town, as the tomb of Tu Duk is about 5 km south of town there were no taxis, and we were hounded relentlessly by the locals to rent a motorbike, but we wanted to use our taxi vouchers so we ended up waiting around for what felt like a long, long time in the cold and rain but we finally made it back to town.
As fun as the bus was, we decided to try our luck with the train for the ride home. Due to the weather conditions, we ended up waiting at the train station for 2.5 hours as all the trains were delayed, but the mattresses in the sleeper car we got were more comfortable than anything we've slept on so far.
About 5 hours later than we expected and a little freaked out by crazy taxi drivers, we finally arrived home after our weekend adventure early Monday morning, and luckily we could both sleep in as Michael had New Years Eve off.

Speaking of New Years, I was sick New Years Eve from being out in the rain all weekend and some local food, so Michael spent some time out with our friends eating more Foie Gras. He did come home before 12 though and we spent some time dancing to our favorite songs until midnight and we were asleep by 12:30, woohoo for getting old!
New Years Day we went and saw the Hobbit in 3D at the theater (it was the only English version available), found lots of crazy things at the new Lotte Mart in town, and chilled the rest of the day - it took some of our friends about a week to recover from the parties they went to, yay for holidays!


Ivo Serentha and Friends said...

My compliments for your blog and pictures included,I invite you in my photoblog "photosphera"


Greetings from Italy


Grant's Doug's Matt said...

Wow, there's something you'll never forget! I love that tree at Tu Duk's tomb, cool roots.

Sherri said...

Great pics! Bus ride sounds like a nightmare for a claustrophobic person. Glad you found something good to eat--I might even try some of those cookies and lime/tofu stuff. Love you guys...stay safe.

Miranda said...

Yay for Lotte mart! If you're ever in Seoul, you should check out the one there. I heard that Danang is also getting a Burger King.