My everlasting memory of Hue will be of how wet it was, and also how extremely lucky I was to miss the worst of the heavy flooding that happened right before my arrival in the city. Central Vietnam is pretty prone to flooding, especially in the monsoon period at the end of the year and I had just arrived on the overnight train from Hanoi – the high waters had delayed the train by an hour or so, which resulted in me missing the morning half of the tour the Valentine Hotel [affiliate link] had organized for me.
Wet monsoon days
I wandered around town while waiting for my tour bus to pick me up, and those roads were MUDDY as hell. The flood waters from the day before had subsided, leaving behind debris and a layer of mud on all the roads, which the trucks were only just starting to wash off.
I didn’t do very much in my little walk, basically take in the wet scenery, though I did come across a little centre of sorts that deals with handwoven silken pictures. Didn’t spend that long in there because they weren’t that friendly, and apparently you have to pay to take pix (oops!). There are whole rooms of ladies who sit there sewing pictures though, it’s a very pretty and painstaking artform.
The bus came to pick me up en route to lunch at Stop & Go Cafe (it’s listed in the Lonely Planet, so-so food), and after that we headed out to the various tombs of the old kings of Hue. The tombs aren’t in the main city, so I think if you want to visit them, you’ll need to arrange a tour, though if you’re more adventurous I did see cyclists too.
The weather was pretty shitty throughout though, drizzling and raining on and off the entire day. Good thing my windbreaker was waterproof and I had an umbrella, though most other people had invested in a poncho to get through the day.
The first tomb on the stop is that on Minh Mang, 2nd ruler of the Nguyen dynasty. Looking at all these tombs reminded me how influenced the Vietnamese culture and history is by the Chinese. Most of the tombs have similar sections – Main halls, outer halls, inner halls… they call these tombs but they are practically palatial. The layout of Minh Mang’s tomb was supposed to represent a human body, with ponds and buildings to represent the different limbs.
The next tomb we visited was that of Khai Dinh, the second last and 12th ruler. It’s quite a radically different style from most of the other tombs, rather gothic looking and dark overall, with a gaudily gold chamber when Khai Dinh’s body actually lies (fun fact: most of the other tombs don’t actually have the bodies in them. They were hidden away to prevent enemies from stealing the bodies!). His tomb was also a helluva climb up a huge flight of stairs, rather precarious when it’s raining…
On the way to the last tomb, we stop by a shop which had little demos on traditional incense and conical hat making, as well as souvenirs…
The last tomb was of the 4th king, Tu Duc, and one of the biggest ones. It’s more similar to the first one, but it has an additional pavilion by a lake which the former king apparently enjoyed sitting at to write poetry.
By now I’m all tombed out, and we were supposed to actually return back to the city centre of Hue by boat, but the rain and flooding prevented that, so we had to take the bus back and were dropped off at the tour agency. It was about 330pm + at this point, and industrious me decided that I had to see the famous citadel since I missed it in the morning, so I power walked my way across the river to the old citadel area.
Seeing the Citadel
The citadel only closes at 530pm, though last entry tickets (55,000VND) have to be bought by 430pm. I didn’t have a guide so I was mostly wandering around on my own, though it’s a little miserable because of the incessant rain… the compound is huge! Sadly, most of it was decimated by bombs from the Vietnam war so a lot of it is in ruins. There is a diorama and a 3D recreation of how the citadel should have looked in the main building, and there’s a lot of construction going on, so hopefully it can regain its full glory in time to come.
A Bowl of Bun Bo
After that it started to get dark and I head back towards my hotel. I stop randomly at this restaurant called Xuan Trang, and order myself a very local meal of Bun Bo Hue, traditional Hue style beef noodle soup along with Hue beer. Yum! The hot noodle soup (only about S$1.50) was greatly soothing and a nice respite on that cool rainy day.
It was kinda dark by the time I was done eating and I didn’t want to hang out on my own in the dark because the road back to the hotel is a little quiet and dark, so I headed back to the hotel… at 630pm. But all that rain, tramping around in puddles and mud, and the rushing off to the citadel earlier had me tired out, so I decided to treat myself to a nice night in, catch up on journaling and made good use of the bathtub in my bathroom… bliss!
Hue was probably the wettest part of my journey, I headed to Hoi An the next day and it was much less soggy, but I was pretty lucky to have just missed the worst of the flooding, where apparently the water level was knee-waist high. I was only there for one day, so I wish I did get to see more (I missed Thien Mu Pagoda), and hopefully if I ever go back there in future, it’ll be less wet, because wandering around in the rain just isn’t much fun.