Pronounced like the word ‘way’ but with an ‘h’ at the beginning (click here to hear), Hue is located in the central region of Vietnam and was once the seat of the Nguyen Dynasty and the national capital from 1802-1945. It is immediately adjacent to a UNESCO World Heritage complex of hundreds of monuments and ruins including the Hue Imperial Palace, royal tombs, pagodas, and the Forbidden Purple City which served as the residence of the royal family and was badly damaged during the Vietnam war.
Through Booking.com we selected the $20/night Phong Lan Guesthouse for our 3-night stay. The property is located in the heart of the city’s energetic tourist district, but cozily tucked away at the end of a small side street that buffers the noise. Our budget-priced room on the guesthouse’s third floor was clean, spacious, comfortable, included free wifi and daily breakfast, and boasted a balcony overlooking the city’s unique architecture. Each morning we’d awake surrounded by sunlight and the beautiful sounds of a neighbor’s caged songbirds. It was heavenly. And the staff were exceptionally friendly and helpful—we’d recommend the guesthouse on their joviality alone!
On our first night in Hue we set out for the Night Market in hopes of scoring some interesting local street food. Situated between the Perfume River (edged with dragon boats) and a public park dotted with contemporary sculptures, Hue’s Night Market was a splendid and festive environ. But local…? That it was not. We saw more Westerners in the first minute at Hue’s Night Market than in the entirety of our prior two weeks in Vietnam. After searching past the extensive tourist-focused vendors offering colorful souvenirs, we came across a scant local food vendor. She was seated upon a tiny plastic stool along the sidewalk’s edge with a tray of whole, dried, flattened squid beside her. We’re always up for something new, so we indicated we’d like to try one of the smaller squid. She vehemently shook her head no and tried to shoo us away but we weren’t deterred. Other nearby Vietnamese vendors took note of the scene and laughed at her certainty that we wouldn’t want the squid and our opposing insistence that we totally did! We eventually won out and successfully bought ourselves a squid snack, but were scolded again when we tried to walk away with our prize directly from her tray. Our Vietnamese isn’t great, but we’re pretty sure she said something along the likes of “what are you, morons?” before snatching the flattened sea creature out of our hands and shoving it into a grilling basket. She then shot some butane onto a couple of cooking bricks next to her stool and held the squid over the flames. Once the exterior of the squid was scorched to her satisfaction, she removed it from the grill and rubbed it between two pieces of newspaper to slough off its charred outer skin, then demonstrated how to peel away pieces of the squid crosswise in strips. The local audience we’d attracted awaited our reactions… It tasted just like beef jerky! Only, not like beef jerky. Even better: squid jerky! We gave our smiles and four thumbs up, to which our initially reluctant vendor responded by first lifting her eyebrows in surprise and then a squid the size of a tennis racquet up for us to consider. We joined our audience of local onlookers in a great laugh.
Our first full day in Hue had originally been intended for a visit to the Imperial Tombs, but at this point in our travels we were feeling run down and so decided to take a day off from tourism to recharge and tackle some errands. While we were loving every day of our trip, and were eager to explore Hue, our bodies were taxed from our daily outings in Vietnam’s brutal summertime heat, the bigger cities’ air pollution, and the consequences of the new foods we were so enthusiastically embracing. And so, on our “day off”, we blissfully slept in, went to a French bakery where we had chocolate milkshakes and a jambon beurre sandwich for lunch, then purchased a replacement smartphone for Robin making her the first of her friends to be the proud owner of a fab new OPPO F1W. That evening, we went online and purchased a VPN subscription (big thanks to KSK for the recommendation!) to cloak the location of our computer’s IP address which would enable us to stream US video content that would otherwise be blocked overseas. OMG…we were SO EXCITED to snuggle beneath the bed covers and watch Game of Thrones!
The next morning, our 2nd and final full day in Hue, we were surprised and delighted to run into Rich Furlong again in the lobby of our guesthouse. We’d met Rich the week prior while staying at Life’s a Beach in Bai Xep and it turned out we had again chosen to be in exactly the same lodging at exactly the same time. We traded travel tales and learned that Rich had just been through the city of Da Nang. We were super-keen to learn more about Da Nang from Rich’s perspective since it was a location we suspected we’d enjoy settling down in after the CELTA program. Rich effusively sang Da Nang’s praises for its gorgeous geographical location between the ocean and mountains, its clean air, modern architecture, and friendly people. And totally unrelated to Da Nang, Rich also recounted his recent trauma getting a hair cut in Vietnam and left us with the warning to firmly decline the additional ear cleaning and cupping therapy services that are offered. He displayed a shocking pattern of purple circular bruises across his back courtesy of the cupping therapy (which you may have already seen the likes of on some of the 2016 Olympic swimmers) and sent us a link to a video of his terrifying ear cleaning. We all vowed to watch YouTube videos on DIY haircuts.
After farewells with Rich, we set off for the historic Imperial City. Based on the map, it didn’t seem very far, and so we opted to walk the few miles from our lodging to the palace gates. We were fully loaded with our sumbrellas (standard rain umbrellas we renamed for their now more commonly used purpose of blocking the hella-crazy-hot sun) and plenty of water, but mid-way through our trek the rising heat of the day began clawing at our energy staves. By the time we arrived to the Imperial Palace we were utterly whooped. The buildings, greenery, and ponds of the grounds were all extremely lovely, but heat exhaustion muddied our appreciation. Thankfully, we captured video and photos of the sites which we’re now enjoying looking back on far more than we enjoyed actually experiencing! We hear the Imperial Tombs are super-cool, and so we hope to return to see them one day, and hopefully on a day that’s not Hue too hot.