We arrived in Hue (pronounced “Hway”) after a short four hour bus ride ($4) north from Hoi An through Danang. We happily checked into Thanh Thien Hotel, where we were luckily upgraded to a suite room. Under the Nguyen lords in 1744, the former citadel city was named “Phu Xuan” and was the capital of Southern Vietnam. The modern Citadel was destroyed by the French and Americans during the late 19th and 20th centuries. Therefore, none of the buildings are more than 150 years old. During the Vietnam War, about 10,000 people were killed in Hue…. most were civilians. Hue is situated along the Perfume River (Song Huong). The big attraction (north side) is the Citadel and Tombs of various rulers on the south side. Hue has a real city vibe compared to the small town charm of Hoi An. If you love history/museum tour stuff, and can put up with unfriendly locals, then Hue could be for you!
On our first day we ventured across the river to visit the Citadel and neighborhood where all the locals live. On the way we were harassed numerous times by touts wanting to give us a boat ride or sell us something else. Once across the river and upon entering one of the Citadel gates…… we were bombarded by tuk-tuk drivers trying to tell us where to go. We later realized they were giving us completely wrong directions and just wanted to follow us far down the road away from the Citadel so that we’d need to hire them to drive us back to see the main building inside the Citadel. They seemed to be lurking around every corner, waiting for us to approach. We finally got our bearings and were able to maneuver to the main gate of the emperor’s fortress, which includes numerous walled temples and residences that were heavily bombed during the Vietnam War. We strolled throughout the fortress mostly visiting ruins and some buildings that had been restored.
We exited out the south gate and ventured into the local neighborhoods trying to get a taste of local life in Hue. As we walked through the streets, people weren’t friendly and looked at us with hatred. We were trying to find a restaurant, but to no avail, we went with the only recommendation in our guide book. There were a number of foreigners eating at Ngo Co Nhan restaurant, so we figured it must be safe. The experience was so terrible, that we wrote our first review on TripAdvisor.com. Here it is.
My wife and I stopped here after visiting the Citadel. The staff were super unfriendly and seemed to not like tourists. We were happy to wash our hands with the wet towelettes provided and happy to eat the tiny bag of peanuts they left on the table as a welcoming gift.
The menu was in awful English and some pages bleeded text together. We tried to order a few vegetarian dishes, but they mysteriously had only morning glory. It was 1:30pm in the afternoon. So, we ordered morning glory with garlic, mixed vegetables with shrimp (took a chance) and vegetable cucumber spring rolls (took another chance). We wanted local Festival beers, but they only had them warm. The waitor tried to pawn Tiger beer on us, but we decided against it. He then came back with a bucket of cold water (with two warm beers) and snarked at us saying the beers will be cold in 5 minutes…. as he placed the bucket on the ground. Read full review
The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
Our main reason for visiting Hue was to do the DMZ tour and see the Vinh Moc Tunnels system. This is where hundreds of Vinh Moc village people lived underground during the Vietnam War. We booked a full day tour with our hotel and set out the following morning at 6 AM with a bus load of 30 tourists. We stopped at a few old army barracks and famous sites where they had old war remnants on display. The highlight of the day was the Vinh Moc Tunnels. The Vietnamese living in the area dug out this amazing tunnel system with basic dull hand tools. The tunnels were quite impressive with 6 foot high ceilings, cut-out family rooms, a maternity room, and even a larger community room for meetings. It was hard to imagine people living underground like that for six years with 17 babies being born. We also spent some time at the Khe Sanh military base. There, the Vietnamese government has preserved several U.S Army tanks and U.S Airforce war planes. Hagglers were following us around trying to sell bullets and coins leftover from the Vietnam war.
Another positive experience was at the Tropical Garden Restaurant near our hotel. We had a fine dining experience including a bottle of Dalat wine for $20. Hue is known for its soups, so Brett tried the Ca Kho To (fish clay hot pot). Authentic Pho was one dish the Vietnamese make only with meats, so we were out of luck.
After our debacle in Hue and the general unfriendliness, we decided to leave Hue after only two nights. Instead of heading back to Hue with our DMZ tour bus, we were left in the main town two hours north so we could catch our 12 hour night bus ride to Hanoi. It would be a long night on the sleeper bus, but we were ready to get out of Hue and hopefully onto better things in Hanoi and Ha Long Bay.
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