My experience of living like a local in Vietnam has come to an end. I am grateful for all the friendly and hospitable people I have met in Northern Vietnam. Despite some not so positive feedback of the different regions of Vietnam, I still find people in northern Vietnam very friendly. Perhaps, I have been lucky and have not met anyone who try to scam me here. I have 2.5 more weeks in the country where I’ll explore Central Vietnam. From here on, I’ll experience the country as a tourist moving from site to site and mainly dwelling in the touristic areas as convenient.
Originally, I had planned to take a train from Hanoi to Hue, but I decided to book a flight via Vietjet Air instead. The long train ride in a potentially cockroach and rat infested cabin worries me. Despite all the negative reviews on the low budget airline, my flight experience was seamless and I arrived in Hue on time.
Hue is the ancient capital of Vietnam during the imperial period until 1945. Home to the Imperial City and the tombs of many of the nation’s emperors and royalties, this city is filled with history and culture. For some travelers, Hue is an easily skipped destination since it does not offer too many thrilling activities or vibrant nightlife. However, majority of the nation’s specialty dishes originated from Hue, which many, were once delicacies served to the emperor. There are just too many things to try! People in Central Vietnam enjoy more bold flavors with more chilies in their food. If you cannot take spicy food, be warned that generally their dipping sauces already have hints of spice in them.
Some of the iconic dishes to try in Hue include Bún bò Huế (beef noodles from Hue), Bánh nậm (flat steamed rice dumpling), Bánh lọc (rice dumpling cake), and Bánh bèo (steamed water fern cake). Variations of bun bo hue can be found throughout the country, but each restaurant has their own recipe. Of the three cakes, my favorite is the banh loc because it’s the chewiest in texture. I also tried Hue’s Bánh khoái, their savory pancake that is similar to Bánh xèo and Hue’s Bánh cuốn which is more like a fresh spring roll unlike the version from Northern Vietnam. As suggested by a local guide, I also managed to fit in a bowl of Bún thịt nướng (rice noodles with grilled pork). I wish to try more dishes if my stomach had space!
I wouldn’t mind spending a few more days relaxing in Hue, but I took a leap of faith to leave that Friday for a guided motorbike ride to Hoi An because of the good weather. Considering myself as a rain chaser, I couldn’t afford not to seize the opportunity. I had met a wonderful bunch in Hue despite my short stay. I always love to get my introduction to a city with a free casual walking tour before deciding on what I want to thoroughly explore. Hue has so much history, I feel like a tour is necessary to truly learn about the country’s past. I joined a very informative free walking tour also hosted by university students who use this chance to practice English and had a very energetic and personable tour guide to tell us more about his city. Everyone from the free walking tour ended up going for the paid tour in the Hue Citadel that afternoon. The Citadel is huge and we only explored a fraction of the Imperial City even after spending a whole afternoon there! On a unique occasion, the owner of place we had lunch gifted us with their homemade bottle opener after one of the travelers from the group displayed a genuine excitement over this crafty bottle opener. Our tour guide said the owner had never given them away to customers before. We were special, haha.
Further out of town, a lovely local Couchsurfer had accompanied to show me other parts of Hue. I enjoyed the visit to the peaceful village of Thuy Thanh the historic Thanh Toan Bridge built two centuries ago. Along the way we also visited the Tiger Fighting Arena, where rigged matches between the sacred elephant would fight a clawless and toothless tiger, and the Long Chau Temple (Elephant Temple). Lastly, we visited Hue’s abandoned water park, Ho Thuy Tien, that is in shambles. Millions of dollars were invested in the amusement park, but it closed due to business reasons. The broken glass and graffiti everywhere really brought out an eerie atmosphere.
My last highlight of Hue is watching the recent release of Kong: Skull Island in theaters. We happened to go on a Tuesday which had discounted pricing that made the already low costs even more affordable. Many of the scenery of the movie was shot in Vietnam. Despite the formulate storyline, I still enjoyed the movie. I now wish to have visited Ha Long Bay! Next time I guess!