After experiencing the cold of the north, we ventured south for warmer climates. First stop, the Imperial Capital, Hue.
Hue is an important city in Vietnamese history. Situated half way down the country (or up depending on your origin) it served as home to the Nguyen dynasty, influential during French colonisation and with it's proximity to 'Parallel 17' (the north/south divide) and the DMZ Demilitarised Zone which was where much of the Vietnam/American war was fought, it is a city steeped in history.
Our hostel (Hue Melody Hostel) was located directly on the walking street in Hue, which is full of bustling bars and restaurants. A great little hostel, offering the cheapest tours we could find, perfect location and with breakfast included it was only £3 a night for a bed in a dorm!
After checking in, we decided to check out the town. Being only a short walk away from Perfume River, we took a stroll along it's banks on route to the Imperial Citadel. We highly recommend a walk along here at sunset, it is a beautiful image with sun catching the Perfume River against the silhouettes of the local boats.
After crossing a tiny bridge which pedestrians and traffic seem to successfully weave in and out of each other, you are struck with the impressive entrance to the Imperial Citadel. This was top of our list of things to do in Hue, so we paid the entrance fee of 200,000 VND (£6.50) each for entry. There are audio guides available but almost everything inside has an English translation, so we didn't find it necessary.
The Citadel is dressed impressively with colour, giving you a sense of what it would have felt like during the Nguyen dynasty. If that is not enough, there are plenty of artefacts and imagery of it in it's 'hay day'. A particular highlight was the theatre, filled with the costumes that would have been used during the performances. If you are lucky, you may catch a performance at 10am and 3pm daily (we weren't lucky) which due to it's intimate layout I can imagine would be a very immersive experience!
We capped off our evening with a meal along the walking street and then a bar to watch the football :)
One excursion we do recommend is the DMZ tour. If war history interests you or even to just get an idea of what the country has been through, this is a must. It is a full day tour and cost us 450,000 VND each (£15) through the hostel - the cheapest we found. I guess you could hire a moped and do it yourself, but having a guide and sat in a normal seat for that length of time we felt was well worth it!
The route to 'Parallel 17' took us to several sites including a stop at Dong Ha, the old US Marine base turned museum, full of US army relics, painting a vivid picture of life at this base. We then visited the Vinh Moc tunnels, which highlighted the incredible resilience and ingenuity of the Vietnamese during the war.
It also included visits to the bridge across Ben Hai river, Hamburger Hill and Rockpile Mountain.
If you are only going to do one thing in Vietnam that reflects this war, then we recommend this trip. The next day we booked a scooter and paid for our backpacks to be sent onto Hoi An, so we could ride the infamous (thanks to Top Gear) Hai Van pass.
Hai Van Pass
Inspired by the Top Gear episode where the 3 of them buy budget 2 wheel automobiles and ride south to north, this route has gained popularity for it's breathtaking views and awesome road, described by Clarkson as 'a deserted ribbon of perfection'.
This is hands down the best experience we have had travelling. With Stu at the helm, we took the 150km ride from Hue to Hoi An, not really knowing what to expect. A bit high on adrenaline, this being only the second time we have taken a scooter, it was interesting navigating the traffic from Hue but we did it successfully and without incident.
It takes about 1 hour 30mins to reach the pass and the road is fairly simple to follow once out of Hue. As soon as we reached the foothills of the pass we knew we were going to be in for a treat. A stop as soon as we completed the first incline gave us a view over Hue and the coast line, the railway, their impressive bridge and a traditional fishing village - which is almost the perfect representation of Vietnam.
With the throttle fully down and not getting much over 30km/h, our little scooter 'Frank' did struggle but at least at this speed it allowed us to fully take in the beauty of this pass. We did consider the safer option of a coach or train but the freedom and fun of hiring a scooter is well worth it and we are so pleased we opted for it.
After alot of effort from 'Frank' we got to the top. Stu did a great job on him, dodging the tankers and other 2 wheel machines on the pass with the only incident being when he nearly crashed into a coffee shop (and it's owner) at the top :)!! Still I think you will agree the stunning view above, is well worth the £15 (including fuel) and 3 hours on small seat!
Hands down best thing we did! After snaking through the pass and a brief stop in Da Nang we made it to the beautiful and quaint Hoi An.
It was a toss up of either staying in Hoi An or Da Nang and thankfully we picked Hoi An. Nothing against Da Nang, but it is difficult to compete with the vibrancy and romance of Hoi an.
Hoi An used to be a bustling port, where people from all over the world traded their wears. Seeing it now, it is easy to picture it in this time. A combination of tight streets, chic colonial and Vietnamese buildings, decorative bridges, coffee shops, restaurants, street vendors, performers, hawkers and throwing 'traditional' lanterns and a river makes this a must see city in Vietnam.
We stayed 2 nights here and spent the entire time wandering the streets, sampling the amazing food (particularly White Rose and Cao Lau which are local dishes) and sitting in coffee shops, watching life here unfold. We stayed in 2 hostels in Hoi An, be cause we decided to say an extra night and they had no room at the first. We recommend both 'Tribee Ede' and 'The Imperfect' to anyone staying here, but 'Tribee Ede' perhaps gets the edge! Each was little over £8 each per night (inc. breakfast) - so very economical!
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