From Hanoi we flew to Hue on Vietjet airlines. We arrived at our accommodation (Hue Nino Hotel) mid afternoon, and after refreshing ourselves, we wandered along the river to the small night market and explored the surrounding streets. We had been recommended the Mandarin Cafe to eat in – the food was average, but it was fascinating to talk to the owner Mr Cu and look through his amazing catalogue of photography. We even got given some freebie postcards of his work!
The next morning we had arranged a private car to take us to some of the nearby tombs. The car cost $34 for the day, however we had been told that the $13 per person tours usually involved 50 plus people, so thought that although we didn’t get a guide it was worth the extra dollars to be on our own schedule and set off before the tour buses. Our first taxi stop was the Imperial Tomb of Dong Khanh – an amazing tomb set at the top of a lot of steep steps. A ticket for multiple sites can be purchased at the ticket booth and is cheaper than paying for each site individually. En route to the tomb are huge numbers of statue soldiers and large statue elephants which makes for entertaining photo opportunities. The tomb itself is extremely intricate, with beautiful decorations covering the walls and ceiling.
Our next stops were to the Tomb of Minh Mang, (set within beautiful symmetrical gardens with lakes) and the Thien Mu Pagoda, (a seven storey pagoda overlooking the Perfume River). The pagoda is also home to the Austin Motor vehicle in which the Buddhist Monk Thich Quang Duc drove to Saigon in 1963 and burned himself to death to protest the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government.
Our final stop was to the impressive Hue Imperial City. Hue was once the capital of Vietnam and this UNESCO heritage site consists of a palace and citadel. Unfortunately a lot of the site was destroyed during the Vietnam war and restoration is being carried out to restore this site to its former glory. By this point in the day we were feeling a little templed out and with fast approaching gloomy rain clouds, we did a speedy tour of the site before rejoining our driver for a lift back to our hotel. If you are short on time, one full day in Hue is enough to see the major sites.
The following morning we hired a car and driver to take us from Hue to Hoi An via the Hai Van pass. The weather forecast wasn’t great, so we decided to avoid going by mototaxi and instead have the inside comforts of a car. The car cost $50 for the day and took us on the long drive, stopping at various photo spots, sites and the Marble Mountains along the way. The Hai Van pass was made famous by Top Gear who described it as one of the best coast roads in the world and is renowned for the amazing scenery. At the top of the pass we got out the car along with crowds of other tourists. It was freezing at the top, with gale force winds and we had the entertainment of watching a couple pose for their pre-wedding photo session. Bizarrely this is something we have seen across Asian countries – the bride and groom to be, dressed in their wedding outfits, pose for dramatically staged photographs. Some people even travel to far flung countries with their photographers for these shoots!
On arrival in Hoi An we checked into Qua Cam Tim Homestay. The accommodation was amazing value for money and only a short walk from the Ancient Town. Everyone who has been to Vietnam always raves about Hoi An and I can see why. Yes it is touristic and can be crowded, but it is stunningly beautiful, atmospheric and filled with colourful lanterns, quaint shops and is famed for its wonderful restaurants and tailors. The Ancient town is pedestrianised, so you only run the risk of being mown down by cyclists or delivery motorbikes – a welcome break from the chaos of Hanoi! I think the cost of entering the city was 120000D (approx $6) and allowed entry into various museums and sites anytime during your stay in Hoi An. There are a lot of people online saying there is no need to pay for this and no one checked their ticket, but in all honestly I think for the small fee they charge to maintain the UNESCO heritage site it is a bit tight to avoid paying.
The old town is lovely for a wander and there are lots of tiny little museums to explore. The arts centre puts on a cultural performance in the evening and there are plenty of art galleries and niknak shops to keep you occupied. Every evening local ladies offer boat trips up the canal and try to sell you candle lit lanterns to put on the river. The effect?- a town lit up by the reflection of lanterns on the water and coloured lanterns strung arose the streets – beautiful!
There are lots of restaurants in Hoi An, and one we had been recommended was called Morning Glory. We had an amazing late lunch there on our first day and so decided to repeat our experience on our last night, however we were extremely disappointed due to poor food and service as the restaurant was too full and the staff could not cope. So do go here, but just don’t go at peak times!
One of our days in Hoi An involved us getting up early and borrowing bikes from our homestay to join a free cycle tour. We booked with Hoi An Free tour, which is run by students. When you arrive at the start of the tour you give the tour guide 50000D each which is to pay for a return boat ride and given to different local families along the way as a donation. It was a drizzly day so not many people turned up for the tour. We cycled through town and caught a small boat across the water to a nearby island. Once on the island, we cycled through the country side getting to see farmers at work, a temple and a boat making yard, with our student guide explaining local life and answering our many questions. We also had stops where we received lessons in weaving and rice paper making (each family was given some of the money we had given at the start). It was a fantastic tour and we all had a brilliant time despite the rain!
The following day we booked a trip to a nearby site called My Son – a cluster of abandoned ruined Hindu temples dedicated to the God Shiva. Our homestay had helped us book on a trip for 10$ each which included pick up, a tour of the ruins, a boat ride with a basic lunch and a return to town. Unfortunately, this was the worse trip we had ever been on! There were about 50 people on the tour, a very dull guide and a stop off on the return boat journey that no one had signed up for to visit several tourist shops to try to make everyone buy souvenirs. The My son ruins themselves are quite impressive, but as the guide wasn’t great, we didn’t learn anything interesting about them. Despite this, the day was enjoyable and we enjoyed the boat ride!