Huế had a familiar, comfortable feel about it. It's divided by a river and has a few walkable bridges... common features in cities we tend to enjoy. (Go figure!)
they light Truong Tien Bridge at night
much like the Morrison Bridge
The easily-navigable streets are lined with trees, flowers, and colorful red banners (no idea what they said, but they were pretty). The motorbikes were calmer here than in Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi. And as with everywhere in Vietnam, the people were all friendly. There's plenty to do in and around Huế but we felt no pressure to rush around or see everything; we mostly just wandered aimlessly and enjoyed ourselves. It's a really good city for that.
royalty for a day
"the big stone chime"
(that's really what it's called)
not included in price of admission:
hat, umbrella, and ice cubes
hat, umbrella, and ice cubes
cannons outside the citadel
(lots of army helicopters and tanks were on display nearby)
As with every city in Vietnam, the central market offered everything you could possibly imagine but we didn't spend much time there. Instead, one day while walking to the bus station we ran across a smaller local market and wound through the streets exploring. We bought some bananas and I picked up a few fresh eggs from a really cute elderly lady who charged me about $0.20. The way she smiled as I handed her the money, she probably made off on the deal... but $0.20 for my all-natural hair conditioner was just fine with me.
One afternoon we got ambitious and walked to the Ho Chi Minh museum to see about some alleged old photographs of Huế. If "we went to the HCM museum" sounds familiar, it's because every single city in Vietnam seems to have a HCM museum and we indeed visited a few of them. The ones we saw featured the story of his life, lots of war propaganda, and random artifacts like the toothpick he used when he visited tiny XYZ village in 1946 - interesting once, not so much the second or third time. But they also occasionally featured temporary displays (like old photographs of Huế) that made them worth a visit.
One long hot walk later the museum was closed and the temporary exhibit appeared to be down anyway, so we wandered around the beautiful riverside statue garden...
women were predominantly featured
in the statue garden
"the thinker" - Huế style
"friendship and love"
(... make an egg?)Probably a much better use of our last afternoon.
Meanwhile, Kim took a tour of some of the local pagodas/ temples which included a boat ride down the "perfume" river - named because every autumn the orchard blossoms fall into the river and supposedly create a wonderful aroma as they float their way through the city. Our timing was obviously off so if you have a chance to experience this, please report back!
Food notes: the food in Huế was no match for Hanoi, but we still found some hits - and a few misses.
- Nem lui is the new bun cha. (Mmmmm, bun cha.)
grilled pork with herbs that you DIY into rice paper wrappers
and peanut sauce... wow, the peanut sauce
- Hotpots (lau) are everywhere in northern Vietnam. We never tried one because they run about $10 on average, and even though one dish feeds at least two people we were always too mesmerized by the cheaper food stall options and just never bothered. Normally they bring a grill and you cook your own dinner, but sometimes the hotpot was soup-based.
Kim's veggie hotpot
was like your mom's veggie stew - delicious!
- Huế has a large Buddhist population so there's lots of vegetarian food. LOTS!
our 2012 Rough Guide recommended Hong Nga, and
to our surprise it was still there, open, and delicious!
com chay right around the corner from our hotel
(the ambiance was akin to eating in a Home Depot
but the food was delicious!)
- Bun bo Huế is supposed to be a big deal there. It's basically pho bo with a special "Huế" sauce and although it was good, it didn't wow us.
- The "pancakes" - banh khoai - are also a big deal in Huế. They're actually rice batter, fried and stuffed with sprouts, meat, shrimp and herbs.
definitely tasty... but small -
be sure to order two!
- Banh thit nuong was the last dish we crossed off our "must try" list. Grilled pork with vermicelli and cucumbers, and a sort of peanut sauce... It was tasty but again, it didn't wow us.
bun cha it was not
Huế was a great way to end our Vietnam extravaganza. No idea what Lao has in store, but it's got some really big shoes to fill...
cảm ơn, Vietnam!
hope to see you again someday...