Buzzing about the prospect of some sunshine and swimming at a beach, I caught the 7.00AM bus from Son Trach to Hue on the coast in Central Vietnam only to be met by torrential rain, flooded streets and cold heavy winds.
I was originally supposed to be headed to a very popular destination in Vietnam called Hoi An where it was my intention to stay put a few days, chill out, enjoy the beach and the sea, and also maybe to socialise but on a whim and also due to the weather, I had decided to stop a couple of days in a small city called Hue on the way there. The idea was that I wait out the rain here and then can hopefully enjoy some sunshine in Hoi An.
Also, the London guys I had met in Son Trach had recommended the motorbike ride from Hue to Hoi An along the Hai Van Mountain Pass which is supposed to be a very scenic stretch of coast road and was featured in Top Gear. In the video of this which you can find on YouTube, Jeremy Clarkson calls it the best coast road in the world. Everywhere in Hue now heavily markets the ride as the “Top Gear Experience” and you can rent a bike in Hue and drive it along the Hai Van Mountain Pass dropping the bike off in Hoi An. They even take your luggage to your hotel in Hoi An for you. More on that later.
Hue itself was the old capital of Vietnam in the 1800’s and early 1900’s and was home to the Nguyen Dynasty Emperors which I think were the last monarch’s or ruling family of Vietnam. Back then the French seemed to have some form of heavy involvement in Vietnam but I haven’t really learned too much about that yet.
It was a little strange when I first arrived as I started receiving safety warnings from the hostel receptionist about staying out late, watching my pockets and not talking to any strangers who approached me etc. There was also signs up at the hostel saying that it was not safe to stay out past 12AM. I hadn’t really read about any particular dangers in Hue so I am not sure if the hostel owners were just being extra vigilant or if I was indeed in a sketchy town. I decided to air on the side of caution and be a little bit extra careful while I was here.
The main draw in Hue is a large walled Citadel built in the 1800’s for the emperors with a moat and everything in the centre of the town and then in the country around the town there are also several tombs where the old emperors were laid to rest. It seemed like a good enough thing to do while it was raining so I decided to visit the Citadel when I arrived in Hue even though the entrance fee was a bit steep.
I wandered around the very large Citadel which largely consisted of exhibits of furniture, documents and letters of the emperors, clothes, musical instruments etc and some nice buildings. It was raining but as strange as it might be, I do actually enjoy walking in the rain.
In the Citadel itself, the throne room was the coolest part but we weren’t allowed to take pictures there. It was like a proper throne where the emperors used to sit and one like you might see in films about kings or Game of Thrones.
The next day, the weather was just as bad so I decided to get a bit wild and visit the tombs around the town of Hue where the emperors were buried. A rather strange thing happened on my visit to one of the tombs as two Chinese girls approached me and asked if they could do an interview with me, I agreed because they said it was for a project they were doing interviewing foreigners, thinking it would be a few minutes but the interview lasted for about TWENTY MINUTES! They asked me all sorts of random questions such as what books I liked reading, why I liked travel, other countries I had visited etc filming me on their phone the whole time.
My couple of days in Hue were not the most thrilling I have had so far in my time in Vietnam and the weather was starting to make my mood a little glum, however, it was pleasant enough walking around the sites and tombs and it passed a couple of rainy days. I do like learning about the history of a country when I visit but next time I think I would be more interested in learning about the Vietnam War so will try to focus on something related to that for the next rainy day.
I did enjoy a lovely meal on the second evening in Hue and the waitress was very friendly and kept coming over and chatting to me which was nice as she spoke very good English. One thing that did annoy me slightly was that the place was also a bar and another tourist had ordered a beer and when they took him the bill he started kicking off and shouting at them. Apparently there was some dispute about whether it was happy hour or not and they were charging him 10,000 Vietnamese Dong extra. I mean that is about 30 pence and the guy was going ballistic. The purpose of this blog is just to diarise my travel experiences so I don’t want to get too judgmental or up on my high horse and I do fully appreciate that everyone does of course have the right to haggle and barter or speak up if they feel they are being ripped off but it just didn’t sit right with me the way he was doing it. Yes speak up, but no need to shout and rant or be aggressive over 30 pence. Another guy came over and sorted out the dispute explaining that he had ordered his second drink a few minutes after happy hour which seemed right to me as it was about 8.25PM and happy hour finished at 8PM. Vietnam has some pretty bad reviews online about getting hassle and overcharging so I think many tourists are constantly on the defensive. I saw it in Hanoi as well – a guy was coming up and hustling someone near the river and the guy turned round and shouted at him and told him in no uncertain terms (swearing basically) that he wasn’t interested. If they cannot deflect these types of people without resorting to aggression then I am not sure if these types of developing countries are for them. I usually just smile put my hand up and carry on walking. If they hassle me or don’t go away, I just carry on walking and shake my head smiling stupidly or speak in a funny gobbeldy goop language like I cannot understand them. I do quite enjoy doing that if I am honest and it was a tip someone gave me in Hanoi. Anyway, enough of the rant.
I signed up for the motorbike ride across the Hai Van Pass. The weather was still poor but they promised I could cancel in the morning if it was bad. In the morning, it looked a lot brighter today and there was some blue sky with a few wispy clouds and just a light wind so I was feeling very optimistic and excited. I got on my 125cc moped and set of for the Hai Van Mountain Pass. About 10 minutes into the ride, when I had left Hue the sky started to become darker and then unleashed rain that seemed almost biblical – like a rain that only a mighty God could deliver, a God intent on drowning the whole world. It was as if the ocean had become the sky and was falling on top of me. Ok, maybe that is a little bit dramatic but I have rarely seen such heavy rain. I stopped off in a garage, had a coffee and brought a poncho.
The rain did fortunately ease off a little and by the time I got to the Hai Van Mountain Pass it was just a light drizzle. The visibility was very poor but I could appreciate that the drive was a stunning piece of coast road and I could understand what Clarkson was on about. I also stopped at a restaurant with a view. There wasn’t many places you could pull over and the one place you could pull over was at the top of the mountain where I was basically in a cloud!
A few other photos from the ride that day:
At the end of the trip and just before Hoi An, I stopped at Marble Mountain which was nice but basically a tourist trap. Was hard to shake off all the people trying to sell me their marbles or let me park their bike. I wasn’t even allowed to park it in the public car park, that was for locals only. You had to park it at one of the shops. I found a café, brought a water and parked it there.
I made a bit of an error as I paid to go up Marble mountain in the elevator that was on the side of the mountain but when I got up there the place was much bigger then I thought it would be. It would have taken a few hours to explore and I only had one hour until sunset. I didn’t really want to ride the bike in the dark so I just spent 30 minutes up there, saw a couple of caves (yes ANOTHER cave!) and then left for Hoi An.
When I got to Hoi An and spent an hour trying to find the office to drop off the motorbike (it wasn’t on the street he had marked on the map, it was on the next street), I got a taxi to my accommodation. On first impressions, I was liking the look of Hoi An, seemed much more chilled out then some other places i had been, a slower pace. I will be staying here for a few days so will do a post on my time here next. I had read quite a few stories about people who had come for a couple of days but ended up extending their stay to weeks or kept coming back again and again because they had fell in love with the place so I was intrigued. It is indeed one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam.
After that, I am going to travel down to Nha Trang, hopefully get some sunshine down South and also visit Dalat, and then onto Ho Chi Minh City for a few days before crossing the border by land into Cambodia where I will spend two weeks before meeting a friend in Thailand for Christmas and New Year. After that I will be doing 3 weeks alone in Laos before flying down to Bali, Indonesia to meet up with a couple of other people for 3 weeks. Problem is there is a massive volcano which is starting to erupt in Bali, will have to keep an eye on that one!
Next post: My time in Hoi An.