A day or two in Hue Vietnam (Hue is pronounced “way”) seems to be the norm for most travelers. It seems it’s a good stopping point about midway between the popular city of Hanoi and the Unesco village of Hoi An. We decided to spend about 4 nights in Hue. We not only wanted to rest and explore, but we don’t like to move too fast. When we checked into our hotel, they even commented, “Wow you are staying a long time.” So I guess we did things a little out of the norm, but how it all played out seemed like it was meant to be.
Flashback to 2015:
Upon our arrival in the morning, we could tell it had rained all night. The sky was still dark and full of rain clouds ready to burst. We were excited to get checked into the hotel and just relax indoors for the day. We did a little exploration on foot and then came back to our room. The next day was pretty much the same, we only were able to get out and about in between heavy rains. Since we were indoors most of the time, I thought I would just plan out our journey from Hue to Hoi An. When researching options, I happened upon the option of a private car versus the bus or train. I reached out to a few agencies for pricing and within minutes, I had a reasonable price from Hue Private Cars (VM Travel).
Upon my reply to them, I also provided the option of a review of their services from us in exchange for a blog post on Wagoners Abroad. Again, within minutes I had a reply that the owners of VM Travel would like to know more. The next thing you know, we had a dinner invite for that night for a traditional Vietnamese dinner.
About 7 pm, they sent a car to pick us up and off we went to dinner. We had the best time at dinner and were thrilled to have the opportunity to get to know Vinh and Martin. Great guys! They not only wanted us to review their private car service, but also offered us to review a day tour as well as a couple of nights at their hotel. Wow! How great. After some discussion and a couple of platters of Nem Lui we were thrilled for the experience. Not only did we enjoy traditional foods of Hue, but we now had some great new friends.
Nem Lui –
Hue lemongrass skewers. These Vietnamese beef and pork skewers are shaped around stalks of lemongrass and cooked on a chargrill, which releases a smoky aroma that flavours the meat beautifully. You then wrap in rice paper with vegetables and sauce.
Hue Vietnam –
“Between 1802 and 1945, it was the imperial capital of the Nguyễn Dynasty. Huế was the national capital until 1945, when Emperor Bảo Đại abdicated and a communist government was established in Hà Nội (Hanoi), in the north.” *from widipedia
A Day In Hue – Tour by VM Travel
The next morning we were picked up for our half-day in Hue tour. We had our own driver as well as an English-speaking guide, Lien. Lien is a university student and very knowledgeable about the city of Hue. Her personality was so bright and cheerful, she provided us with a wonderful day out.
The Tour Begins
We were honored with our first stop by VM Travels, as the owners Vinh and Martin were coming along with us! How fun is that. First stop was just a little out-of-town through many very flooded rice paddies. (It’s the rainy season). We arrived in the small village, with an adorable Japanese Bridge. This is a sister bridge to the Japanese Bridge further south in Hoi An. This bridge was built to cross a small canal and connect two islands.
See into your future on The Japanese Bridge (Thanh Toan)
As we were crossing the Japanese bridge, we happened upon a little old lady just sitting there along the inside. She was just beautiful and apparently she is the village fortuneteller. She wanted to touch us and tell our fortune. It seems many people visit her when they are 18 or wanting information about their lives. Martin and Lien had her tell their future before and years later it has come true, so not sure about that. She wanted to tell me my future, but I decided I really didn’t want to know anything. Alan wanted me to go ahead, but I would prefer to just let life happen.
How to Harvest Rice
After crossing the bridge, to the right along the river banks, we viewed a marker for flood depths. We were told this village floods every year and they often need to rebuild bridges every year because of this. To the left there is a building that houses a very odd collection of ancient farm equipment and very little documented information in the building. Not to worry, the staff can help you out. There was a local staff member there who showed us the entire process of harvesting and producing grains of rice. She acted out how they harvested, plowed, sifted and more. She was absolutely adorable and I still think my favorite part of the day.
Once we finished with the rice tour, we again crossed the Japanese Bridge. The fortuneteller really wanted to tell us our future. She wanted to sit with Gma Bev and tell us how happy we were. Gma Bev also declined hearing her future. It was very inexpensive, only about $2.50, but she too didn’t care to hear about the future. We parted ways and hopped back on the tour bus. Martin and Vinh needed to return to work, so we dropped them back in the city and made our way to a tomb.
The Tomb of Khải Định
We arrived at the tomb and it was a steep hill of stone stairs. At this point we realized that entry to the attractions was not included with the tour. We paid the fee to enter and began climbing the stairs. Along the way, we learned that this was the tomb for the Nguyễn Emperor of Vietnam, named Khải Định. He was obsessed with building his tomb and wanted it to be spectacular. Construction began in 1920 and he increased taxes up to 30% to help fund it. It took 11 years to complete, but he passed away about 5 years into the construction.
It was such a pleasant surprise when we arrived atop the first flight. Here we found the 12 stone soldiers guarding the tomb. It looked like the biggest chess board around. The next flight of stairs was flanked with dragon railings. We took notice of the shiny stone eyes for the dragons on each flight of stairs. After climbing a few flights of stairs we arrived at the top of the hill.
Here we found a very elaborate Palace, featuring intricately designed glass and porcelain decorations on the walls. This was absolutely beautiful and the views out over the grounds below was stunning. This felt like a grand palace with many rooms to visit and artifacts to view. As we made our way through all of the rooms to the back room, we found the tomb raised above all other things. It was decorated with the best materials and this is where the Emperor rests. A very fascinating site to see.
There were apparently 2 other tombs around Hue, which were even more elaborate, but we requested to see some other sites too. We thoroughly enjoyed this, but knew the kids would want more palaces or tombs. Not to mention we really wanted a variety of sites for the day, to get a good flavor of Hue. This is one bonus of a private tour, we get to have input into where we go and when! Woo Hoo! Lien, quickly provided us some options, including the Citadel. We decided the Citadel would be a full day on its own, so off we went to the forest.
Pine Trees, Phở, a Pagoda & the Perfume River
After driving through the incense village, we visited the pine forest for stunning views over the perfume river. For a moment, it felt like we were in the foothills of California. The air was crisp and cool, with a slight dampness in the air. Our tummies were beginning to rumble, so next stop was lunch at a local restaurant. We all enjoyed our lunch and our son is really getting into the Phở (noodle soup). Next up was the Thiên Mụ Pagoda (temple).
Wow, this was really cool! Perched on a hill, just about the Perfume river is the octagonal shaped, Thiên Mụ Pagoda. We learned there are always 7 stories for a Pagoda and there were several other buildings at this complex. This is one of the tallest religious buildings in Hue, as well as the unofficial symbol of the former imperial city.
In the 1960’s this Pagoda was a hotspot for anti-government protests. The President at the time showed strong favouritism towards Catholics and discrimination against Buddhists in the army, public service and distribution of government aid. The Thien Mu Pagoda was a major organizing point for the Buddhist movement and was often the location of hunger strikes, barricades and protests.
There were many large bonsai around the property as well as stunning scenery all around. Some of the nearby buildings house the local monks, whom also care for the property. A building near the rear of the complex houses a national relic: the car which carried the monk Thich Quang Duc to the intersection of Phan Dinh Phung and Le Van Duyet streets in Saigon on June 11th 1963, where he burned himself to death in opposition to the anti-religion policy of Saigon’s regime at that time.
At this point it was late in the day. We left our driver upon our arrival at the Pagoda and our transport back to the city was to be a local boat. We had a very relaxing 30-minute journey along the Perfume River. We enjoyed looking along the banks. Fair warning, these boats are privately owned and the owner tried to sell us her wares about half of the ride. This was a bit annoying after saying no several times, but eventually she stopped asking. We have found this all through our journey in Vietnam, so we know it wasn’t any fault of the tour. It does get old after a while though.
Over all we loved that we had a custom tour just for us. Also we could change route along the way. Our guide Lien was like family by the end of the day and we just adored her. She was quick to read the group’s vibe and knew when it was time to either provide us more information or move along to the next sight. We would recommend taking a tour with VM Travels and select from their many tours. They can keep you busy for several days, so stay longer than the typical 1-2 nights and enjoy the city of Hue.
Note: One thing to note, many tours throughout Vietnam don’t include admission to the attraction. Read the fine print of your tour carefully, so you can be prepared. It is also common to treat your guide to lunch while out for the day and provide a small gratuity at the end of the day.
Read more about our
Adventure333 (3 Generations, 3 Months, 3 Countries)
Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia
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Disclosure: VM Travels was kind enough to sponsor our tour. All opinions are our own.