Central Vietnam – Huế for a Day

After landing in Ho Chi Minh City I had a long layover that ended up taking even longer than anticipated. In the six hours I spent in the airport I learned that pizza in Asia is not to be trusted, even if it comes from Dominoes. Just say no to Asian pizza, unless it comes from Pizza 4 P’s in HCMC, which, oddly enough, is a Japanese pizza place. Go figure.

Apricot blossoms - the official flower of Tet
Apricot blossoms – the official flower of Tet

Anyway, after a long delay I finally landed in Huế, the old capital of Vietnam. Getting off the plane I was super sad to discover one of my earbuds had gone missing, rendering my sound-canceling headphones all but useless. I waited around while they cleaned the plane to try and recover them, but apparently they were gone for good. Fortunately I had picked up a new pair of “sleeping headphones” in Singapore, which are basically a large headband with headphones built in, so I would not be entirely without music and podcasts. I don’t know about you, but I find headphones pretty essential when I travel. Before a trip, especially one with a sizable commute, I always load up my iPod with podcasts to pass the time. This is particularly useful on buses, when reading isn’t always possible, and the sound-canceling feature is great when the bus plays loud variety shows on the tv.

But in any case, I sadly said goodbye to my headphones and caught a taxi to my hostel in the city, about a half hour ride from the airport. The long delay meant I didn’t get to my hostel until around midnight, and all of my roommates were asleep. Good thing I had that headlamp!

The next morning I woke up around 8 and had a pancake breakfast at the hostel. Afterward I rented a bicycle ($1 for a full day) and went out to explore the area surrounding the city. Huế is located on the Perfume river, nestled in the central highlands. The climate is a bit more mild than the delta, but it was pretty hot when I visited. I rode my bicycle through town and out to a famous pagoda.

Famous pagoda up on a hill
Famous pagoda up on a hill

The pagoda was lovely, and the bike ride allowed me to get a nice feel for the area. It’s a really small city, with no tall buildings and far fewer people than Can Tho. My ride took me along the river and past several smaller temples before I reached my destination.

The Perfume River
The Perfume River

This pagoda was full of tourists, but when I pulled up on my bike I was not sure where to leave the bicycle. Outside the pagoda were a string of drink stands and food stalls, and as soon as I pulled up and started looking for parking, they all beckoned over and yelled at me to leave my bicycle with them. I was a bit worried, but in the end decided to leave my bike (after locking the wheel) with the owner of a tiny cafe and hope for the best.

Up close at the pagoda
Up close at the pagoda

I walked around the pagoda and the grounds, enjoying the riverside views and beautiful architecture. I was a bit surprised to see an antique car on display, and upon further inspection I learned that this was the car that drove Thich Quang Duc to Saigon, where he famously self-immolated in protest of the American-Vietnam War. I walked away a bit sobered, reminded that Huế is only a short distance away from the former DMZ, and the region, while bustling and comfortable now, saw horrible things.

Leaving the Pagoda I returned to the cafe where my bike was thankfully tucked away in the back of the shop. The woman clearly expected me to stay and have a drink in return for the service, so I bought a soda and took it to go. I had already gone through my entire water bottle, it was so hot!

Huế Imperial Citadel
Huế Imperial Citadel

After the pagoda I made my way to Huế’s main attraction – the Imperial Citadel. At $5 for admission, this was one of the pricier attractions I’ve visited in Vietnam, and I’m not entirely sure it was worth it. Built in the 1800s, the citadel was the capital of the Nguyen Dynasty, who unified the north and south. The building claims to be unique in that it combined features of Eastern and Western architecture, or something. Honestly it was too hot for me to care much about reading signs, I was more interested in hanging out in the shaded gardens.

A ticket to the Citadel also give you access to a nearby museum, but when I made my way over I realized it was lunchtime, and they were closed. I returned to my bicycle and figured I would find food. My map labeled one area “food street” so this seemed like a safe bet. I found a small street stall and was offered the choice of noodles or rice. Rice turned out to be the wrong choice, since it was really just a lot of onions that tasted like shrimp and almost no rice. Oh well, live and learn.

On my way back to the hostel I decided to check out a “local market” that was recommended by the hostel. Pro tip for travelers in Vietnam – markets are overwhelming, and rarely as interesting as you anticipate. Most are full of low-quality clothes and knicknacks that you really don’t need. When I saw the market I got off my bike to walk around, but didn’t even approach the stalls, I didn’t have the energy to bargain for a “Viet Nam” tshirt.

The rest of my day was pretty uneventful. I ate dinner in a small restaurant off the main drag and packed up in preparation of my departure the next day. I don’t think I’d go back to Huế, but I’m certainly glad I went.

Next stop, Hoi An!

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