I spent a day in the city of Hué, the former imperial capital of Vietnam, and went to explore the remains of the imperial citadel. This is a 2 square kilometre fortress, built in the early 1800s whilst under rule of the Chinese, and home to the royal palace. The design of the citadel was inspired by The Forbidden City, Beijing, and is nicknamed The Purple Forbidden City.
During the Tet Offensive in the American War, the city of Hué became a key area, and was captured by the Vietcong. Until then, the Americans were under order not to attack the city in fear of damaging the historic city, however, and unfortunately, as needs arose, the restrictions were gradually lifted, and the impending bombings destroyed much of the citadel. Today, only 10 buildings remain after some restoration, and bullet holes are clear to see around the fortress.
Aside from the citadel, Hué has a mountain backdrop away from the Ocean to the west, which can be seen in the distance whilst walking along the riverside. At night, a local had suggested we went to check out the night market which lied on the opposite side of the river. We chose to get a dragon boat across the river after negotiating the price down from 100,000 Dong to 10,000 Dong (white people = extortion to the eyes of most Vietnamese working in the tourist traps). However, we later found out that the famous night market didn’t actually exist after seeing the confused expression on many of the locals faces.
The next day, a small group of us set off for Hoi An on motorbikes, taking the route along the coast and over the Hai Van Pass, as made famous by Top Gear. The scenery was stunning, and as such we made many long stop offs to take in the extraordinary views over lagoons, springs and valleys. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the blue sky and sunshine conditions I’d been hoping for, but the clouds rolling over the hills at the top of the Hai Van Pass gave an eerie and unique panorama over the bay’s and out to see.
It was an easy and peaceful ride – until we reached the city of Danang. And due to all our stops along the way, we made it to this bustling city just in time for rush hour. Now Danang might not be quite as hectic as Hanoi, but it made for an exciting ride as we rode along the cities main strip (what I imagine Vegas to be like, with more motorbikes) towards the beach. From here it was just a short ride down to Hoi An.
We arrived early evening, but due to a torrential downpour, weren’t able to leave our hostel until later that night. It seemed I’d missed something – all I’d heard of Hoi An was of the delights of the town and its Disney like ambience, but the first two things I saw when I turned onto the Main Street was a local man walking through the road stark naked, followed by a group of girls being attacked by rats as they scurried from alley to alley. The night only got weirder, so I went home and prepared to be further disappointed in the morning.
Fortunately, the previous night turned out to be a one off, and the rest of my time in Hoi An was extremely pleasant. The old town of Hoi An is now a world heritage site, and as such is well kept and beautifully picturesque. Relaxing, classical music is played through speakers as you wander through the tight streets in the centre of town – at times it seems a bit much, but e town is essentially one big tourist trap for westerners and Asians alike. At night, the old town comes alive with lanterns lining the streets and riverside, and floating candles being lowered into the river to drift alongside the boats which make up further restaurants and bars.
Hoi An is famous for its tailors, and I decided that I couldn’t pass up the chance to get myself a tailor made suit (probably the only one I’ll ever get). Every 5th shop in town is a tailors, with some more renowned for their quality than others, but all for a fraction of the price you would pay back home. I went for a navy blue, three piece suit, with matching white and blue dress shirt. After my 2nd fitting, I left feeling like James Bond.
The town also lies close to a beach, and so I couldn’t leave without spending some time relaxing by the ocean. Hoi An is a great place to slow down and relax, and my 3 days here flew past.
Half way up Hai Van Pass.
An American lookout bunker at the top of Hai Van Pass.
Crossing Danang City (I don’t have a tripod!)
Hoi An Old Town