Day 4 – Hue
Normally, the hotel beds in Vietnam are rather hard. However, the bed we slept on in Serene Palace Hotel was a little soft to our liking and comfort. Anyway, after a tiring day travelling from Danang and also due to exposure to the summer heat during our activities the previous day, we managed to sleep. We had to get ready for our private boat ride on the Perfume River to visit Thien Mu Pagoda so we went to the restaurant at the hotel lobby for breakfast rather early.
We could order our breakfast from a menu consisting of Western or Vietnamese items. Fruits and juice as well as tea and coffee were provided for this semi buffet breakfast. So we had scrambled eggs with toast and omelets. We ordered pancakes and creeps as well. We could order more if we felt we could eat more. The breakfast was good and the restaurant staff were at their usual friendly and helpful selves in which we were very pleased to be served by them.
After breakfast, we went back to our room to change and get ready for our free and easy day tour in Hue. We brought extra bottles of water being another hot summer day with temperature in the high thirties. We waited at the lobby before 9 am and Tina advised that we didn’t have to patronize the boat owners if we find the prices unsatisfactory when they tried to sell us stuff during the boat ride. We could also take as much time as we needed at Thien Mu Pagoda and the boat would wait for us.
So a hotel staff got us a taxi to the dragon boat launch site and we were told the boat owner would pay for the taxi fare when we arrived. The taxi ride was just a few minutes away and we reached the river with many dragon boats waiting for tourists. This was the place we past by the previous night during our night market walk quite near Serene Palace Hotel. The taxi ride cost just 10,000 VND where an elderly man sitting by the road side paid the fare. When we got out of the taxi, this elderly man signaled us to follow him and we soon came to a dragon boat where an elderly lady was already waiting on the boat. This elderly man turned out to be the boat owner or operator.
We followed him into the boat and he went to the back of the boat to get it started while the elderly lady placed two plastic chairs for us to sit during the boat ride. The lady boat owner took out some cold bottled water from a cooler box to offer us which we declined as we had brought our own water. We didn’t know the cost of the water but we didn’t really need extra weight with more water to carry around with us during our tour.
Soon we were cruising towards some bridges in the distance. The big lotus shape restaurant was in front on our left. Though it was a nice looking restaurant, the night view was more impressive with the colour changing lights.
Not long after, we were approaching a bridge where we saw little lights released on to the river during our night market walk the night before. After passing this bridge, we just enjoyed the river cruise and took in the sights along both sides of the river bank.
There were passing boats on the river and nice houses and parks on the river banks. Next came those beautiful lotus flower decorations on the river. They were located near a park and some nice buildings on our left. Next to this park was the famous La Residence Hotel and Spa, an Accor property where we initially wanted to stay during our itinerary planning for this Central Vietnam Tour.
During our boat ride, the elderly lady brought out a big chest of stuff and began showing them to my wife. They were souvenirs and such and out of kindness, my wife simply bought a bookmark from her because she had brought out so much stuff and it wasn’t very nice to reject every single item she tried to peddle. That one bookmark cost 20,000 VND which was rather expensive.
Soon came another very long bridge with a railway track along it heading north. The Hue train station was just nearby after the La Residence Hotel and Spa. Having passed under this bridge and railroad, we saw more boats on the river. We also noticed some water buffaloes near the river bank on our right. Further ahead, a lone man was enjoying himself on the river on this hot summer day.
Eventually, after about 45 minutes, we reached a turn at the river and more tourists dragon boats were berthed on the right side of the river. Our boat also began to slow down. The elderly lady then went to the front of the boat to steer the boat towards the river bank. She was very skillful and the boat reached the river bank nicely. She also hooked up a small metal ladder on the front of the boat for us to get on land. So we left the boat and went up towards the Pagoda ground.
We walked up a flight of stairs from the river. The Pagoda ground was just across a small road. After crossing the road, we walked up another flight of stairs to the Pagoda ground. The whole place looked peaceful as well as beautiful. This place was no doubt quite well kept with visitors visiting everyday. With trees in red and orange flowers amidst the background of the blue colour river under the hot sun, they looked very pretty indeed.
The Pagoda came into sight as we climbed the steps to the top of this tourist attraction. There were visitors coming and going and taking pictures of the Pagoda and other nice buildings had to wait for a little while with tourists crowding around. It was nice looking down at the river from above and the trees provided much needed shade from the summer heat at this place of attraction. Having taken enough pictures and enjoying the nice view of the surrounding from higher ground, we headed for the entrance which was always having tourists loitering there for photo taking session.
Once we entered the main entrance, what we saw inside was like a well kept garden. We walked all the way inside on the left taking pictures along the way. Having reached the end, we took our steps back on another side of the path. The compound was surrounded by tall tress and as it was a very hot day, we didn’t remain there for prolong exposure to the sun. We exited the main entrance, hang around the Pagoda ground a little longer under shades to take a few more pictures.
Finally, we descended the stairs back to the main road. We then turned left towards the souvenir shops area. The elderly lady boat operator was across the road and she beckoned us to return to the boat but we signaled for her to wait while we went shopping. She probably didn’t like the idea of allowing us to shop there as she hoped she might be able to sell us her expensive stuff later during the boat ride back to town.
There were many stores selling souvenirs at this tourist site. A number of tourists were also there doing their round of shopping for souvenirs or buying hats to provide some shade for themselves. A huge car park was nearby and some tour buses were parked there as well. This was quite a quiet and peaceful place to hang around.
The vendors tried to sell us stuff and my wife did her shopping at two of the stores there. The souvenirs sold here were obviously much cheaper especially after some bargaining. We bought some table runners, key chains and pencil case at very good price. For 20,000 VND, we could buy 3 bookmarks instead of just one. So the elderly lady was taking advantage of her monopoly on the boat to sell souvenirs to tourists at much higher prices. The advice from the hotel staff was much appreciated which prevented us from being ripped off.
We returned to the boat after shopping and we made our way back to town. The elderly lady no longer brought out her stuff to show us having seen us come back with bags of souvenirs we bought earlier from the rest area at Thien Mu Pagoda site. It was the same scenery on the way back but a lot hotter by now in the late morning.
We saw more boats and other transportation on the river and also nice houses with beautiful trees in red during summer. So we crossed under the railway bridges first and then the La Residence Hotel and Spa on the right came into sight. After the bridge, the Citadel was not very far away.
Before reaching the next bridge, the boat slowed down and veered to its left. A small temple and a pier was ahead on the left bank. As our boat approached the river bank, we were heading towards shore on the right side of the temple building. We were told to hop onto the grass patch at the river bank when the boat came to a stop instead of berthing at the small pier in front of the small temple. We were not sure this was the usual practice but we were quite sure there would be proper place to disembark on the usual ending point at Dong Ba market on the river from the across the launch site.
Anyway we managed to get off the boat without getting wet or hurt and we climbed a little slope on the grass patch up to a park by the river. Thus our private boat ride on the Perfume River costing US$15 came to an end. We didn’t know how much the hotel paid the boat owners, but for three hours’ work, it seemed quite good money for them. The ancient city complex and the royal palace were just a short distance across the road. After crossing the road from the park, we walked towards the outer city walls.
It was getting hotter by the minutes as we walked under the open sun. After entering the outer walls through a road, we walked towards the royal palace. A big map of the imperial city was near the entrance but it didn’t seem to be well maintained. The clear blue sky was great for photo taking so we took pictures along the way.
We went to the entrance of the imperial palace but decided not to enter. The entrance fee was 150,000 VND per person which was a little expensive. The entrance fee was not just the deterring factor. The complex of this Citadel was very huge which would probably take us half a day exploring. With the maintenance of this site look a little suspect and also language barrier with information inside this imperial city, we might not be able to fully benefit from the visit not to mention the searing heat near to 40 degrees Celsius at high noon. Retreating from this Citadel was the better part of valour at this point in time and we could always visit again in the future during a more hospitable condition. It was not funny getting heat stroke at this juncture and we still had a few more days to enjoy ourselves in Hoi An and Danang again after visiting Hue. Furthermore, having been to more impressive sites like the Forbidden City in Beijing, we didn’t feel skipping this Citadel was a great loss.
Hence, we were contended with simply taking some nice pictures of the surrounding which was already more than sufficient for us during this trip. The city walls and the complex with the royal palace inside looked impressive from the outside as well. So we walked along the perimeter road within the city walls towards another exit to the main road next to the Perfume River. The funny thing about the river named Perfume River was that we didn’t smell any perfume or anything close to perfume at all during our boat ride. Perhaps, the river smelt nice at night and of course, the river cruise would be more enjoyable with the lighting on both sides of the river.
As we walked on, we came to a military museum. From outside the perimeter walls, we could see artillery pieces, tanks and aircrafts from the Vietnam war era displayed on the museum ground. We went around the wall and took pictures of the remnants of these war machines. Even some equipment looked like there were vintage pieces from the Korean conflict during the fifties. It was an interesting sight but these left behind equipment bore testimony to sufferings of countless individuals during the brutal Vietnam war. May there be no more wars on earth.
After walking past the museum, we soon had to cross the perimeter road towards the other exit back to the main road. Exiting the outer city walls, we walked past many shops selling souvenirs and clothes along the way. We reached the main road, turned left and walked towards Dong Ba market. There were shops along the way and the road was quite busy with vehicular traffic. Once we reached the market, we crossed the main road to head into the market.
By now, we were already drenching and though we had water with us, it was of little comfort. We were glad we skipped the Citadel and saved ourselves from further exposure to the punishing summer heat. We went into the market to enjoy some shade but we found the market rather cramped and not as comfortable. Unlike the market we visited in Danang which was quite pleasant, this market was less appealing.
We went up to the second level for a quick look around and looked at some clothes. Unfortunately, we were too tired and with sweat dripping all over us, we were not really in any mood to shop. Besides, the lanes were quite narrow and sometimes having to squeeze past others in our dripping conditions, it was not very nice. So we exited the market and turned left to walk towards Trang Tien Plaza.
The building was just nearby and in a few minutes we were outside the plaza. We walked quickly up the flight of stairs knowing that proper shade within the building would save us from further discomfort from the searing heat. Once we entered the building, it was a back to civilization again feeling. The air-conditioning was great. We started to cool down and it was a great relief for us.
We went first into Coop Mart to shop for more drinking water. We had a look around the supermarket but didn’t buy anything except bottled water. So we came out from the supermarket and looked at other shops. Nothing really appealed to us. There was a food court and some people were eating lunch there. We went instead into Lotteria for lunch. We simply ordered simple meals costing only 70,000 VND for both of us.
It was a cheap meal and we were not really hungry. With our appetite not really there, this cheap meal would suffice. The indoor air-conditioning did us more good than the meal. So we finally sat down to rest our tired bodies and legs for a while during lunch. A group of teenagers sitting next to our table were singing with a boy playing his guitar. We didn’t know what they sang in Vietnamese, but they certainly would not make it into any got talent competition with their horrible singing. Their singing didn’t really bother us though as we just soaked in all the air-condition we could while we were indoor before making our way back to the hotel later.
Finally, having rested enough, we left the plaza, turned left and walked towards the bridge. Once we reached the bridge junction, we turned left again and walked on the bridge towards the other side of the river where we visited the night market the night before. It was a nice walk on the bridge and the lotus shape restaurant was a landmark for us to take note on the way back.
Having crossed the entire length of the bridge, we were back to the park along the river. This time, we chose to walk along the main road instead of retracing our steps in the park along the river to go back to Serene Palace Hotel. At the junction, we took pictures of the very nice Hotel Saigon Morin which was nicely lighted up the previous night. So we turned left and walked along the road towards the backpacker’s area. On the right across the road was another nice hotel, Muong Thanh Hotel.
Soon we crossed the road back at the backpacker’s area heading towards Serene Palace Hotel. We just glanced at shops selling arts and crafts and clothes and some cafes and restaurants along the way. When we were quite near Serene Palace Hotel, we noticed an advertisement board with prices on massage. A staff came out to show us more information. Only then we found out this shop was one of the recommended establishments to patronize on the back of the city map given to us by Serene Palace Hotel.
We were drenching wet from the summer heat and closed to disintegrating, and hence, it was not very nice to go for a massage in our horrible conditions. The staff suggested we could take a shower at their shop first before we had with the leg and body massage. So we took their offer and had a quick shower at the bathroom. My wife and I were ushered into a couple’s room to have our foot bath and massage first followed by a body massage. It was a great relief indeed after punishing ourselves for the morning and part of this afternoon doing our tour. Not many people were outdoor during the day. The Vietnamese were smarter. They only came out at night to enjoy the evening during cooler temperature and beautiful night scenes.
When our treatments were over, we thanked the staff and left. The cost for our one hour footbath and massage was 440,000 VND for both of us which was pretty affordable. We were probably the only customer there during that time. The name of this shop is Moonday Spa. Had Serene Palace Hotel not included this establishment under its recommended list, we probably would not have gone in. The treatment was good and it relieved us of bodily aches and tiredness. Soon we arrived at Serene Palace Hotel just around the corner in a small lane.
Of course we were glad to be back to our hotel and the staff were happy to see us and asked how was our day. After some friendly greetings with some of the staff, we collected our room key and went back to our room. Another shower was in order. The shower was so good after such a tiring day activity. We were sure glad we gave the Citadel a miss otherwise, we would be a lot worse off by now.
Finally, we were resting in the comfort of our nice hotel room. Not only the shower was good, the air-conditioning as well as the bed though a little soft for us were excellent. So we took the opportunity to catch up with our children and friends as the wifi was working very well in the hotel room. The TV was of course turned on and we were back to resting mode. The second part of the afternoon was spent on recuperating from the energy lost during the day. We still intended to head back to the night market by the river again after dinner and perhaps purchased a leather belt.
The afternoon nap was sweet. Soon it was dinner time and we were back to the restaurant on the ground floor. This time however, we didn’t order the five course set dinner for two. We ordered some a la carte meals and tried other dishes instead. We ordered two meat dishes and a royal Vietnamese spring roll. We also had fruit juice and a pot of ginger tea. The royal spring roll dish was unique with spring rolls stuffed into a pineapple which looked rather royal and presentable. The food was delicious and we had another enjoyable dinner at the hotel restaurant. The staff were still serving us happily and ensuring we enjoyed our meals.
After dinner, we left the hotel to head towards the river again. This time we turned left at the entrance to walk in the small lane as this would be a shorter route to the night market. We were only a few steps outside when we saw a flash of lightning in the sky and thunder followed softly a few seconds later. We looked at each other wondering whether we should continue walking. We decided to take a chance and walked on. Just before we reached the main road near the end of the small lane, more flashes of lightning across the sky were noticed. So we decided it was better to go back to the hotel. We didn’t want to fall sick that would prevent us from enjoying the next few days back in Danang and Hoi An.
The hotel staff were surprised we came back. We told them about the lightning and they said there could be rain during summer as well. So we collected our room key and went back to our room. Since we didn’t venture out to the night market, we had a bit more time to pack up to prepare to leave for Hoi An in the morning. We also went to the balcony and looked out for a while. With lightning flashing in the distance but so far no rain, we were still glad we remained in the hotel. We were too lazy to go out again anyway, so the evening was spent resting and watching TV. Of course our mobile phones were put to good use with the free wifi to check out on events outside of Vietnam.
With so much free time now, we could also chat with the children back home. All was well at home and we didn’t have to worry about them. Eventually, we called it a night and went to sleep. The evening rest was perhaps better for us instead of tiring ourselves further. With exhaustion set in, we soon were gone on to our dream world wondering what Hoi An would be like since we had never been there before. The next day no doubt would bring us fresh excitement and enjoyment for this Central Vietnam tour.
Continue to Day 5 …