In order to get to Hue we took our first night bus of the trip. We booked tickets with The Sinh Tourist as we had read these tend to be the best of an ok lot. We went to their second office in Hanoi where we would be picked up by the bus. The bus was due to leave at 6 pm but we didn’t leave until gone 6.30pm. We had also been there since 5ish as we were told to come for check in at 5.30pm and we weren’t sure how long it was going to take us to walk there. The night buses in Vietnam are large buses with two decks of leather fixed reclined beds. You are held in by a couple of metal poles and then you have a small plastic box with the person in front of yours seat where your feet go into. This is the only space you get too if you need to keep your day pack with you as we did for valuables. Everything was a very tight fit, but the bus and the seats/ beds themselves were better than expected. We got a free water each, free wet wipes for cooling off and each had a blanket in case the air con got too cold. We were both on the top layer which was a bit daunting especially if the bus turned a corner a bit too quickly. We stopped about 4 times for toilet breaks and a longer stop around 11 pm where people could eat if they wanted to. The lights went off quite early on around 9.30pm in order to encourage people to sleep. We chilled out and listened to music and podcasts. All in all, we had a couple of hours of sleep, not due to it being too loud (all the driver will honk the horn when he needs too) but just as we both found it quite difficult to switch off. We arrived into Hue around 7.30am and they dropped us right in the centre of the town, a street over from where all the main guesthouses and hostels are. We were greeted by lots of moto and tuk-tuk drivers which we declined as we knew it was only a 10-minute walk to our homestay.
Once we found Hue’s Happy Homestay, as it was down a back alley, we received a very warm welcome from the family whose house it was (Viet, his wife and kids). They gave us a plate of fruit and drinks. You could immediately see that we were staying in their home. It was a very tall building of about 4 floors. The lower floor we entered into was their kitchen, where we had breakfast everyday and the family ate their meals there, whilst their children who were adorably cute played with their toys. On the next floor up there was the family’s room. On the third and fourth floor, there were two dorm rooms with 6 beds each. We were on the fourth floor and we had a nice balcony there too looking over the city.
When we arrived we were very early so couldn’t check in straight away. We went out and found a coffee shop called ‘Trump’ filled with just locals as it was the weekend. We took up seats looking out onto the road and spent a good couple of hours there just chilling out from the journey and having good coffee (14 000 dong each- super cheap). When we went back to the homestay we were able to check in early which was great as we were in desperate need of showers from sleeping on the bus. We went out for food at a place called Hanh on Viet’s recommendation. Hue is known for having very good and unique local dishes. However, the area near us was also full of western restaurants at high prices and more and more tourists visit Hue. We tried Banh Beo which are steamed rice cakes that came in little dishes with dried shrimp, pork crackling, shallots and herbs that you scoop us and are served with a spicy vinegar sauce. The steamed rice cake itself is a weird gelatinous texture that melts in your mouth but as a whole with the different textures, each made for very tasty mouthfuls. We also had a local noodle dish and Banh Xeo which is a crispy savoury pancake with pork, shrimps, diced green onion, and bean sprouts. It was served with a sauce made of peanuts, lime and shrimp paste/ fish sauce.
After tasting some of the local delicacies we headed over the river and explored the imperial city. The Imperial City is a walled palace within the citadel of the old city of Hue, which is actually the former imperial capital of Vietnam. The city used to be highly grand, very large including the emperor’s own citadel within the city. However, during the Vietnamese war the Battle of Hue took place and left only 10 major cities out of 160. It is now a world UNESCO heritage site and the Vietnamese are trying to restore and preserve the site that is left. We paid 150 000 dong admission fee each to explore the site and although there are some grand elements there is not too much left to see now for that high price. We looked around for about an hour and there was a pretty garden with a lake that we relaxed by for a bit. We would have probably spent a little bit longer there but unfortunately, we started looking around at 11.30am and the sun was too hot to be exploring any of the ruins that were not shaded (although we believe most of it is just open field now). To cool down we found a nice cold cafe with AC and had some milkshakes. I had an ok cookie one but Dave ordered a chocolate milkshake and it was full of chocolate jelly which was not nice.
On returning to the homestay we met all the people in our dorm- Constantine (German), Maren (American), Ryan and Biaa (Canadian I think this was the girl’s name) who were all lovely but we all went our separate ways to get food. Me and Dave went on the hunt to find a small shop that served Com Hen that he had seen on a local guys blog. We found the place and there was no one in there when we were eating. We ordered Com Hen twice, knowing the local price should be about 5000 dongs each. The guy serving us was lovely he spoke no English but was very accommodating and smiley showing us how to eat the food. He also brought us another dish to try too which was nice but not as good as the Com Hen which was delicious. Com Hen is a spicy fish dish with clams, peanuts, noodles, herbs and other tasty treats. We were also served a hot clam broth on the side for sipping. Unfortunately, we got a bit ripped off as we had not asked for the price before we ordered. When it came to paying we were expecting to pay 15 000 dong for the three dishes however the guy showed us he wanted 120 000 smiling all the time. It was obvious he was ripping us off but I nor Dave had the heart to argue as they had been so lovely, the food was good and the money would go a long way for the family. Afterwards, we walked back towards our guesthouse. We met Constantine and Maren again and spent a few hours chatting and drinking 5000 dong beers.
The following day we were up early as we had booked a DMZ tour through Viet. The family were up to cook us breakfast still which was tasty- fruit, eggs (in various options) or pancakes, bread and choice of drink. We also discovered us, Constantine, Ryan and Biaa had all booked onto the tour. The tour was expensive at 400 000 dong each but we were all doing it as the cheapest way to visit the Vinh Moc tunnels. It was a good day- visiting a number of other places before we visited the tunnels at the end but it was also very long. We had to travel a good couple of hours towards the Khe Sanh military base in the morning then head another couple of hours to the tunnels before then heading another few hours back from the tunnels. We visited the Rockpile to take pictures of a big hill which apparently used to be an important strategic look out point. From there we stopped at a bridge which used to make up one of the old Ho Chi Minh Trails during the war but is now a paved highway. At the end of the morning, we visited Khe Sanh which used to be a former US military base. It came under siege from the Viet Kong as a distraction to the troops as they were also undertaking ambushes in the South to retake Saigon. At the sight there were a number of planes, tanks and helicopters left over the war. We then travelled about an hour, had lunch at a local restaurant before travelling another hours up to the tunnels. We crossed Ben Hai river on the journey too which we were informed was the important dividing line between North and South Vietnam and now has a reunification memorial there. When we arrived at the Vinh Moc Tunnels we got another guide from the centre who told us about the history and feat of engineering within the museum exhibition area before she showed us inside a few sections of the tunnels. The tunnels were built so that villagers could escape the persistent bombing. The tunnels are made of the local clay like sand so it holds firm. There were three levels of different depths of tunnels and 13 different entrances/ exits. The people lived, were educated and cared for in these tunnels majorly living in the dark and then surfacing when the bombing was not occurring to plough fields and have some time in the light. For every person living in the tunnels, there were seven tonnes of bombs dropped in three years. 300 people took shelter in these tunnels when there were bombs being dropped for 6 years. There was also a meeting room, kitchen (that let smoke escape without it being detected), air ventilation and storage for weapons which was on the deepest level. Vinh Moc is only one of the tunnel systems that was built in this area, with 114 being built in the Vinh Linh district. 28 of these tunnel systems were directly hit and the people in them were buried alive which is awful to think about. Definitely a tour worth doing if only to see the tunnels.
In the evening we went out with all the guys from our dorm for dinner at a local restaurant after finding out that the market was not a night one. I had a delicious crab soup which is like nothing else I have really ever tasted. Then more beers for cheap.
In the morning we said goodbye to Hue, Viet and his family and Ryan and Biaa as we drove a scooter to Hoi An with Constantine and Maren, whilst our luggage was transported there separately.