Huế is roughly the mid-point in the country. The DMZ is one hundred kilometers north of here, but we had already decided not to see any more sites relating to the war. Tourists climbing on tanks and smiling for their happy holiday memories is not my cup of tea. Instead, we came to Huế as it was the imperial capital of the Nguyễn dynasty for 143 years, and the most beautiful citadel I’ve seen so far. And we found one of my favourite postcards too, a nice representation of our train journey through the country.
Mischa picked the hostel this time, and it was mostly chosen for being above a Mr. Bean styled bar. Vietnam was experiencing the worst storm in recent history with Typhoon Damrey so our plans of visiting Bach Ma national park and going to Hoi An had to change. We’d met another traveller in Saigon who’d been in Hoi An when it had hit and although he wasn’t evacuated, for a whole day there had been a foot of water at the front door of his hostel. Our Bean-themed hostel became our home for three days with the friendliest staff we’ve seen in a long time.
Dong Ba Market
A real treasure trove of absolutely everything. Packed in tightly, we entered in the shoe section, and had to squeeze our way past sellers, buyers and flip flops. It was organised in a fashion, different sections for food, fabric, clothes and shoes. Fish being dried in the middle of paths were being dripped on by the haphazardly positioned plastic being used as a roof to attempt to stop the rain coming through. It brought back memories of the central market in Novosibirsk (somehow we don’t have photos of this). We exited without realising where we were, it was a real maze on two floors. Mischa had to dive back in, the interior looked too good not to take a couple of photos. In the end, after trying and failing to find the perfect birthday present from my brother, we left with just a bag of (probably) overpriced dried banana slices. Ngon (delicious).
Vietnam has a turbulent history, mostly dotted by periods of time where other nations have claimed the right of rule or attempted to invade – China, Japan, France and America. The Nguyen dynasty reigned from 1802 to 1945, ending with the creation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam by President Hồ Chí Minh. The family made Huế their capital and the imperial city, as their main residence, was built.
Surrounded by walls, moats and now a flag tower to the east that is close to the Perfume River, sits the Purple Forbidden City. Unfortunately, many buildings do not exist anymore due to bad weather, termites and the recent bombing. Despite the lack of buildings, the site is inspiring to walk around, especially as many have not been restored. This lets you see the old decorations and meanings in all their weathered glory. It’s a nice change from the Chinese style of tourism where many things are rebuilt and not in their original state. Chinese characters dot the buildings and steps lead straight down into the manmade pools. We spent several hours in the serene and peaceful setting, definitely a place to remember.
As you can tell from our posts, we’ve had this US visa appointment hanging over us the whole time we’ve been in Vietnam. I won’t feel properly relaxed until our passports are in our hands again. For the US you need to provide a recent passport photo. But of course, it’s not the standard size that many other countries request, meaning booths aren’t always an option. They needed to be 5x5cm. Our hostel staff pointed us to a shop and we headed straight there.
They knew quickly what we wanted, and sat us down in turn on a small plastic chair in the middle of the shop. Immediately I’m thinking, “but wait – it needs to have a plain white background!”. As quickly as I thought this, turning round someone had already found some white fabric and was holding it up behind me.
After 5 minutes of someone ‘tidying up’ the photos using a certain well known piece of photo editing software (my slightly visible teeth became part of my top lip), at 50,000 dong for two each (£1.67) our photos were ready.