When we first arrived we weren’t very impressed with Hue but in the end we were happy that we came because the Citadel is amazing and well worth the overnight stay.
We left the hotel relatively early at half eight to beat the heat but failed miserably. Most Vietnamese are out and about at half four which is the only way for them to finish off their daily business before temperatures reach their peak. Having said that rice workers are attending their fields all day long even in the mid day sun.
The citadel is approximately a 15 minute walk from the hotel, Entrance fee is 120, 000 dong unless you want a guide for whom you’ll pay extra. But it’s really not expensive and worth it if you have enough time to explore it. There are English and French speaking guides available and from what we managed to listen into they are fluent and proficient. Unfortunately, we had to check out at the hotel at noon and had to do the quick tour relying once again on our travel bible. You can easily spend the best part of a day inside the walls but if you’re on a tight schedule than you can see all important temples and buildings within three hours. Hue was heavily destroyed by the Americans. You can still see bullet holes in some of the Citadel’s walls. Some of the complex is now only ruins. Restoration work, however, is in progress and a good number of buildings have already been lovingly restored to their former glory. The Royal Theatre and To Mieu Temple Complex which is dedicated to the former Nguyen emperors have already been beautifully restored.
The purpose, function and layout of the Hue Citadel are very similar to those of the Forbidden City in Beijing. We much preferred our Citadel experience though as it is a lot less crowded and less artificial. Whereas the Forbidden City is a destination for mass tourism, the remains of the Citadel are much more tranquil and picturesque.
Check out at noon went smoothly. With an hour and a half to spare we decided to have some lunch and a few beers in the hotel’s restaurant. They have a Vietnamese set menu from which you can order a regional dish or two rather than going for all 6 or 7 dishes. Whilst the food was quite good the atmosphere wasn’t. The waiter rather annoyingly goes over to tables and gives rather bad renditions of “You raise me up” and “I want it that way” – the only songs in his repertoire – whilst you’re trying to enjoy your food. His main target seem to be female travel groups who then akwardly applaud him, finish their food extremely quickly and leave the place. Can’t blame the poor souls. Needless to say we were this tine happy to move on to our next destination after an overall not so great experience at the Google Hotel.
The train journey from Hue to Dong Hoi was uneventful and not as scenic as the one from Danang to Hue. At least we had fully functioning AC this time and seats rather than a mouldy mattress. The train journey takes approximately 3 hours.
We arrived in Dong Hoi just after 5.30pm where our driver was already waiting for us. We had arranged the transport from the station to Phong Nha Lake House a few days earlier. Taxis are also available outside the station. The trip to Son Trach which is at the centre of Phong Nha Khe Bang costs around 500, 000 dong but you will need to bargain for that price. The drive takea around half an hour to 40 minutes. Buses are also available but they are running at irregular intervals.
Phong Nha Lake House is in a stunning setting overlooking the lake and mountains. Our room has a small terrace overlooking the lake. It’s on the smaller side but big enough for two with a four poster bed and sofa as well as en suite shower room complete with a rain shower. Simple yet stylish and comfortable. There is no fridge in the room but cold drinks can be bought at the bar/restaurant upstairs in the main building.
In the evening we spent some time with Tony who owns the Lake House and two guys from England, one of whom has written songs for Gabrielle, Tina Turner, and many others. The guys bought motorbikes back in Hanoi and are now travelling across the country. They were meant to leave that night but a little crash after after too much rice wine meant that one of them wasn’t fit to drive. We’re so glad they stayed as we had a pretty good night. There was singing (well if you can call it that), banter, good laughs and some twisted story about how this Vietnamese mechanic (who fixed one of the guy’s bikes) ended up in prison for 3.5 years over heroine. What an eventful evening! Anyway, point is, the terrace is a great hang out to meet some pretty interesting people who all have an amazing story to tell. Especially after a few bia!
It really is amazing what kind of people you meet on the road. They all become your best friend for the night and you’re sad to see them go. But then there is a new beautiful sunrise and the next best friend appears out of nowhere…