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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Central Vietnam: Imperial Hue enroute Da Nang to Hoi An

Previous: Exploring Ho Chi Minh

We took the budget airline Jetstar from Ho Chi Minh to Hue;  the fare was just a third compared to their flagship airline Vietnam Airlines.  However, these two airlines share the same terminal.  Passengers go through a long line of security check in most terminals across Vietnam.

On this leg, we prebooked a two day tour with Handspan that will take us from Hue to Hoi An via Danang for $161 per person with superior accommodation. Handspan was recommended by blogger ironwulf. They had a pre-arrange itinerary for Hue to Hoi An, however, it was customized according to our schedule and preference.  Details were arranged through email communication.  Maybe because of language barrier, it took a couple of exchanges before they could get it right.  When details were ironed out, they asked for credit card information and sent us a link to prepay the tour online.  It is their policy that prepayment is required before they can guarantee the booking.

[Day 1] Hue Arrival
Meals: lunch | Accommodation: hotel

sampan ride down the perfume river
Thien Mu Pagoda
We were met at Hue Airport by our guide, Huang.  It was drizzling.  The morning started with a motorized sampan ride down the Perfume River to Thien Mu Pagoda, considered to be the finest pagoda in Hue, and an icon throughout Vietnam.  While we took the sampan ride, our van driver drove to the other side to meet us.  Looking back, taking the van would probably be faster and better.

the entrance to the Citadel

Afterwhich, we toured the Imperial Citadel. This site enclosed the land of eight villages and covers 6km2 - sufficient area to house the Emperor and his family, courtiers, officials, concubines, bodyguards, and servants. There are ten gates through the four massive walls of the citadel, the place was impressively huge, but in poor condition.  The complex has been recognized as a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage site and is undergoing rehabilitation.  I don't know how it is like to go around this place without a guide, there were countless doors  leading to different areas.
one of the many gates around Citadel
The rain has not stopped and it was pretty cold in Hue.  After more than an hour walk around the Citadel, we were taken to a set lunch of Vietnamese Cuisine at Y Thao Garden.  The place was quaint, the food was good and obviously catered exclusively to tourists.

Y Thao Garden
03 Thach Han St., Hue City
Tel 84-54-3523018
spring rolls at Y Thao Garden
We were also brought to the Dong Ba market, it was a wet and dry market pretty much like what we have but sans a foul smell.

On the road,  we all fell asleep.  Sleeping on the road is a very normal thing to us, but our guide was surprised and cannot fathom the thought how we could sleep on bumpy roads... we told him, it's like being lulled to sleep on a rocking chair, he laughed in disbelief.  We later realized that the locals do not actually have the luxury to experience riding a car or van, the motorcycle is their usual mode of transportation, surely you can't sleep on it, can you?

the secret doors of Ming Mang Tomb

Last stop was the tomb of emperor Ming Mang, it reminded me of Beijing's Ming Tomb with a courtyard guarded by statues of mandarins, horses and elephants, but in a much smaller scale.  The resting place was carefully planned by the emperor himself and built shortly after his death in formal Chinese style, it's opulent and exotic, and a good example of classic Sino-Vietnamese architecture.  The place was deserted and felt very eerie.
Camellia Hotel, in Hue
Just before the sun sets, we checked-in at Camellia Hotel, a four-star Hotel in Hue.  The room size was just right, the bed and facilities were comfortable, and the receptionist was highly initiative, all praises to her!  The only flaw about this hotel was the elevator, breakfast was served at the 11th floor and it seemed to stop at each floor and at very slow pace;  some Amerasian guests inside the elevator were commenting "this is the slowest elevator in the world".

Wifi is free at the hotel room, when I checked my email, I received a notice that our onward flight from Danang to Hanoi was moved 10 hours later the following day.  At midnight, I had to call Jetstar to confirm, calls from the hotel room was inexpensive, twas around 3,000 dong/minute.

Confetti Boutique Restaurant

For dinner, we took the taxi to Confetti Boutique Restaurant as recommended by trip advisor.  The place has a great ambience, the table set in all pink, the food was great, and the Vietnamese pancake was a hit.

[Day 2] Hue – Hoi An
Meals: breakfast | Accommodation: N/A

After breakfast, our van heads to Hoi An via Hai Van pass. There was a panoramic view of the coastline, with the city of Da Nang spread out before you to the south.  It was a two hour drive from Hue to Da Nang and another hour from Da Nang to Hoi An.

Cham Museum

We stopped at Cham Museum in Da Nang which claimed to house the largest displays of Cham art anywhere in the world.  The visual display wasn't very impressive maybe because of the lack of space.
Pho at Ba Nam

Before heading to Marble Mountain, we stopped by for lunch (on our account) at a small eatery called Ba Nam that serves nothing else but noodles.  We were not sure how sanitary the place was, disposable chopsticks were not available and mighty mouse was freely roaming around.  Inspite of these, we've appreciated how tasty the spicy Pho was!

impressive temple inside a cave in Marble Mountain

It was a long climb up those hundreds of huge steps to Marble Mountain, that was definitely painful on the legs for the unfit like me.   At the top, you'll see an overview of five limestone peaks with marble outcrops known for their beauty and their cave network. At the foot of Marble Mountain, is an important religious site since the time of the Chams, you can see many artisans crafting fine marble objects.  We went in a temple carved inside a cave - that was impressive.  We also walked and climbed up and down further to see the Pagoda.  Here, we found an elevator; but it was still under construction, i guess we came too soon.

Around the area was a number of marble factories, we were brought into one (for pee break),  the marble statues were well crafted, if only I have a mansion with a wide enough courtyard to house it, I'd certainly pick one of those larger than life statues.  One thing about Vietnam's mandatory factory stops, they were not at all pushy to sell their products.

Da Nang appears to be a more progressive city, with a long stretch of beach.  I don't know if they're prettier than our beaches here, but they are way ahead of us in terms of development, tourism and attracting investors. Mile and miles along the coastline were cordon off to make way for massive development by several five star resorts of international brands.  Two to three years from now, they'll definitely make a name.  I'm in awe yet envious for our country.

From Da Nang, we arrived an hour later to Hoi An, around 4 in the afternoon.  Our package tour ends when they dropped us off in our chosen hotel in Hoi An.

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