Tribes to Imperials, A 1,000km Journey South

Trip Start Oct 19, 2010
Trip End Jul 23, 2011

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Monday, January 10, 2011

The last few days at Sapa the weather hadn't changed all but the occasional lift in the clouds for a few minutes.  We just wandered the backstreets of Sapa and at night enjoyed the fantastic food in the cosy restaurants. Hidden away in the backstreets was the local market, geared more towards food and provisions for the local people.  It was possible to choose food from some stalls and they would cook it for you, various butchered meat (including the heads which helped identify them) lay on big tables and fish swam in small tanks ready for the chop.  Stalls were tightly packed with masses of edible stuff half of which we hadn’t got a clue what they was!  As we squeezed through the market different smells filled the air, incense, spices and fish sauce etc.  

Cute puppy guarding the door!

 One of the backstreets led us down passed small homes on to a narrow muddy and rocky track, we ventured off to see where it led...the best path back had two big dogs who didn’t look too happy with us (not the one in the picture by the way, he was just cute) so we had to find another way back (muddier and steeper) but we managed! Not far from our hotel we ate at an Indian restaurant with some really tasty food, the only down side was the price (nearly double other restaurants!) but it was a nice change from our usual cuisine though. 

The train journey back to Hanoi was not as good as the first, the air-conditioning was a bit erratic blurting out hot air for a few minutes then freezing cold the next for 11 hours.  As we were in the top bunks the air blew right at us so we did not sleep so well.  Feeling very tired we returned to our hotel in Hanoi (Asia Palace) by 5am.  We were greeted by a man who was kipping on the floor of the reception, he let us in and went back to 'bed'!  Later, the Director, Quinn, let us freshen up in a room before the check in time and gave us a free breakfast while we waited for our room to be cleaned.  Every time we met Quinn he always offered us good advice, he was very friendly and even bought Waffle 5 packets of cigarettes as a gift when we left. This hotel and the staff are excellent!   

war memorabilia

 for sale along river

 The train to Hue was about US$48 each so we opted for the sleeper bus instead at a third of the was a 14 hour drive from 7pm through the night.  After reading some bad reviews about some companies who do this run we opted for Hoang Long buses.  It turned out to be a good choice.  The bus had 3 rows of small bunk beds that can be adjusted so you sit up in bed and there were some LCD TV’s as well (with a Jackie Chan film on...surprise, surprise!).  The bus stopped a couple of times and changed drivers so Waffle had chance to smoke.  The roads were bumpy at times but we managed to sleep for most of it.  The driver turned on Vietnamese pop music at 6.15am which bewildered us for 15 minutes until we realised was our alarm call to get up for breakfast shortly after at a road side cafe (we didn’t know this was included in the price).  Another 3 hours later we arrived at Hue bus terminal.  

Dragon boat to take tourists up the Perfume River in Hue

Still trying to save more money we walked to our hotel with our rucksacks so when we got there we were glad of a welcome cup of tea and a sit down in the reception while they checked us in.  Our room was big (a refreshing change from Hanoi’s small rooms) and had a balcony.  At 10 a night with buffet breakfast, we were very happy.  We were in the new part of the city to the south of the river where the streets were wide and the traffic less busy but most of the attractions were on the other side.

The first day we were there we rested then stayed on the south side of the river for a typical Hue menu on a restaurant/art gallery!  Similar to Hanoi dishes but there were some new dishes to try like tasty Banh khoai (beansprouts and prawns wrapped in crepe and fried served with peanut sauce) and a 'Hue soup’ for dessert.  This the waiter told me, had potatoes in...yummy? No, not one of their best dishes as a Westerner.  It was a gloop that tasted like sweetened mashed potato.  It possible had red kidney beans in which made it a deep red colour.  

Entrance to Imperial Citadel

 The next day we crossed one of the bridges to the north of the City, where we were confronted by the Ancient Citadel. We paid to enter the Citadel and spent hours walking through the war and fire damaged complex which was once home to the Imperial Emperors.   A lot of the buildings have been destroyed and although they have rebuilt some of them you could clearly see bullet holes in the walls that remained and relics of buildings not restored.  It was drizzly midday (as Hue is one of the wettest Cities in Asia we expected it) but we carried on through the Citadel and it’s gardens/courtyards.  

It is apparently similar to the Forbidden Palace in Beijing (we will find out later on this trip) and was the Vietnam’s administrative centre. Entry to the Citadel was through secured gates depending on status as to which one they would use such as the  Senior mandarins, court officers and civil servants would have entered by the ‘Ngo Mon’ (noon gate) the main gate.  We strolled through the courtyards and saw the Thai Hoa Palace (throne hall) where the Emperor would meet foreign rulers and and other dignitaries. 

Imperial headdresses

Centrally is the ‘Tu Cam Thanh’ (Forbidden Purple City now just a grassy area destroyed by fire) where only members of the royal family, the Emperor’s concubines, senior mandarins and officers were allowed. Inside was various palaces and the Emperor’s private apartments but you would have to use your imagination.  

Inside the Imperial Citadel

We were shattered!  Our legs were aching as we made our way back to the hotel.  Thinking we had covered the Citadel we wondered where else other than the tombs just outside of Hue we could explore, until we reviewed the map and realised that we had only walked the Imperial Citadel!  Basically, there is a huge walled citadel where most of Hue’s residents live and work and in that is the Imperial Citadel and within that is the Forbidden Purple City (only the latter two we had explored so far)...A citadel within a citadel within a citadel!  So, tomorrow we are off to see more... 

Bullet holes?


One of the damaged internal gateways

(see more pictures on our flickr pages)
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