Travel Report: Cool Spots Around Hue, Vietnam.
Cool Spots Around Hue.
As I come to the end of another Vietnam location, it’s tricky to avoid simply repeating myself. But hey, what can I say, this was yet another wonderful chapter of my cross-country adventures. In fact, in terms of memorable places and experiences, Vietnam is the gift that keeps on giving.
Following my individual travel reports on The Imperial City, The National School and The Mausoleum of Emperor Tu Duc, here’s my roundup of the best of the rest, with some Cool Spots Around Hue.
One of the great joys of a visit to Hue is taking a stroll down The Perfume River (Sông Hương). Spanning 80 kilometres in length, these mystical waters flow from Truong Son Mountain in the Annamite Range, right through the city and onto Bang Lang Fork.
The river’s romantic name is over a 100 years old and references the fact that flowers often fell into the water from the many orchards upriver. Back in the day this would give the river an alluring floral aroma.
Unfortunately, such an aroma is rarely evident these days thanks to less flowers and industrialisation. But it’s still an atmospheric area, especially down by the main promenade.
Indeed it’s fun to see the dragon boats lined up during the day. Though, it has to be said, less fun to actually be on one for an evening cruise. As is so typical with boat cruises in Asia, they insist on ruining the experience by blasting out awful techno music at ear-shattering levels.
Cool Spots Around Hue, Vietnam.
At night the whole area really comes to life, with food vendors, picnicking families and breakdancing teens. But I much preferred the sleepy daytime feel when it’s often deserted. Just a mother and daughter taking photos by a boat. And a student reading on a stone bench in the promenade park.
Eventually, a walk down the promenade leads to one of Hue’s most recognisable landmarks, Truong Tien Bridge. The renowned French architect Gustave Eiffel designed the bridge, which opened in 1899. Yup, that’s the same guy who dreamt up the world famous Eiffel Tower.
This structure, admittedly, is nowhere near as imposing or handsome as Gustave’s other creations. Nevertheless, it has its charms. At 402 metres it is wonderfully long. Thus it’s easy to imagine the scenes of celebration when, for the first time, one could easily travel from Hue’s ancient sections to the French Quarter on the other side of the river.
Note that the bridge is just six metres wide. Consequently, the chaotic mess of cars, vans, tuk tuks and motorbikes that relentlessly buzz back and forth is quite the sight to behold. I was certainly glad to witness it all from a safe distance on the neighbouring pedestrian walkway.
Truong Tien Bridge.
Moreover, leaf through the bridge’s troubled history and you’ve got to admire its refusal to die. In 1904, for example, it barely survived the effects of a devastating typhoon. Later, in 1946, it suffered heavy bombing while French and pro-independence forces battled it out across The Perfume River. Finally… surprise surprise… it was The Vietnam War that saw the bridge bombed again during fierce fighting in 1968. And yet here it is, still standing.
Luckily the bridge was a scene of pure calm (on the pedestrian side at least) on both of my crossings. To see it for yourself, you can easily incorporate Truong Tien Bridge into any walking route to The Imperial City from Hue’s town centre. It’s also worth a photo or two after sunset, when the LED lights buzz into life.
One can enjoy Hue’s local arts and crafts scene at the charming Nguyen Dinh Chieu Walking Street. Fully pedestrianised, this short but lively stretch is home to art studios, handicraft stalls and shops selling traditional Vietnamese snacks and sweets.
For a coffee, beer, wine, cocktail, in addition to breakfast, lunch, or dinner, The DMZ Bar is one of Hue’s most popular food and drink spots. Located within a handsome two-storey house on Le Loi Street, it is named after the demilitarised zone that once divided Vietnam on the 17th parallel.
Cool Spots Around Hue.
The decor seems designed to split opinion. Some will find it fascinating, others consider it somewhat tasteless. Either way, it’s well worth a look to see what you make of the camouflage jacket chairs and hanging helmets. Not to mention the black and white photos of Vietnamese soldiers spraying bullets from their machine guns.
Another kooky eatery is the oddly named Cocosnack Cococlub, a Vietnamese take on the classic American diner. For the most part they’ve got the look right, just with added curiosities thrown in. On the night of my visit I grabbed a table in between a pair of large motorbikes, while a local man sang Bob Dylan songs in a thick Vietnamese accent.
The food was passable, but nothing to touch any of the American Diner experiences I’d had in The U.S.A itself. Still, it’ll do the job if you find yourself in need of a break from local dishes after a long stretch of travelling.
Flying a bit under the radar, but every bit as essential as Hue’s main sights, is the nearby Thuy Thanh Village. Nestled on a sleepy section of the Nhu Yi River, around nine kilometres from the city centre, this beautiful little village draws in visitors keen to see its ancient covered Japanese bridge.
Thuy Thanh Village.
It’s also a popular spot for city men to come and relax by the river with beers. A lot of beers in most cases. Making my way to the bridge, I passed countless tent bars along the waterfront.
They were all packed with merry men chatting, laughing and playing cards. Some had even passed out upright in their chairs. A few shouted slurry greetings at me, while one man, pictured below, simply raised his glass with a silent toast. I gave him what I hoped was a reverent nod in return.
The village is pretty, with several clusters of stone houses scattered along the river. But there’s no doubting its main draw, the highly photogenic Thanh Toan Bridge, dating back to 1776.
Built in the Japanese style, this rainbow-curved structure was a gift to the village from a woman by the name of Tran Thi Dao. She was the wife of a high-ranking mandarin, though the couple were unable to have children. With no family to raise, she poured her efforts into new construction projects across the region.
Made from local wood, the 17-metre bridge features two rows of benches on each side where weary travellers can stop and rest their feet. Although, that afternoon I was slightly perturbed to see these benches inhabited by armed guards. I never did find out why they were there.
Cool Spots Around Hue.
The bridge also contains a small shrine to Tran Thi Dao, though it was sadly locked that day. Furthermore, the village holds an annual ceremony in her honour. You can catch it during The Hue Festival, in early April. Which of course meant I’d missed the event by just a few weeks.
Before signing off, I’d like to wholeheartedly recommend Home Hotel. Over the past year I’ve had to announce the closures of some truly treasured hotels I’ve stayed in around the world. But I’m delighted to see that these guys have survived the pandemic and still offer warm smiles and budget friendly doubles. If you do make it here, go for the lemon pancakes at breakfast!
It was my last night in Hue and I realised I hadn’t yet been around The Perfume River for sunset. When I got to the main promenade, all the loud music and shrieking people made me want to go back to the hotel. But then I began instinctively heading further upriver, on and on until the hullabaloo had faded into a low background fuzz.
Sunset over Hue.
Here, on a grassy bank by the water, I watched the sun begin its slow, melting descent. It was another moment where I could stop, breathe and remind myself how privileged I was to live this kind of life. Cheers Hue, hope to see you again someday.
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You’ve definitely sold Vietnam for me Leighton, with a visit to Hue being a must. Gustaf Eiffel was a very busy man wasn’t he as he also designed the magnificent bridge crossing the River Douro in Porto. The one in Hue does indeed appear to be very narrow! Clearly not designed for today’s transport needs. Another great post, Marion
Hey Marion, I’m so happy to give Hue some exposure, as it doesn’t seem to be a place that rolls off the tongue when people think of the so-called ‘Best of Vietnam’. Wow, hadn’t been aware of Eiffel’s Porto creation, so thanks for that. Let’s not forget he had time to knock out part of The Statue of Liberty in between all this. An impressive man.
Thanks so much for taking us to Hue, Leighton. You certainly did it all due justice. Despite the repeated efforts at colonialization, the Vietnamese seem to have an indomitable spirit. Gustave knew how to design structures to look beautiful and survive, an art that seems a rarity these days. Glad you found a calmer place to watch the sunset. Not sure why cities and tour ops think all tourists want to hear loud music all the time. Glad Home Hotel survived. It does look like the name fits well. Thanks for sharing. Stay well. Allan
Cheers Allan, appreciate your readership and contribution to the thread. Hue is yet another great location in Vietnam that deserves at least a few days.
Like Marion, I also remember Gustave’s name when we crossed the beautiful bridge in Porto. What a fascinating place – Hue must be high on the list when one gets the opportunity to visit Vietnam, that’s for sure! Even if it’s just to taste those amazing lemon pancakes 😉. Thanks for showing me the beauty of yet another place I knew nothing about!
Thanks for catching up! A little blogging break from Vietnam now. But it won’t be too long before I’m back again to put another chapter of that trip into writing.
Cool spots indeed! Very impressive with how colorful and clean everything was. So inviting. My favorite part was the Japanese bridge. Attractive and intimate. I probably would have taken a dragon boat at night although with ear plugs. Something about waterfronts at night, I guess. Might I suggest making a coffee table book from your selfies. I think there’s a niche market.
Cheers Memo! It seems I have a whole series of coffee table books to produce one day. Selfies… roundabouts… sittin’ doin’ nothin’…
We only spent a day in Hue. Seeing your posts about it I wish we gave it more time. The Japanese bridge is beautiful and I love your people pictures in the same village. Maggie
Thanks Maggie, these old photos needed a fair bit of editing. Hope you guys are enjoying the fall.
Excellent post on such a lovely city! Vietnam is definitely on my list of places to visit and I’ll be sure to have your posts in hand so I know all the best places to see.
Thanks for polishing off my series on Hue, Meg. Hope you get to see some of Vietnam one day…
Seems like a very cool spot! Would not have expected EDM music to accompany a river cruise ha
Oh yeah it’s everywhere in Asia! And played so loud you can hardly hear yourself think 🙂
When I make it to Asia one day I will mentally prepare myself for the EDM 🙂
Those dragon boats really are something: so colorful and ornate! To see a bridge like Truong Tien withstand so much damage and hardship is impressive, and it’s great you captured the smaller moments while traveling. 🙂
Thanks Rebecca, I like writing up these Cool Spots pieces for that very reason. Usually, it’s a bunch of more discreet spots and experiences where I don’t have to get bogged down providing a historical narrative. A little girl posing by a dragon boat…. an old man leaning on a bridge… these are the moments that are every bit as magical, if not more so, than exploring and trying to make sense of the monster sights. Cheers!
I love that your photos always capture people and every day life, somehow it brings more reality and life to every place you write about. I love the dragon boats, and the bridge as well 🙂
Thanks for the kind words Han. The best of travel is indeed often about the little moments.
That’s too bad that the Perfume River has lost its floral aroma, it still looks really scenic though. I love your pictures of all the various bridges.
Thanks for stopping by guys. It’s been good to finally get Hue “out there” on the blogosphere.
Looks like Hue has more than its fair share of “cool spots”! We’re watching carefully now but in truth I think it’ll be some time before access to Vietnam is easy again. In the meantime I’ll keep following your posts and wishing and hoping we can pick up where we left off.
I think you’re right about Vietnam and tourist access. The whole region still seems really cautious, although Thailand at least has opened up a little in the last week.
What a lovely place to explore to see how people live there today. And I have to say that there’s just something special about riverfront towns, where you can spend time enjoying the cool breezes and the pretty vistas as you stroll along the riverside walkways. Thanks for sharing, and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva
Thank you Aiva! Agree with your thoughts on riverside towns and Hue is a handsome one. Hope you’re enjoying the fall in Ireland.
Loved our time in Hue. Sailing around ln the Dragon Boats was a great outing. We stopped at so many historic sites along The Perfume River . Thanks for sharing this..brings back memories..
Cheers Anita, glad you also had a great time in Hue. Thanks for reading!
I wasn’t aware of Eiffel’s other constructions. All of the bridges you’ve captured are distinctive and attractive in their own way. Love the hubbub of Vietnam’s towns. The dragon boats are wonderful!
Thanks for checking out this rather ramshackle roundup piece Ruth. I really loved my time in Hue.
Hue and some other costal towns in Vietnam are at the very top of my SE Asia bucket list thanks to your posts That is until your next series comes along. 😊 Hue has many sights worth seeing. Thanks for giving me an itinerary.
Cheers John, that’s very kind of you. A little break from Vietnam now, but will be back with more locations in November.
Vietnam seems to have a level of development that allows for decent travel, but there are still those small setbacks, like the flood of motorbikes. Great reports.
Ah the motorbikes, I truly hate them. But yeah, generally Vietnam is well developed and seems to understand how to make things work for overseas visitors.