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.
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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