Huế wasn’t much further north than Hoi An and Da Nang. The journey along the coast was beautiful and we passed through probably the longest tunnel I’ve ever been in in my life. It cut right through the mountainside and once we were within it, I couldn’t see the light shining through the other end for quite some time. For much of the journey, the bus climbed or descended as it curved around rocky protrusions covered with lush vegetation.
Huế itself was fairly quiet when we were there, or at least, that’s how it felt. The city is bisected by the Perfume River, the north west side characterized by the massive walls that signify the boundaries of the old city, and the south east side dotted with colonial style buildings serving as hotels, restaurants, homes, businesses, and so forth. The walled-in area is abundantly lush with trees overhanging the streets, food stalls serving up delicious cuisine, and all sorts of heritage sites.
Along the river itself, we saw locals fishing for different kinds of shellfish, separating clams and mussels from the sediments. Very cool.
The food in Huế stands out as a signature aspect of Vietnamese cuisine. One of the more famed dishes is Bún bò Huế, a soup containing rice noodles and beef and has an array of delicious flavours going on through its various herbs and spices. We also noticed a change in the pho that was being served up. There seemed to be less and less green veggies and bean sprouts offered with the meal, and more of an emphasis on the broth itself, as well as the flavours slowly infused into it through tender love and care. At first, it was a bit disappointing because Teresa and I love all the greens that came with pho in the south, as well as with the pho her mom has made her entire life. But eventually, we began to really appreciate the structure and balance of the broth, the noodles, and the beef, with just a bit of white and green onion and some hot sauce. That, on its own, is enough to make me come back to Vietnam again and again. But it wasn’t until we were in Hanoi that we had really begun to adopt this accepting mindset. And yes, that Mickey Mouse picture is at an ice cream stand by the Perfume River.
There are three bridges that connect the two sides of Huế. One lights up at night in a matrix of glowing colour, transitioning between blue, green, gold, purple, red. It’s a theme we’d see throughout many places in Asia, whether up the sides of skyscrapers in major cities, or around historical monuments in a central square in Kuala Lumpur. Even Toronto’s own CN Tower is aglow with neon light in the evening hours, so I guess everyone’s doing it.
Driving through this city at night is amazing, and the route around the square is one of the more busy areas, particularly along the river. In fact, anywhere along the river, regardless of what side we were on was where we saw the highest concentration of people, locals and travelers alike.
We got lost several times, at one point even venturing far beyond the city limits without realizing it. We were on this narrow pathway that was only for pedestrians and motorbikes that followed the river…at least I think it did, but by that time it was nearly pitch black. After finding our bearings, we discovered a small food stall on the side of the road serving up a delicious noodle soup of some kind.
Here, we were in one of the more quiet areas and we’d find many of these. The nights seemed a lot busier outside, likely because it was the end of July/beginning of August and scorching hot pretty much every single day. By now, we were so used to the heat we almost took it for granted. So used to it, in fact, that we didn’t think twice about spending an afternoon at a hot spring outside of the city.
The drive itself was awesome, taking us through little villages dotted amongst vibrant green farmland and forest. Small hills rose along the edges of the road, marking the village boundaries. We took a few wrong turns, once again, but people were very friendly and willing to help. Their accents were much harsher sounding compared to the Vietnamese in the South and Teresa had a little bit more trouble understanding some of what people were saying to her. It didn’t take long for her to catch on, though, and as usual we did little to stop ourselves from getting lost because we knew we could just ask for directions at any time. It’s one of the prime benefits of having so much time and so little responsibility. The only thing that was essentially set in stone at this point was a Malaysian Airlines flight to Kuala Lumpur on August 15th.
The springs were really relaxing with some short trails and a variety of pools to soak in, as well as a half decent selection of restaurant food. There was a snaking creek that emerged from one of the springs whose temperature gradually dwindled as it flowed away. Each increment of temperature was labelled along the side of the little river and you could test out each of these segments to see which temperature suited you the most. Closer to the spring itself, where temperatures reached dangerous levels, the creek was cordoned off.
Although this next recollection isn’t the most positive, I feel inclined to share it because it was part of the experience and a blatant reminder as to the dangers of driving motorcycles in Asia, and realistically, everywhere else. We were rounding one of the corners of Huế’s massive square that sectioned off the older city. We came across a car accident where a massive dump truck slammed into a motorbike rider. All that we saw was a dark pool of blood staining the pavement and a local police officer directing traffic around it. They must have moved the body by the time we got there, but there is no doubt in my mind that it was a body, not an injured person. The next day, we drove past the same corner and the stain was still there, slightly faded.
Terrible shit like this can happen at any time and I was on a bike very similar to the one that was impacted. People drive however they feel like in many places in Asia and you have to learn to go with the flow of things and try to predetermine how other drivers are going to react on the road. It’s not for everyone and at least half the people I tell I’m going to be driving on my upcoming trip to the Philippines recommend that I don’t. A few relent when they’ve heard I’ve done it in 5 other Southeast Asian countries, but many still fear for my life, or the very least, getting screwed over in an accident that is not my fault. These are valid concerns and adults like myself have to weigh the consequences verses the benefits of our choices. I’m still unsure whether I’ll drive in Manila. In the small towns, though, a motorbike is a must if one is available. There is always so much to see in the surrounding countryside and it gives me a geographical awareness that I value very highly. I always like to be able to close my eyes and envision a birds-eye perspective of where I’m at. Writing about this is making me visually excited for this trip, which is now 4 weeks away as of tomorrow. Feels like a great place to end it!!!