After a busy day visiting the caves in the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, we jumped on a southbound train that same evening and arrived in the city of Hue just before midnight. The main attraction in Hue is the UNESCO-designated citadel that was built in 1804. Protected by walls and a moat, the citadel contains both the former Imperial Enclosure and Forbidden Purple City. With two days to explore Hue, we saved the citadel for our second day and used the first day to relax and stroll around some of the other parts of town. The weather forecast was also calling for clearer skies on our second day so we figured we’d save the heaviest sightseeing for the dryer of the two days.
Unfortunately the rainy weather persisted on our second day so we scrapped our plan to rent bicycles to visit the citadel and some other more distant sights along the riverside. Instead, we visited the citadel on foot for about two and a half hours. Despite the rain, the citadel was a fascinating place to explore – the complex contains numerous architectural gems set amongst a landscape of gardens and ponds. Sadly, a number of the buildings were destroyed by bombs during the war in Vietnam, but many are now being restored.
Even though the weather wasn’t very cooperative, we enjoyed our three nights in Hue. For a mid-sized city, it was relatively quiet but still had plenty enough to keep us occupied for a couple days.
From Hue we continued to make our way south towards the city of Hoi An. We opted to do the journey between Hue and Hoi An by private car which would allow us to make a few sightseeing stops along the way. The stops included a fishing village, the old border that divided north and south Vietnam, and a white sand beach. Our biggest and most impressive stop though was at the Marble Mountains, a series of pagodas perched on a hill-top.
We arrived in Hoi An in the early evening with plenty of time to find a nice restaurant for a Valentines Day dinner (which was probably the first Valentines Day dinner we’ve ever eaten out). We settled into beautiful Hoi An for four nights. Another UNESCO heritage site, Hoi An’s old town is littered with 500 year old merchant houses, temples and assembly halls. Much of the old town is also closed to traffic – walking around is so much easier when not having to dodge around an army of motorbikes.
There is so much to do in Hoi An beyond touring the old town that our four days flew right by. The pictures below highlight just some of the things that we got up to.
Not only did we have plenty to see and do, but we were really well fed. Hoi An has some wonderful restaurants that feature regional specialties like banh boa (steamed dumplings with shrimp, aka white rose) and banh xeo (crispy crepe stuffed with veggies, kinda like a Vietnamese taco). That said, our favourite restaurant was Ganesh which pumped out some of the best Indian we’ve ever had – so good we had to eat there twice! Ultimately, beautiful, peaceful Hoi An lived up (if not exceeded) its hype – and trust us, this place gets a lot of hype!
Where we stayed: Holiday Diamond in Hue and Hai Au in Hoi An, two lovely hotels with even lovelier staff.
Best meals: Ganesh (per above) and Streets (delicious non-profit Vietnamese restaurant) – both in Hoi An.
Best experience: The boat ride / cooking class with Thuan Tinh Island.