Saturday, 11 May 2013

Hue - Vietnam's former capital

Century Riverside Hotel, Hue
I have written so many posts about teaching lately that I have neglected my other love - travel writing.  So, to redress the balance, here is the first in a series of 'catch up' articles, describing our recent trips.

In February, my Mum came to Vietnam and spent a month with us, both at our home in Binh Duong New City and also, travelling around the country.  The first place we visited was Hue, Vietnam's capital in the nineteenth century.  The city sits on the banks of the Perfume River and we based ourselves in a riverside hotel for our four-night stay.

Tet chrysanthemums

The city has a very different feel to Saigon or Hanoi.  The pace of life seems more relaxed, particularly over lunchtime when there is very little traffic about.  There are lots of green areas, especially by the river where the parks are filled with interesting sculptures and colourful flower gardens.  We were in the city just before the Tet holiday, so these year-round features were augmented by lots of impromptu flower markets selling bright yellow chrysanthemums and apricot blossom trees.

Statue of a runner
Far fewer tourists visit Hue than Vietnam's larger cities and those who do tend to stay for just one night.  As a result, Hue has more than its fair share of scams, with those Vietnamese who make their living from tourists seeming hell-bent on taking advantage of every visitor and fleecing them for as much as they can.  This was certainly our experience, corroborated by every other tourist we spoke to.  It's a real shame! 

We were victims of a boat trip scam on our third day in Hue.  We had already had a lovely trip on the Perfume River the day before and only wanted to cross the river to visit Dong Ba Market.  We knew that there was a 'shuttle boat' service which should only cost us about $1 each, but we were persuaded to take a much more expensive trip.  We were assured that we would go in an entirely different direction to our trip of the previous day and that, because of the early hour, we would see the local fishermen landing their catch and see the floating village where they lived with their families.  The whole trip would take about two hours and then we would be dropped off at the market on the other bank.  In reality, our boat took us the same way as we had already been, we didn't see any fishing or village life, and the boat travelled unbelievably slowly in an attempt to disguise the fact that we were going no distance at all!!  When we started to complain our driver and his assistant suddenly understood no English!  It was incredibly frustrating!! 

Tourist boats, Hue
I guess most people in this situation just go along with it and vow never to return to Vietnam again.  Indeed, an exit survey in 2012 discovered that 80% of tourists to this country reported that they wouldn't return and, worse, said that they would tell all of their friends back home that Vietnam was not a good place to travel to.

In our case, I insisted that we were taken back to our departure point, rather than to the market.  I argued with the girl who sold us our tickets (in the government approved tourist office!) and tried to explain to her how short-sighted her actions were and what a negative effect they had on the image of Vietnam to visitors.  I told her that we live here and want to be able to tell everyone what a fantastic place it is with great people, but it's very difficult when we see and hear of so much scamming!  She was apologetic to us, gave us a 60% refund and provided another boat to take us to the market, but I have no doubt that my complaint was unusual and that she won't be deterred from cheating tourists out of their hard-earned cash in future!

Dong Ba market, Hue
Despite the annoying scams (and the boat trip wasn't the only one!!), we enjoyed our time in Hue.  The market, when we finally got there, was colourful, vibrant and inexpensive.  We visited the Imperial City and travelled down river to temples and tombs.  There are plenty of restaurants, where we ate good food at cheaper prices than we find in Saigon and, being a few degrees cooler than we are used to, Hue made for pleasant walking conditions. 

Would I recommend that you visit Hue?  Yes, definitely - just remember to keep a close grip on your wallet!!

You can see more of my photos of Hue here.


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