Taking the train from Da Nang to Hue through the Hai Van Pass is something Emily and I can definitely recommend doing if, like us, you don’t fancy the 5 hour ride in the mud and rain, but still want to enjoy the views. We first came across this stretch of beautiful landscape reading Paul Theroux’s Great Railway Bazaar, one of the greatest travel books ever written. Our sentiments echo his and his observations are still true today: “I had been unprepared for this beauty; it surprised and humbled me in the same degree the emptiness had in India. Who has mentioned the simple fact that the heights of Vietnam are places of unimaginable grandeur?”
The start of our journey was still a little gloomy like the end of our time in Da Nang
Travel to Hue has become synonymous with good food. Since our visit was over Emily’s birthday once we arrived we made sure we hunted out all of the best local dishes. Bún bò Huế – beef broth with noodles, crab, pork and blood cake. Bánh bèo – steamed rice cake parcels. Nem lui – lemongrass pork kebab skewers. Bánh xèo – think Vietnamese taco. Everything was delicious. Hue certainly lived up to its reputation! Throw in some beers with travel friends and it’s safe to say Emily had a perfect birthday.
Food is always a key birthday ingredient!
Luckily we woke up with only a small hangover, probably more to do with the amount of food we ate rather than the quantity of alcohol we drank! Buoyed by our good fortune we headed out to explore the area. First stop: the infamous abandoned water park. A security guard who is supposed to keep people out of the place is known to let tourists in for a small bribe. 10000-20000 dong, presumably depending on his mood, how you look, and how many of you there are and you are free to explore the place deemed unsafe for people by the local government. Only in Asia!
Pretty cool place, not gonna lie!
Bribe out of the way, we were free to explore the derelict theme park to our hearts content. And what a place!Dragon rising out of the lake. Graffiti everywhere. Nature reclaiming buildings. Smashed in aquariums. Water slides long since dried out. It really is an Urban-Ex playground. It’s quite a surreal feeling seeing all this just left to crumble. Nobody really seems to know why the place was abandoned either. It clearly wasn’t making enough money to stay open, but there appears to have been no effort to reclaim or sell on some of the assets. Very mysterious!
Slides only enjoyed in days gone by
After advice from our Dutch friends we added a visit to the Royal Tomb of Khai Dinh King to our excursion. As with many temples, tombs and monuments in Asia it is set into the hillside overlooking the surrounding area. Meaning more stairs to climb! From the outside the tomb was very impressive but it is nothing compared to the absolutely majesty of the interior. Every surface was intricately covered in mosaic glass tiles that caught every available glint of light. It was truly dazzling and a worthy resting place for a king. Throw in some stone soldiers lining the walkway up and down the hill, guarding the king much in the way of China’s famous Terracotta Army, and voilà! A fantastic way to end our trip for the day.
Stone soldiers guard the tomb
Our last day in Hue was also our last day in central Vietnam. We decided to visit the Imperial City, the most iconic part of the city, and ancient capital of Vietnam. Wandering around the many temples, gardens and rooms of the palace was a relaxing end to our stay. It is easy to spend a few hours here taking in all there is to see. The lotus flower ponds with overhanging trees were particularly stunning and gave us exactly the kind of slow pace sightseeing we needed to mentally prepare for the coming night bus to Ninh Binh. To say Hue was beautiful is inadequate. We loved our time there.
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Outside the Imperial City looking very touristy with our straw hats!