Two of the most enjoyable places I visited in Vietnam back in 2013, Hue for some incredible sights, and Hoi An for relaxation. They’re both UNESCO World Heritage Sites and only a few hours apart, with Da Nang, Vietnam’s fifth largest city between them. I didn’t stop in Da Nang but near it was some stunning scenery and endless deserted white beaches, not quite what I was expecting.
Hue lies in the centre of Vietnam, and was the capital twice, in the 18th century, and from the turn of the 19th century until the end of WW2. During the 19th century the vast Imperial City (The Citadel) was home to the emperor, and though it is a shadow of what it once was, it remains a hugely impressive place, surrounded by an extensive moat.
Inside are a series of gated courtyards with attractive buildings in various states of restoration. Somehow we had the place almost to ourselves, though I remember it being a bit of a struggle on a windless perfect blue sky 37C day, constantly seeking shade for respite from the sun.
Hue is only 100km north of the border between North and South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, and was caught up in the fighting in 1968, with the siege of Hue one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the war. Damage from the battle can still be seen in the walls of The Citadel, and outside are various planes and artillery from the war.
Thien Mu Pagoda (Pagoda of the Celestial Lady) is the official symbol of the city, a seven story structure first built in 1601, and subsequently expanded.
The Perfume River is one of the most famous waterways in Vietnam, and on a still day was a quite exquisite place for a boat ride, passing perfectly loaded barges.
There are seven royal tombs in Hue but I only had time to visit the Tomb of Tu Duc, the largest befitting the 35 year reign of Emperor Tu Duc. Despite the splendor of the tomb his body is buried at an unknown site somewhere else in Hue, and he died childless.
Hoi An was quite a contrast, a third of the size of Hue. It was a trading port between the 15th and 19th centuries and there are plenty of well preserved buildings from that time. The pedestrianised downtown area made it relatively relaxed compared with much of the rest of the country, but pre-Covid it was one of the most popular tourist attractions in Vietnam, attracting over 5 million visitors annually.
The “Japanese Bridge” dating from the 16-17th century is one of the few “sights” in Hoi An.
The delights of Hoi An are more in shopping, eating, catching a ferry over to the island of Cam Kim, and exploring the local countryside and villages on bike.
As well as cycling I did some running in Hoi An though one day going out before dusk I felt terrible for some reason. Staggering back to my hotel I checked the weather forecast and it was 30C and 75% humidity, making heat stroke a real danger! I was a little more careful in future…