Trip to Saigon and Hue
Posted by Monica Johansen on February 28, 2011
Finally some time off from work! Unfortunately, I had to work during Chinese New Year holiday, but my manager gave me a couple of days off from work to compensate for the lost holidays, and it was perfect timing because my friend Edward from Norway was coming to Thailand and Vietnam on vacation. We decided to meet in Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh, as it is called today), and from there head north to the city of Hue in Central Vietnam.
I jumped on a plane on Wednesday night and met Edward at the airport in Saigon since he was flying in from Bangkok the same evening. Together we took a taxi into the city to our hotel, and we ended up arguing with a couple of drivers before we finally got there. The problem in Saigon is that the taxi drivers at the airport are always trying to overcharge foreigners, and if you don’t know approximately how much the ride is supposed to cost you will most likely be swindled. We insisted that the driver used the taxi meter, but when we finally found a driver who was willing to do it he took us for a huge detour and we ended up paying a little more than necessary anyway. Luckily everything is so cheap in Vietnam that financially it didn’t really matter to us.
On Wednesday night we met up with a couple of friends from Norway who have lived in Saigon for the last few years. My travel companion lives in Norway and speaks with fellow countrymen all the time, but for me it was awesome to speak my native language and hang out with people with my cultural background. I get along with most people around the world, but there is always something very relaxing about hanging out with other Norwegians.
We stayed only one night in Saigon, and early the next morning we went back to the airport to catch the plane to Hue, a relatively small city in central Vietnam. Hue is famous for the historic monuments located within short distance from the city, and it is a popular tourist destination for people who want to explore Vietnamese culture and history. The city is a lot more relaxed and quiet than Saigon, and Edward and I agreed that it reminded us a bit of Laos.
The first day we had a look around in the city, and in the afternoon Edward wanted to test the hotel pool and relax in the sun. Coming from Norway – the land of cold and darkness – I can totally see why he is so desperate to enjoy every second of sun he can get, but for me, who live in a place where sunshine and heat is the norm rather than the exception, it is simply too boring to lay in the sun for hours, so I went for a walk on my own. I walked along the river and crossed the bridge over to the other side where there was a local market. I never buy anything at these markets, but there is a lot of stuff to see and if you are lucky you can get some nice photos.
On Friday we had booked a guided tour to the historic sites, and the tour bus picked us up at the hotel around 8:15 AM. We started the tour at the old Citadel, which once was the seat of the Nguyen emperors. The Citadel occupies a large, walled area on the north side of the Perfume River, and inside the citadel there used to be a forbidden city where only the emperors, concubines, and those close enough to them were granted access. There are only ruins left of the original buildings, but the Government is in the process of restoring parts of the forbidden city.
Our next stop was a Vietnamese garden where they were planting all kinds of local herbs, trees and flowers. The guide told us that it was the most beautiful garden in Vietnam, but frankly we were not exactly impressed. Maybe we just misunderstood his broken English and there was something else very special about the garden that we completely missed. Anyway, the next destination was much more impressive. We went to see the Thien Mu Pagoda at the banks of the Perfume River. The pagoda has seven stories and is the tallest in Vietnam, and from the temple you have a fantastic view of the river.
After lunch we drove a bit further from the city to see three famous tombs. The Tomb of Minh Mang was fully completed in 1843, and it consists of 40 constructions, including palaces, temples and pavilions, designed on a symmetric axis. The Tomb of Khai Dinh was the most impressive of the historic monuments we were visiting. It was built in the hills leaning towards the mountains, and it was completed as late as 1931. The tomb is well maintained and inside is a picture of the emperor surrounded by beautiful ornaments on the walls and in the ceiling. The Tomb of Tu Duc was the last place we visited. The construction was completed in 1867, and it lies in a pine forest about 8 KM from Hue. Within the enclosed area is a small lake with a temple built half way over the water, and a river leads to the emperor’s tomb.
We ended our journey on a refreshing boat trip on the Perfume River, and it was a nice change from the hot and crowded bus. Both Edward and I were exhausted after running up and down temple stone steps, so after dinner we went to bed early and had a good night sleep. I usually don’t sleep a lot, but it is amazing what a bit of fresh air and exercise can do for you.
On Saturday we didn’t have any plans. Edward wanted to spend some time at the pool again, but after a couple of hours in the sun he realized that the sun in Vietnam is a lot stronger than in Norway and his skin was starting to get quite red, so he gave up the sun bathing by lunch time. We spent most of the afternoon looking for some souvenirs that he wanted to bring home, and having dinner at one of the great restaurants in town. Everything we ate in Hue was fantastic, and the price for food and drinks was ridiculously low.
On Sunday morning our journey was coming to an end, and we flew back to Saigon together before we split up. I had to fly back home to Singapore, and Edward was flying back to Thailand to spend a week in Phuket. I guess he can never get enough of beaches…