A Lighter Hue

Walking in the Ruins

A few hours after returning to Hanoi from Halong, we hopped onto a train bound for Hue. It was muggy in Hanoi, and we had a bit of a trek to the station. When we arrived, after a quick visit to the hellish train station washrooms, we bought the last two sleeper seats to Hue. As there are three of us, I wound up in a "soft seat" and settled in for the thirteen hour overnight ride.

At dawn the train passed through a stunning piece of countryside; towering monoliths of stone rose from a flat plain of green rice paddies. It was like Halong Bay without the sea. The train passed small farms, the dogs running out to meet us, and stopped often in small towns slowly coming to life in the cool morning air. It was getting warmer and humid. As the sun rose higher it became apparent that mine was the sole car on the train with a broken air conditioner.

Finally we arrived in Hue, catching glimpses of the old city's fortified walls as we pulled into the station. After running the guantlet of hustlers and cabbies that waited for us outside, we trekked down the main drag into the hotel district. Hue was not nearly as busy as Hanoi, although from the looks of things it was well on its way to mimicing it. The first few hotels we tried to find no longer existed, having been levelled for the construction of towering new developments. This boom seems to have put a squeeze on the older smaller places, as we paid about half of what we had spent in Hanoi.

Across the river from where the tourists gather is the old city and the imperial enclosure within. Much of the palace compound was bombed to oblivion by the Americans after the Tet Offensive, but some of the structures have been restored, and more were being rebuilt. The place was a bit of an oasis compared to the scooter-filled boulevard on the other side of the walls. We spent the afternoon wandering the grounds until the sun began to lower and our stomaches began to rumble.

The pho in Hue is markedly different, with less ginger and less grease. It seemed better suited to the hotter nights, although I was just as happy to eat it for breakfast too.