Hai Van Pass to Hue

Sooooo after Hoi An its a 2 hour drive up north through Da Nang and into the infamous Hai Van Pass which courses along the coast giving dramatic views of the ocean from the top of tall cliffs. The road winds back and forth, side to side, hugging the mountainous hills – our bus driver was giving everyone the not only the ride of their lives but a fucking fright. He was speeding through the pass at insane speeds, taking blind corners as if they were nothing and hairpins that seemed way too unsuitable for a big bus that we were in.

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Our local guide Guang from Hue translates the 21km stretch of road as the ‘Ocean Cloud Pass’, a name given from the mists that rise from the sea that fog up the mountain range. Now there is a tunnel (The Hai Van tunnel is the longest in SE Asia) that links Da Nang and Hue which dramatically cuts the travel time but hey thats no fun – the surface route is definitely an attraction in itself. Our driver seemed like he was playing Gran Turismo on the Hai Van Pass and he knew every corner and straight, which was reassuring, but it also felt like he was trying to beat his own personal time trial record.

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Lang Co marks the end of the pass before its a smooth ride onwards to Hue, we stop for a short coffee break by the beach but as you guessed the downpour and winds don’t make for the best views. We pass by many flooded rice paddy fields and water buffalos before getting into Hue about 2 and a half hours after setting off from Hoi An. First things first – I need to try the local specialty from Hue; Bun Bo Hue! I’ve tried the noodle soup dish before but never from Hue itself and it is remarkably different – it’s fucking great, if only you could smell this bad bitch.

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With our stomachs filled it was time to do a little sightseeing, the main attraction in Hue is the Imperial City otherwise known as the Citadel or the Forbidden City. Hue was the old imperial capital and was rightfully positioned in the middle of the country, it is also quite preserved and remains mostly intact apart from a few bullet holes here and there from the VN war conflict. The citadel is a 2km by 2km square ringed by a moat which houses the actual palace which is another walled square surrounded by a moat.

As we walk around the palace grounds Guang talks a little about the inhabitants; the Nguyen dynasty. Ah perhaps he might have some answers as to why there are so many Nguyens walking around, I remember that a sizable portion of my high school class came from a Nguyen family and last I remember it is also the 7th most common surname in Australia. The Nguyen dynasty was the last imperial family to hold power in Vietnam (until the end of WWII) and so used that power to ‘award’ i.e. coerce many of its subjects to adopt the Nguyen family name by threat of death and violence. What was also practice was to kill all the people of the former dynasty and so many people changed their family name to escape punishment – Nguyen being the last dynasty explains why 40% of Vietnamese have the Nguyen surname.

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Went off on a little tangent there but now heres some pictures of me wandering around the old Tran house (I am sure the Tran family was a dynasty at some stage): to the Nguyens – ‘tu casa mi casa?’ (post-research I have found that in fact there was a Tran dynasty that ruled for nearly 200 years in the middle ages and won the famous Third Battle of Bach Dang River which repelled the Mongol invasion)

Afterwards we head to Thien Mu Pagoda which was constructed by the first Nguyen lord after being told of the local legend, Thien Mu or ‘celestial lady’ who foretold that a great lord would erect a great monument to the prosperity of the country. And ta-da almost 200 years later exactly the Nguyens took power in Vietnam. The 7 story pagoda (seven is a lucky/religious number) is the tallest religious monument in Vietnam.

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Afterwards was a little banh mi break before going out to dinner at Le’s garden (at this point I realize I had been pronouncing Le wrong my whole life – its more of a ‘Lay’ than a ‘Leeeeee’; to all my Le friends out there correct me if I’m wrong). Seems like backpackers are their main business and so reward us with free shots for doing weird shit like chicken dances (I was an unwitting victim) and giving us games of Jenga for other free shit. They also do shisha like many bars now do around SE Asia – Straya take note.

Also no pictures for this stuff as I am practicing the ‘leave most of your valuables and take cash only’ policy which has been working out pretty nicely – no drunk pictures to share and no lost wallets/phones! After all the joints close down because of the curfew at 12, the only place that remains open is Brown Eyes which only closes till the last patron passes out. Turns out the place is wicked – any place that sells buckets are pretty sick but it also helps the music was on point. Also plenty of backpackers and locals alike!

Again I feel like I haven’t spent long enough in Hue! There is still plenty of stuff for me to do like visit the nearby Son Doong caves which are the largest in the world. I have heard that it was an absolute must see from other travellers I met in Hanoi so it fucking sucks that I missed that but hey I am sure I will be back one day. After all, Hue was where my Dad is from so it would be nice to go and see the province where he grew up one day just so I know what life was like. There are also the many tombs of former emperors/kings to explore, elephant and hot springs, the nearby beaches as well as hiking around Bach Ma national park – the list goes on. I’ll be back one day Hue!

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