Archive for June, 2018

When In Hue

We flew from Ho Chi Minh to Hue to visit this former imperial capital in Central Vietnam. Other than the Citadel, some pagodas and tombs, we hardly know anything about this former capital that was the seat of Nguyen Dynasty emperors till 1945. Pronounced “whay”, we were cautious not to overdo the touristy stuff under this sweltering heat. In a sense, we welcome the occasional afternoon rain.

Hue welcomed us with pleasant weather. No rain upon arrival in Hotel Saigon Morin. Breezy. And just perfect. We have a full day tomorrow visiting the Citadel, royal tombs, the Thien Mu Pagoda and its bonsai garden. Thus, we wanted to take it easy today. No cyclos, no boat rides, no late nights. Just one quiet night in our lovely century-old hotel. Perhaps quietly drinking a cold beer in the balcony with a perfect riverside view. Or maybe swim in the hotel pool, sipping one of those sugarcane juices laced with lemon grass. That was the plan.

Then, food thoughts interfered. Strolling along the Perfume River, we stumbled upon Pho Di Bo walking street. Immediately, we knew this won’t be an early night. There were many food choices, many shopping options, plenty cafes and bars, street mimes, and of course those low stools and tiny tables lining the streets. We managed to do some decent shopping but not before our dinner in this Vietnamese restaurant serving special Hue dishes. Loved everything we ordered. We were almost done eating when we decided we needed another round of those yummy spring rolls. 😊

It’s Day 3 and we have been eating Vietnamese everyday. Fat chance we’d grow tired of it especially the way my grandson has taken to spring rolls. That’s fine — he’s eating more vegetables now, and drinking fresh fruit smoothies like there’s no tomorrow. I’ve tried the Jackfruit Smoothie and loved it. You can smell it even before you drink it. Been eating our fav custard apples (atis) too. Happiness 😊

Beyond Golden Rice Restaurant are the cafes and bars. In one bar, several hunks were playing a game where players had to be garbed in ladies’ clothes. Some losers prowled the streets without changing back to men’s clothes. Could they be…. are they? Well, in my book they looked cool in midriff and short blouses. In the next street corner, children stood still and in awe of street mimes, while stalls selling ice cream, sugarcane juices, souvenirs, civet coffee and whatever else lined the street.

Remembering we have a full day tomorrow, we headed back to our hotel. A short riverside walk brought us to the place where people got on boats for a dinner-cruise, and where a vibrant night market was in full swing right under the bridge spanning Perfume River. Here we met 4 sweet, twinning teenage girls.

We weren’t expecting to be “busy” on our first night here. But even before our history lessons start tomorrow, we already like it here. Chances are we’d be back in the Pho Di Bo walking street tomorrow, if we aren’t too tired. There’s a certain vibe there that we appreciate. Like we enjoyed chatting with the friendly hotel door man, the cyclo drivers, the night market vendors, the teenage girls in identical clothes, the store owners, etc. Looking forward to explore more of Hue tomorrow. 😊

P.S. We loved it so much here that we went back again for dinner, some shopping and drinks. Found another gem — Elegant Restaurant just a few meters from Golden Rice. Enjoyed their duck spring rolls, papaya salad, grilled pork with vermicelli, stuffed squid, and a tofu dish. Finished off with banana Flambé (the real McCoy, not the one with coconut milk) and some vanilla ice cream. And while the boys shopped, the girls enjoyed a Huda beer . Life is good.

It’s been nearly a decade since I visited the tunnels. Yeah, did the “duck walk” inside and came out alive, gasping for breath. A decade later and here I am, older, weaker knees, agonizing whether to go with my grandnephew down the tunnel and risk losing oxygen. But he won’t go without me. Clingy? 🤷🏼‍♀️ So off we went!

Took us all of 2 hours getting here from Ho Chi Minh. Like the last time, I’m dripping in sweat just a few minutes after arrival in Cu Chi, meandering through the bamboo forest trying to imagine how the Americans set up camps while them Vietcongs survived underground. Like the last time, I’m still in awe of Vietnamese ingenuity and courage. And cringe at their horrible weaponry and victorious psyche war strategy. They used whatever was available (sharpened bamboos, nails, wood, etc) and it’s hard to wrap your head around these torturous war traps and combat gear without cringing.

Martin had his history lessons on the 🇻🇳 Vietnam War in a day with this visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels, followed by a visit to the War Remnants Museum. I tried to wriggle myself out of the latter, but ended up sharing that horrible feeling one experiences reading war trivia and viewing all those war photographs by courageous war journalists and photojournalists. This is the real #buwisbuhay (life-threatening) job. After such a visit, you head home (or back to your hotel) feeling drained. Hopefully Martin gained a good appreciation of how there is clearly NO WINNER, NO REAL VICTOR in any war. Enough said. Enough seen.

Off to see Uncle Ho again. And perhaps work on my pho and banh mi fix. Throw in some Bun Bo and those barbecued meats and pancakes too. With those in mind, we took our late (and an hour delayed) flight into Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh where we’d cool our heels the first 2 nights. Maybe retrace our steps to those food adventures we remember to this day, squeezing them into our mini-tour of the very French-looking Notre Dame Cathedral and Central Post Office plus the War Museum and Reunification Palace. The planned site visits are for the benefit of my first-time visitor grandson and my bff’s hubby. I don’t mind revisiting the Cathedral and I do admit I was completely charmed by the Central Post Office, but I’d likely enjoy a beer somewhere while they check out the Palace and Museum😁. Enough war history for me. Of course I can always go shopping for some Vietnamese coffee, a new suitcase, boho bags for my girls and dried jackfruit while the boys escape the summer temp in the air conditioned museum. Now, let’s hope the humidity doesn’t get me!

You’d forgive me for the lack of enthusiasm for this visit to this former capital. We’ve been here before (check out my previous blogs/click on highlighted items), both to the north and south, and we’re really just stopping over Saigon on our way to Central Vietnam where we plan to spend more holiday time. So there. Best that I reserve my excitement — and energy — for the former imperial capital of Hue, the sandy beaches of Da Nang, the ancient heritage town of Hoi An and the ruins at My Son.

It’s summer but the rainy season has set in. Thankfully, it rained while we’re in the van, when inside the Museum, or when we’re back in the hotel. Best of all, it rained while we dined in this fabulous place called The Chopsticks Saigon Restaurant. The restaurant was the former home of Tran Van Huong, who was President of Southern Vietnam before it was surrendered to the communist forces of North Vietnam in 1975. Mr. Huong was President for only a week, but he stayed in this villa much longer. The beautiful wrought iron gates and windows, the sweeping staircase, the elegance and charm of this lovely villa all add to the ambience. It also helps that the food is good, and the staff friendly. Can’t complain.

Ho Chi Minh is still called Saigon by most locals. I feel that 2 days here should be enough to check out the attractions before one is tempted to engage in retail therapy. As for me? I ended up joining the first-timers in visits to Notre Dame, the nearby Central Post Office, and the War Remnants Museum. I skipped the Palace and chose to shop instead for coffee, a new suitcase, boho bags and a few summer blouses. Later in the day, I tried the Nail Parlor and Spa next to our hotel. Not bad for Day 1. And oh yes, we went to Cu Chi Tunnels too but let me cover that in a separate blog. 😊

Here are a couple more shots from the resto’s website. Don’t miss this restaurant when in Ho Chi Minh.