Our first outing in Hue was, unsurprisingly, to find lunch. Going to a restaurant catering mostly to the Vietnamese meant the service came without a single smile or even acknowledgement that our order had been understood (as it turns out, it hadn’t), but luckily this had no impact on the quality of the food. We ordered bánh bèo, thinking it was the crispy rice pancake with shrimp and pork I had read about in my guide, steamed squid with chili and lemongrass and of course stir-fried morning glory. Well, as it turns out I had actually read about bánh khoai, and to say the least we were slightly baffled when our dour waitress came back bearing a round tray with tiny bowls of some white gelatinous substance topped with shrimp and pork sprinkles. Our bewilderment increased when she brought a plate of fried squid with tomatoes, but we decided that it wouldn’t be wise to insist on our original order. It was delicious anyways. The white gelatinous substance turned out to be steamed rice pancakes and we ate enough to feign appreciation. Thankfully the morning glory was the only order that didn’t come with any twists.
After a lazy afternoon we headed to a night market on the banks of the Perfume River to seek out some more cheap food. We eventually settled for a makeshift street kitchen barbecuing fish and pointed at a nice squid lying on the plate (we had concluded that pointing works better than speaking). We were seated at the typical red plastic tables and chairs and were pleased to note that we were some of the few foreigners that had roamed the market. To start off with we had fried seafood and shrimp balls on a skewer and after a long wait our perfectly barbecued squid was brought to the table.
The next day we embarked on our sightseeing activities and walked to the Imperial Citadel on the opposite bank of the river. Stopping to get a drink, we managed to once again amuse the locals when I freaked out and did some interesting twitching after Astrid pointed out “Julia, you have a MASSIVE bug on your face.” This time she did help me get the furry caterpillar off my face. We lost all local street cred when I insinuated the caterpillar might be crawling up her chair and she jumped up and threw it behind her. Everyone around us was laughing their heads off.
After our ordeal we walked around the Imperial Citadel, a collection of temples, impressive gates, royal halls and reading rooms spread across a vast green area because most of the Citadel suffered extensive damage during the Vietnam war and was left to decay until recent restoration projects were started. As a result many of the buildings are slightly dilapidated, but this gave the citadel a rather impressive decadent aura.
In the meantime the sky had clouded over and the temperature had dropped so much that it was actually pleasant to walk around. Anticipating a heavy tropical downpour, reinforced by seeing all the locals in rain jackets, we sat down for a smoothie to escape the impending deluge. Little did we know Vietnam is actually more like England. It drizzles for hours on end, and it’s the kind of rain which doesn’t warrant staying inside but does a pretty good job of wetting you anyways. To compound the discomfort the wind always seems to blow from the direction you’re walking in, so that your face is not spared a good scrub. After stopping in another cafe in an attempt to wait out the rain we tried to ask for some plastic bags to protect our belongings. The woman feigned ignorance until Astrid invested in a very flattering Vietnamese rain poncho, and then miraculously brought forward a plastic bag which I happily used for my belongings.
That night we decided to splash out on a French-Vietnamese restaurant, our moods having been boosted by the cool weather which meant we were wearing our hair loose for pretty much the first time since we’ve been here without feeling uncomfortably sticky. Our grilled tuna steaks with wasabi cream sauce for me and chili and lemongrass for Astrid were delicious accompanied with our home-sickness induced campari.
On our final full day we had planned on a quick visit to a pagoda with a relaxing lunch and a visit to a market. Well. Some things don’t always go as planned. After walking for about 30 minutes we realised that the pagoda we had initially embarked to see was 4km out of town. Undeterred, we turned around and headed for another pagoda which our guidebook misleadingly suggested was not too far away. After walking for another two hours we were on the outskirts of Hue at the beginning of a motorway. Finally arriving at the Bao Quoc Pagoda, it was distinctly underwhelming after our long trek and was made even more uncomfortable by a man not-so-stealthily following us around.
Starving and tired we attempted to buy two bananas only to be sold seven and the thought that our leisurely lunch was an hour’s walk away started to make us both cranky and generally unpleasant people. We therefore sat down at a locals’ place nearby and finally tasted bánh khoai as well as some fresh pork spring rolls. The food significantly lifted our spirits and we were able to make our way home without any incidents.
That evening our food orders once again resembled a lottery raffle when I ordered a fig salad with shrimp and pork only to be presented with an unknown brownish-green vegetable which was nevertheless delicious.
Today we are embarking on a 14-hour bus ride to Hanoi, our last stop in Vietnam.