Huế - A day trip from Da Nang
One of the main things that Da Nang is known for is day trips, it’s proximity to several UNSECO sites makes it an easy home base for people that want to get in and see all of these sites. So we did what others do, and we went down to a local travel agency right over the touristic river area and we booked a day trip to Huế.
The big three for day trips are Hội An, Mỹ Sơn (pronounced Mi Sun, we learned this trip), and Huế. We had done Hoi An and My Son eleven years ago, documented back here and here, so we decided just to do Hue which we had unfortunately missed on that last trip.
Hoi An is the closest, and a lot of agencies offer day trips to see it. We’ve heard that nowadays is almost completely overrun with tourists and is slightly pushier on the “buy something” attitude of the vendors. Not having gone back we can’t verify that, but I would still suggest that if going you make a night of it and stay so that you can enjoy the city at night after most of the day trippers have headed back into Da Nang. We probably should have ventured down just to see it again, the buildings and quaintness of the town are something that would have stayed the same, but from the people we talked to it seems like an easy one for us to skip.
Mỹ Sơn is only a day trip, it’s an architectural site of old Cham temples dating from the historically narrow time range of between the 4th to the 14th century. We were amazed by it last time we went and because it is a site as opposed to a living town, it should still be just as wonderful to see. They’ve probably put together more information and done additional repair and discovery work – there was an Italian team that was working with the Vietnamese in a joint venture to restore the site. We talked several times about booking this trip while we were here, and not going back this trip might be something that we regret. But with our future travels taking us into Cambodia we decided not to give a head start to the Cham-style temple fatigue that we know will hit us after a certain point while touring through Ankor Wat. It’s the same as those trips to Europe that pack in too many Cathedrals in too short a time, you start to lose the appreciation of their beauty.
So off to Hue, we booked a private driver tour for 1.6 million Dong ($70 USD). In our mind this is the way to go instead of being on a large bus with masses of other sightseers and huddled off from one sight to the next like a pack of willing sheep. Our driver picked us up at our hotel at 8am and started right away with explaining Da Nang and its sights as he drove us up along the beach so we could see the morning fisherman still pulling in their nets.
The drive takes you up and over the Hải Vân Pass, which up until a tunnel road opened in 2010 was the main road from the north to the south in Vietnam. Now it’s only used for tourists and for trucks carrying flammable liquids since they aren’t allowed in the tunnel. The views are breathtaking, and here is another reason we opt for the more private tours, you can ask the driver to stop at the occasional pull off to get photos. The time when we passed through the fog was still rolling out of the hills and the views weren’t as spectacular as we had hoped, but still impressive. We were told that the haze is there daily and doesn’t burn off until the early afternoon.
Once up and over the pass it's just under another hour and a half before you pull into Hue. We just sat back and enjoyed the scenery as it rolled by.
The first stop was the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady, which history goes back at least 400 years. We took a quick hike up the steps and around the grounds to get some photo and admire the site.
The main temple requires you to remove your shoes to go inside, so with it being hot and Tina and I being too lazy to remove our sandals, we just admired from a distance. It was also crowded with tourists inside, so that definitely helped in our decision to just move on and try and see if we could get ahead of the tour buses.
A day trip of Hue from Da Nang will contain a set list to things to see, Hai Van Pass, Celestial Lady Pagoda, Citadel, tomb of emperor Khai Dinh, and the Hai Van Tunnel. It sounds good - the pass and tunnel are just fluff since you need to drive there and back, so you'll get at least one of these no matter what. The tunnel shaves 30 minutes off the return trip, but in retrospect we wish that we had asked our driver to take us back over the pass so that we could see the views in the late afternoon light.
But, before all of that, the tour also includes stopping at a local restaurant for lunch. After the pagoda we talked to our driver about the timing of the tours and we opted to do an earlier lunch, around 11, and then head to the citadel when most of the tour buses would be carting their clientele to restaurants for their lunches.
It might have worked, the citadel was still crowded, but it was easy to believe that it would have been worse had when been there an hour earlier.
The complex is massive, we could have easily spent more time there then the 90+ minutes that we did. The information in places is laid out well and in proper English so that you can take the time to learn about the history of the various emperors up until they finally gave in to the French in 1945.
It seems that during the Vietnam war even the American's went out of their way to avoid bombing the site - at least up until the northern Vietnamese realized this and started using it as a base. So eventually it too was pretty extensively damaged and you can still see the restoration work that is going on around the site.
From the citadel we made it over to the emperor tomb for Khai Dinh. The site is impressive, apparently he was not. He worked with the French and raised taxes on the locals so that his tomb could be built.
This is also a site, like the earlier pagoda we visited, where shorts have to be below the knees, no bare shoulders, standard "show some respect"-type dress code need to be followed. We could keep our shoes on in this one, but the dress is something that should be considered when dressing for one of these tours. We had read about this and were properly attired, they do have wraps for the girls to grab and wrap around themselves if needed, and although we saw a few people inside that were violating the dress code signs, most of the time guards at the site would step up to keep improper attire from entering.
There are a total of 7 emperor tombs in Hue, we've been told from people that actually went to all of them that they are all worth seeing. Most tour routes only do Khai Dinh, as it is the most impressive, and it seems to also be on the way back out of town for your return to Da Nang.
We got back into town around 6:30 that evening - having a private driver we had him drop us off by the riverfront tourist area so we could grab a quick dinner. From there is was back to our routine of walking over to the Vinmart and purchasing some more groceries and taking a taxi back to the hotel.