Hue was a city that wasn’t on my radar until I opened my Lonely Planet: “Hue is the intellectual, cultural and spiritual heart of Vietnam.” I like all of those things, so we decided to spend a day exploring Hue.
Hue is located on the Perfume River in central Vietnam (click here for a map). The air was clean, the pace was slow, so I immediately liked the city. Since we only had one day, I decided to book a tour so we could have a driver take us to the royal tombs that were further afield. Our guide Anna (her English name), met us at our hotel and then we drove to the Perfume River and boarded a dragon boat.
After 15 minutes in the dragon boat, where a mother and her daughter live and work, we arrived at the Thien Mu Pagoda.
The pagoda and complex were impressive. Monks live and worship here and the car that Thich Quang Duc drove to Saigon before self-immolating is also on the grounds. His self-immolation was caught by a photographer and the photo spread around the world and later won a Pulitzer, see it here.
The past is always present, but in Hue I felt it even more. At one point my father asked Anna how her family had been affected by the Vietnam War and how they viewed Americans.
Before I write about Hue and Ho Chi Minh City, I wanted to make everyone hungry. I traveled to Vietnam ready to eat and I had a list of recommendations from Princeton in Asia fellows living in country, so I was ready to go (see the end of this post for a full list of restaurants and addresses).
Vietnamese food is full of fresh herbs and vegetables, so it was a terrific break from the deep fried fare of Indonesia. On our first day in Hanoi we stopped by Quan An Ngon (18 P Phan Boi Chau). This was a wonderful place to sample many different street foods without the potential dangers that come with eating on the street. Up first was a delicious Vietnamese version of papaya salad topped with plenty of peanuts and a nice tangy dressing with hints of fish sauce. I’ll be trying to recreate this dish at home.
Next we tried a lotus root dish. Lotus root is meaty and when combined with shrimp and other ingredients in a sweet dressing it’s hard to distinguish it.
Any trip to Vietnam isn’t complete unless many portions of spring rolls are eaten. We tried streamed rolls (below) and wrapping our own rolls (photo at the top of the post). The fresh spring rolls we wrapped included pieces of star fruit and banana as well as shrimps, greens and a nice dipping sauce. Most American grocery stores now carry spring roll wrappers in their Asian food sections.