As I said in my previous post, my sister and I only had 3 days in Hue, and since we were traveling with my niece and nephew, we couldn’t possibly drag them to all the historical places without boring them to tears, so we added in some kids-friendly activities as well. After a full day of sightseeing, we went on a boat ride on the Perfume River and enjoyed live performances of traditional Hue music. The kids didn’t care much about the music, but they were greatly tickled by the idea of riding on a dragon boat.
We then ended the evening with some chè (Vietnamese sweet soups/puddings). Hue is famous for its chè, with the roadside stalls that line the river banks boasting over 20 different flavors. It’s impossible to choose just one, so we had a sample of everything, tapas-style, before having another round of our favorites.
The next day, we headed to Lang Co, a beach resort town some 70km south of Hue. The beach here is so calm and clean, and again, quite empty of people, that even a hydrophobic like me had to go for a dip.
Finally, it was time to return to Hue and the airport to go home. I managed to snatch some time before our flight to wander around our hotel to snatch some photos of the city – I love how all the houses here are nestled amongst gardens and plants, even though they’re in the middle of a city. It’s little details like that that give Hue its dreamy, idyllic air and bring people back – I know I will have to return some day for a proper tour that does the city justice!
Last weekend, my sister and I took a trip to Hue, a city in Central Vietnam and our former capital from 1802 to 1945. It was partly to celebrate our birthdays (our birthdays are close to each other so we tend to combine the celebration) and partly to give my niece and nephew a much-needed vacation. My sister and I have been to Hue before, but that was ages ago, and this was our first big trip since the pandemic, so naturally we were all excited. However, there was a recent spike in the number of COVID cases, so we could only get away for 3 days. Still, that was definitely enough to check out all the important sites of this lovely little city (if you love history and city exploration though, I’d recommend a week.)
Our first stop was the Imperial City, home to the Nguyen dynasty, the last feudal dynasty of Vietnam. Our hotel is within walking distance of the citadel, and there are so many trees that despite the hot sun, it was quite a nice walk. The citadel was neglected after 1945 and heavily damaged during the two wars, so there are still many empty/ruined places, but it gives the place a melancholic feel that I quite like. Another big plus is that there weren’t many people around. The main attraction – Thai Hoa palace, where the Emperor held court – being under renovation may account for the lack of tourists. We went to Dien Tho palace and Truong Sanh palace (residences of the Empress and Dowager Empress) and hardly saw anybody.
Later that day, we went outside the city to visit the Mausoleum of Emperor Tu Duc – there are four noteworthy mausoleums in Hue (those of Emperors Gia Long, Minh Mang, Tu Duc, and Khai Dinh) but Tu Duc’s is the best both in terms of style and scope. Set on a hillside and surrounded by pine trees, it is not just a place of burial but also a place of rest and relaxation for the Emperor while he was alive.
If you have the time, the Mausoleum of Emperor Khai Dinh is also worth a visit for its wild mix of French and traditional Vietnamese styles, but since my sister and I have both been there before, we decided to check out a lesser-known site – An Dinh Palace. It was built by Khai Dinh in 1917 while he was the Crown Prince, and later became the residence of his son, Bao Dai, the last Emperor of Vietnam. It has the same mix of architectural styles, and there is still some original furniture to give you an idea of how they used to live back then, which I always enjoy. Also, it’s inside the city and doesn’t require a lot of time, and when you’re traveling with kids, that is always a plus.
More to come in the next post!
I’ve been complaining that my wandering feet are getting itchy. Due to the pandemic, I haven’t traveled anywhere outside of Hanoi (let alone outside the country) since last year, and barely left my house during the Lunar New Year break. Luckily, after the break, the number of cases in our country started to go down again, so one weekend, my sister and I decided to take a quick day trip to Duong Lam, an ancient village (or, rather, a collection of 9 hamlets) just outside of Hanoi. My sister and I share a love for historical houses, so this village, with its 300-year-old houses (still inhabited!), quiet alleyways, and somber temples under the branches of ancient trees, is right up our alley.
We had a great time just wandering down the alleys, dropping into old houses that caught our attention (most of them are open to visitors and the owners are more than happy to tell you about their history; you just have to pay a general entrance fee at the village gate.) We brought my niece, nephew, and their cousins along as well, and although there isn’t much for kids in the village, they, too, had fun running around the fields and being in the countryside.
All in all, it was a good trip and helped to quench my wanderlust a little bit. With vaccination underway, hopefully there will be more and longer trips to come this year!
Usually, around this time of the year, I would be preparing for my annual trip, but obviously, it’s not happening this year. In fact, I don’t know when I’m going to be able to travel again – even traveling inside Vietnam has become riskier and riskier. So, to quench my wanderlust, I’m looking back at my past travels and seeing what I miss most about traveling. I’m not talking about the obvious such as discovering new sights and new cultures, and meeting new people, though I do miss those too. Rather, I’m thinking things that you experience with every trip but rarely think about… until you can’t travel anymore. Things like…
– Before the trip: The excitement (and even the stress) of planning for the trip – researching the destination, coming up with an itinerary, booking tickets and accommodations, and packing. I’m very much a planner, so I love all of it. And of course, there is the feeling of anticipation as you sit at the airport (or the train station), waiting for the adventure to begin.
– During the trip: Getting to know a new place with all of its everyday details. Where is the nearest grocery store/supermarket/cafe? Where is the nearest bus/train station? Even the novelty of your hotel room/AirBnB never wears off either, no matter how long you’ve been traveling. I’m terrible with directions, so I especially love it when I can remember the way back to the hotel/AirBnB without having to rely on maps.me. It feels like I’m finally coming “home”.
And despite my love for planning, I always leave room for some flexibility during the trip. No matter how well you plan, something always goes wrong, but sometimes, these unplanned moments can result in the best memories!
– After the trip: The sadness that the trip is over, mixed with the relief that you’ll get to sleep in your own bed again. And the fun of sorting through all your photos and reliving the trip all over.
So yes, I miss traveling. But at the same time, I feel incredibly lucky that I got to travel to so many amazing places over the last few years – Iceland, Cuba, Iran, and Russia are definitely the highlights. Fingers crossed that I’ll get to travel again soon!
The packing of Russia deserves its own post because this was the first time I traveled to a climate so different from what I’m used to (before this, the coldest places I’ve been to is Iceland in the summer and Iran, both of which are downright balmy compared to this.)
As I’ve said in my other Russia posts, this past winter was the warmest in Russia since 1886, but with temperatures down to -25 degrees Celsius (in Murmansk), it still presented a big challenge for us. Adding to that, the Russians like to keep the inside of their buildings super toasty, and it’s all central heating so you can’t adjust it, so you don’t want to dress too warm or you’ll end up overheated when you step inside.
The answer is, of course, layers (actually, I’ve found the answer to all travel clothes is to layer.) Almost everywhere has a cloakroom, so you can just take off the layers inside. Here is an example of how I usually layered during my time in Russia:
Thermal shirt + Sweater + Down parka on top, Wool tights + Fleeced-line pants/jeans on bottom, then another pair of socks and boots, then of course a scarf, hat, and gloves or mittens (mittens are warmer, but gloves are more practical for photo-taking.) If it was particularly cold, like in Murmansk, I would add a turtleneck top and a pair of ski pants (this may sound a bit extreme, but they really saved me during those cold, long nights on the Aurora hunt.)
And here’s a sample packing list for a 12-day trip (we did laundry a few times):
– Top: 4 thermal top, 1 turtleneck top
– Bottom: 3 wool tights, 3 fleece-lined pants/jeans (I could’ve gotten away with just 2 pairs, but I like some varieties), 1 pair of ski pants, 1 skirt
– Shoes: 1 pair of snow boots, 1 pair of leather boots, 1 pair of flats (the flats and skirt were just for the ballet. I didn’t need to dress up – there was everything from jeans to cocktail dresses at the theater – but I wanted to.)
– Outerwear: 2 sweaters, 1 fleece jacket, 1 down parka
– Accessories: 1 beanie, 2 scarves (though the other scarf sheds like crazy so I ended up wearing my red wool circle scarf most of the time), 1 pair of gloves, 1 pair of mittens, 1 neck buff (which can serve as a scarf or a beanie if necessaries, I mostly used it to cover my face.)
This served me quite well, at least on top. My feet were OK too, though sometimes I had to stick some packets of chemical hand warmers in my boots. The two bits that were constantly cold, though, were my hands and legs. If I ever travel to such a cold climate again, I would get a pair of warm glove liners to wear under my mittens and a more fashionable pair of ski pants (I bought my ski pants simply because they were on sale) to wear over my jeans, because even with wool tights and fleece-lined jeans, my legs were still like icicles. But hey, it’s part of the experience, right?