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Travel Diaries: Hue

Image of rice fields, food, vietnam flag, and bridge

Dates: 05/02 – 07/02

My next stop was Hue. After a bus and taxi ride, I found myself at Memory Homestay. It was about 20:30 by then, and I was utterly exhausted. I was gracefully welcomed by Jerry and Spring, the owners of the homestay. They didn’t speak much English, but I was so grateful for how hard they tried to communicate with me.

I left my luggage in my room and went downstairs to ask where I could grab a quick dinner. You’d expect the owners to just say “go there” or write the name of a restaurant down. But no. Jerry walked me to the closest restaurant – a gesture which made me feel like part of their circle, not just a client. A very pleasant start to my journey in Hue.

I didn’t know what to order, so I just asked the waiter to give me whatever he recommended. He came back with a plate of leaves. I was to open these leaves and scoop out the inside, which looked like goo. Adventurous, and definitely not what I am used to, but I loved it. It was a mixture of pork and shrimp mince on a wet rice pancake. Yum.

I was back at Memory Homestay within 45 minutes. I showered and went to bed – I was beat. I woke up early the next morning and went for yet another Western breakfast. Granola and fresh fruit – one of my favourite breakfasts.

My next stop was the post office. What an adventure that was. I wanted to post the items I bought in Hoi An, so I walked a few meters and tried to find the line. The only problem was that there was no line. People just lined up at the counter with no sense of organisation. So, I did the same. I could go into the nitty-gritty of it all, but I’ll just say this – postage from Vietnam to Europe is ridiculously expensive, so only do it if you have absolutely no choice.

I made my way to the Imperial Palace after that, stopping for a quick coffee on the way. The Imperial Palace holds the Forbidden City inside. I walked through the gardens and read about the dynasties and kings that ruled Vietnam. Did you know that the youngest king was only 12 years old? I cannot fathom how a 12-year-old can rule a country.

I eventually got bored (believe me, this place is HUGE), and so I left and found a place to have lunch. As I was walking to the restaurant, a man walked up to me and asked me for money. I refused and kept walking, but he followed me.

He suddenly blurted out, “You are from Europe, your money is very big here, so you can give me some.” I looked at him shocked, firmly said no again and kept walking. He must have been scared by the look in my eye and backed off immediately, apologising profoundly. Anyone who knows me knows I do a lot of charity work. I share what I have, but this was too much.

I shook it off and sat at the restaurant, which was clearly a tourist place, but I didn’t mind. They had a mixed platter of Vietnamese food, so I opted for that. I enjoyed trying the different delicacies while catching up with a friend of mine over WhatsApp texts.

I was tired of sightseeing, so I decided to get a massage. I found a highly recommended place and asked for a neck and back massage. The treatment lasted an hour and I felt like jelly after. All the back pains I’d been having from carrying my backpack around just disappeared, and I felt so relaxed.

I went to the hotel after that, tired and exhausted. Jerry was outside with his daughter when I arrived, and I told him that the reason I choose homestays outside the city centre is that I like socialising with locals and seeing local buildings. He immediately recommended a little town just outside the main city, Thanh Toan. I decided to go there the following day.

I woke up and went to the centre for breakfast. I then caught a taxi and went to Thanh Toan. The first thing I saw was the market, which was full of locals selling food, drinks, and handmade items like clothes and hats. Of course, they tried to sell me coconuts – that was becoming the norm for me.

I walked along the river and was mesmerised by the scenery. I sat down and had an iced coffee as I felt grateful to Jerry for sending me to this village. It was just what I was looking for and I loved it. I kept walking and two young men called out to me and waved as they drove by on their motorbikes. Even the catcalling is polite here. I waved back and said hello. I had reached the end of the river by then so I turned back.

I started exploring the other side of the village and came across the most beautiful bridge. It was built in dark brown wood and had a Buddha shrine in the middle. There was a stunning view of the river on each side. I took my shoes off and sat on the bridge, observing my surroundings. I think I spent well over an hour there. I heard children playing, chickens shouting, and people walking about.

This seemed to be a very Vietnamese place as there were many locals taking pictures along the bridge. I was in the most magical spot, but I didn’t really care, and no one asked me to move, so I stayed.

I saw a man removing flags from across the river. These had five colours, red, green, yellow, white, and purple. I would later learn that they represent the five elements of Vietnam: fire, wood, earth, metal, and water. Time was pressing, so I got up and started heading back. However, I got distracted by a rice farming museum. I walked in and read all about how rice is harvested. Each card explained the different tools, their use, and how rice is harvested.

There were other cards that recounted stories by locals who compare today’s modern society to traditional Vietnam. The locals spoke about how three generations lived under the same roof during the war, and how strong family bonds were. Since there was not enough food, children and the elderly ate first, with the middle generation only eating if there were leftovers.

The story goes on to point out how family values are no longer important, and that fancy clothes and restaurants are the priority of today’s youth. This made me think. Vietnam seemed to be very family-orientated to me, so it made me wonder how much worse the western world is.

Another story was the one of fish and rice, and how they always go together. This was always something that I found curious about eastern Asian cultures. Mr Nguyen Quang Uyen recalls an abundance of fish and prawns. The card reads that you could find them practically everywhere, so they considered rice and fish to have the same relationship as mother and child.

I read through the different stories and imagined what it was like during the Vietnam war. I hadn’t visited any war museums, I am too sensitive for all that, but this rice farming museum did make me wonder how they lived back then.

I took one last look and started walking back. It was 40 minutes of rice fields – a truly gorgeous site. I got to witness the farmers harvesting rice, a unique scene for a European. One farmer caught me watching him and asked if I wanted to try it myself. The fields were filled with water and I didn’t want to destroy my shoes, so I declined.

I finally made it back to Memory Homestay and waited in the lobby for my transfer to get there. Spring and I had a nice conversation. She is a wonderful woman with a lot to offer. We took a couple of pictures together and I asked her to keep in touch. When the taxi arrived, we said our goodbyes and I was on my way.

If you’re ever in Hue, I recommend Memory Homestay a hundred times over. It’s a bit of a walk into the city, but that only means you get to see the true way of the people of Hue, which I think is priceless. Jerry and Spring do their utmost to make their guests feel welcome and comfortable. They are special people. Thank you!

You can find photos of my experience in Hue on the official Alpha Content Instagram page. Follow @the_life_of_a_creative_writer for more.

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