With a fair share of students in this city, it’s no surprise to find an organization such as Hue Enter. It is an independent group organized by students who volunteer their time as tour guides to help visitors get the best out of their time in Hue. It’s a great platform for travellers to meet locals and vice-versa. I found out about the tour on CS and signed up for a full-day tour.
Originally, I was supposed to tour with Masanori whom I met in Hoi An. He decided not to join me at the last minute, which is why I had 2 guides, Trang and Le, accounting and English university students respectively, bringing me around. Oh speaking of Masanori, here’s a story. He was actually travelling with his friend for 2 weeks and unfortunately his friend fell ill to food poisoning at Hoi An. It was so bad that they arranged for a doctor’s visit at Hue. Eventually, his friend recovered and I met him in Hanoi, but by then, he has spent most of his time and money at Hoi An and Hue in the hotel. Poor fellow.
We started the tour in the morning where we had Bun Bo Hue for breakfast. Bun Bo is a common rice vermicelli soup dish with beef shanks. Yes, kinda like Pho Bo but with thin rice vermicelli. It’s served with a fragant lemongrass broth along with a plate fresh herbs and vegetables (Common Vietnamese staple). The Hue version adds a dash of chili oil to it. There’s no better way to start your tour in Vietnam than that. Once we’ve filled out stomachs, we were on our way to the Emperor’s tombs!
In the past, every emperor who has passed away will be buried in a tomb complex that was he commissioned to build. While these tombs serve as a permanent memorial to the emperors’ legacy, they also help the deceased to make the transition to the afterlife smoothly.
The 2 famous tombs that we went to were of the Emperor Khai Dinh and Tu Duc. Emperor Tu Duc’s tomb complex looked more like a palace or a temple than a cemetery. Why anybody needed that large space after death is beyond me but it is the symbol of the power these rulers used to have. Despite having a tomb in the complex though, the emperor wasn’t buried there. The actual burial ground was kept a secret and in fact, workers who were involved in the construction and burial process were executed. Worked to death, literally.
On the other hand, Emperor Khai Dinh’s tomb was, I thought, far more interesting of the 2. It was the last emperor to be buried (The successing emperor was later marginalized by the French) here and while he complex is far smaller than his predessesor’s, the architecture was of a unique blend of Eastern and Western influences. The interior of the tomb was beautifully decorated and well-preserved. In fact, there was a statue of the emperor in the tomb itself, to ensure people remember his good looks.
Here’s a strange thing we found out in Hue. Apparently, many students take up a foreign language as their major in Universities. Now, we usually associate language major students with people who have a passion and flair for language, literature and poetry. Unless you have a genuine interest in the language, you are unlikely to spend your university years on it. However, students here take it up to improve their career prospects. Thus English is a popular choice, so as Chinese and I would imagine, French too.
Now here’s the surprise, depite being language majors, many of them couldn’t speak the language. That was what Dane and Andy found out when they met up with some local friends. They found out that they couldn’t speak the language, hence had to resort to paper and pen as a means of communication.
I asked Le about it and she said it’s quite common here. Apparently, even the teachers or lecturers couldn’t speak the language well. The phenomenon stems from the older generations of teachers and students who were too shy to speak. Since new students have neither the platform nor incentive to practice the language, the oral aspect has thus been neglected. Obviously, something is wrong with the education system and it’s a shame because there is so much potential being wasted. Le told me that something like Hue Enter is giving students the platform to practice English.
I then quizzed her on what type of career she intended to persue after graduation and she said she wanted to be a teacher. The salary of a fresh grad teacher is around USD$100 per month (In the private sector, it’s about USD$300 for a fresh grad). Even with a lower cost of living here, that isn’t a lot. Sometimes when you see how well things are going in the country, it’s easy to forget that like many other deveoping nations, it’s still finding its foot in the international ground.
After lunch, we visited another temple and had some local desserts before I said goodbye to my new friends. I gave them some peppercorns I brought from Kampot to thank them.
(Not sure what they’re going to do with the Kampot pepper though LOL! I’ve been wiser since and brought some Malaysian fridge magnets, bookmarks and keychains to Europe. I met another Malaysian CSer who brought mini Malaysian flags that she got from a confectionery shop, that’s a good idea too. Light, small and could be brought along by a bundle. Point is, don’t travel empty handed!)
On our last day in Hue, Dane wanted to learn Vietnamese cooking so Amy taught us how to make some Vietnamese Beef Noodles.
Are you interested in learning too? Alright, I’ll teach you. Pay attention.
First you need the ingredients, the most important being the rice noodles, or rice vermicelli, or Bun in Vietnamese. If you’re in Vietnam, you’re in luck because Bun is widely sold in every market! You’ll see many market stalls with heaps of Bun stacked onto their tables. They are fresh and ready to be consumed immediately. What? What if they are contaminated you say? You want to wash it first? Bullshit! This is Southeast Asia and when in Rome, do as the Romans do.
Then you need the other ingredients such as slices of beef shank, minced pork, pork blood and lots and lots and lots of fresh herbs and vegetables. What? You don’t eat pork blood? It’s disgusting? Revolting? Bullshit! Unless it’s for religious reasons, pork blood is a must! It tastes better than tofu, it’s nutritious and it’s resourceful! When in Southeast Asia, do as the Southeast Asians do.
Once you have all the ingredients, you need to cook the broth. How to make an amazing broth you say? It’s very simple. You assign a good Vietnamese friend, such as Amy to make the broth. Yes, that’s right. Since you’ll never be able to outdo a Vietnamese, why even bother? The easiest solution is always the best solution. When in Vietnam, do as the Vietnamese do.
(Alrght, alright… I wasn’t paying attention then. Google the recipe yourself.)
Here in Vietnam, attention to detail is a must. Make sure you cook your sliced beef shank separately. It should be lightly boiled to medium doneness. Overcooking beef is a no-no in any part of the world.
Next, serve the Bun noodles on individual bowls. Sprinkle it with some onions and spring onions. Add the cooked beef shank and then pour the rest of the broth and meat into the bowl. If you like, you could add a dash of chili oil ala Bun Bo Hue.
Serve it with fresh raw vegetable and herbs as sides. Locals love their fresh salad. You could eat them raw or you could mix them into your noodles. Whatever your cup of tea is, they must be there.
Finally, get hold of a pair of chopsticks and voilà! You have yourself a proper Vietnamese lunch.
After the hearty lunch, we took some photos and said our goodbyes. Dane and Andy were to continue their motorbike trip northwards while I took a bus (As it turns out, night buses cost a lot lesser than trains!) to Hanoi.
The night bus here is something of an attraction to me as well. Instead of having regular seats, they are replaced with bunk beds just long enough to accommodate by short legs. As I slowly adjusted myself to the cramp bed, I took a look at the streets outside and started pondering. I came to Hue not knowing a lot about it and left as a guest. As the bus driver step on the gas pedal, I knew in that moment that I will miss the time and people I met here. Even though I have since travelled to places far more beautiful and exciting, I felt a connection with Hue.
It remains a special place to me.
On March 2013, I bought a one-way ticket to Siem Reap and travelled to various places for 5 months. I returned home in September and decided to blog all the memorable stories and photos. I believe it’s the best way to conserve these memories and also to share them with my friends. All posts are tagged to the category 2013 Travels, should you need to browse the entire series.
I was in Vietnam from March 20 to April 9. Most of the shots were taken with Olympus OM-D E-M5, with either the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 kit lens or the original Panasonic Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens. They were shot in RAW and processed, edited in Adobe Lightroom. Others shots were taken with my HTC Desire HD smartphone.