We took the 3.5 hour, scenic bus ride to Hue and encountered our first Northern Vietnam mist. Despite the mist, the views were really nice and the temperature was quite pleasant. We arrived in Hue at a random hotel and all of a sudden I heard John point his finger onto the bus window and start laughing. I looked over to see that Alex, our friend we traveled with in Cambodia and South Vietnam, was sitting in the hotel lobby! He was about to board our bus to transfer to a night bus to go to Hanoi. We chatted with him for a few minutes, laughing at the fact that we run into him everywhere. He told us the hotel we were stopped at was actually pretty nice and cheap so we grabbed an inexpensive $9 room with a private balcony complete with city view!
It was nice because we were in a much less touristy area of Hue so we could find some really good local food. We found a place on the street where a bunch of locals were eating and we hunkered down for some grilled beef and garlic spinach. Everything tasted really great (and spicy!) and we topped it all off with a local Hue beer called Huda. We started briefly conversing with a group of Vietnamese people in their 20s and left to find a sweet treat at a nearby bakery. As we made our way back to our hotel, we passed by the place we were just eating at when the group at the restaurant started shouting at us and making hand motions to encourage us to come over and drink a beer with them. The rest of the evening was a highlight of Vietnam as we spent an hour or two sharing their hot pot meal with them and trying to communicate in broken English and hand gestures. They shared their Huda beers with us and wouldn’t let us contribute to the bill at all.
The group then invited us to go with them to sing karaoke, a dream come true! Vietnam is littered with karaoke bar after karaoke bar and we desperately wanted to check one out. Since Vietnamese people never walk more than they have to, the whole gang loaded up on their motorbikes and drove across the street, literally, to park. We walked over to the entrance faster than they motorbiked. The establishment was much different than we imagined. It was floor after floor of private rooms with couches, each with their very own karaoke screen. We entered a room with one of the guys and he proceeded to belt out his favorite song: Just Give Me a Reason by Pink. We then followed it up with I Survive and he sang a song in Vietnamese. We had an awesome time but didn’t spend the evening with the whole group singing. Either they didn’t feel comfortable with us singing with them all night or our rendition of I Survive didn’t pass the Vietnamese karaoke test. I think it was the latter. Nonetheless, we were exhausted and left the karaoke place to return to our nice balcony room.
We had plans the next morning to rent a motorbike and visit a nearby national park. Unfortunately, we woke up to classic rainy Hue weather and decided to rent a motorbike to visit some of the emperor’s tombs in town instead of driving 50 minutes each way in potential downpours. The grounds of the first tomb were really nice but we decided one tomb visit was enough and we chose to forego the remaining tombs in the city to do what we do best: explore the countryside via motorbike. We took a random right hand turn and cruised along a dirt road only about 2 meters wide through beautiful forests and friendly villages. The road also provided some lovely river views. Since we were off the tourist track, it seemed the villagers rarely saw foreigners. This meant we were greeted with huge smiles and children running after us yelling, “HELLO!!”. As our gas tank quickly diminished, we forced ourselves to turn around and head back to Hue.
We spent the rest of the afternoon checking out the citadel in town, eating some local Hue specialities that closely resembled the spring rolls we had in Da Lat (the way they looked, not the taste), and sampling coffee, ginger tea, and strawberry yogurt drinks at a very inexpensive, hip, open-air, local cafe.
After a full day of sightseeing, we boarded yet another night bus to the Northern city of Hanoi!