Hue is a pleasant city that lies on the Perfume River about 2.5 hours north of Hoi An. We decided to go via train because we heard that this particular train journey was one of the most beautiful in the world. The owner of our guesthouse in Hoi An handled the logistics for us, booking us a driver from Hoi An to the train station in Danang as well as our train tickets from Danang to Hue.
As we boarded the train, we made sure to sit on the east side of the train so that we would have the best views (the ones facing out towards the sea). The train was nothing fancy, but it got us to our destination, albeit very slowly. It got more and more uncomfortable as we creeped toward hour four of our journey. (And keep in mind that we were only traveling about 65 miles.)
However, we did get to enjoy some lovely views along the way. Between the super dirty window and the train’s annoying tendency to go into a tunnel or behind some trees every time I turned on my camera, I struggled to capture a decent photo. This one will have to suffice to give you an idea.
Upon arrival at our hotel, the staff was incredibly welcoming and kind, and they gave us some good recommendations for how to spend our limited time in Hue.
For our first afternoon in Hue, we walked across the river to the city’s most famous attraction, the Citadel. The Citadel is a huge complex of formerly royal buildings constructed between 1804 and 1833 when Emperor Gia Long founded the Nguyen dynasty and moved its capital from Hanoi to Hue. The Citadel is very impressive from the outside, surrounded by a moat and 2 meter thick walls.
The Citadel is huge, with several different complexes inside its walls. The main attraction is the Imperial Enclosure, which is where the emperor used to live. It included palaces, temples, and state buildings. Unfortunately, the complex has been hit hard in several different armed conflicts over the years. In 1885, French forces retaliated for a Vietnamese attack by storming the Citadel and burning the imperial library. In addition, the enclosure was badly bombed during both the war for independence from France and the American War (what we call the Vietnam War).
In fact, Hue was the site of a particularly devastating battle during the Vietnam War. The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong seized the city of Hue in 1968 and in a matter of weeks killed over 2500 people (South Vietnamese soldiers, government workers, monks, intellectuals, etc.) The USA and South Vietnamese responded by raining bombs down on the city and the Citadel. In total, about 10,000 people were killed in Hue, mostly civilians. After the war, only 20 of the Imperial Enclosure’s 148 buildings survived.
It was a strange experience to walk around and see beautiful, elaborate buildings standing next to piles of rubble.
There were lot of beautiful things to see, and it was a peaceful place to stroll around. I do wish that we had more information about what we were seeing. Perhaps a guided tour would have been a good option.
Regardless, we enjoyed our time at the Citadel. And we caught the sunset as we walked back across the river to our hotel.
The following morning a driver arranged by our hotel picked us up to take us to some of the famous tombs around Hue. The plan was for the driver to take us to visit three different tombs then drop us off at the river for a boat ride back toward the center of Hue (with lunch provided on the boat and a stop at a pagoda along the way).
The first stop was Tu Doc Tomb. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much context or information. All I really remember is that the grounds were large and elaborate.
Next, we went to Khai Dinh Tomb. To me, this was the most fascinating of the three. The outside was gray and imposing.
In contrast with the gothic-looking outside, the inside of the tomb is colorful with every surface covered in vibrant mosaics.
The final tomb we visited was Minh Mang Tomb. I enjoyed this one because it wasn’t as crowded as the others and the grounds were quite beautiful.
From here, we walked to the nearby Perfume River where a boat was waiting to take us back up the river to central Hue. This is where things went a little wrong. (If blood makes you queasy, you may want to just stop reading here!)
As I was climbing into the boat, a hit my knee on the side. Unfortunately, the spot my knee hit was a piece of bent sheet metal. It was so sharp that I didn’t even realize at first that it had sliced my knee open. I remember thinking, “Oh man, now I’m going to have a bruise on my knee,” and then looking down to see blood running down my leg.
The family on the boat was very kind and concerned. And fortunately, the boat owner happened to have peroxide, betadine, and gauze on board. He cleaned the wound with peroxide and betadine and then tried to cover it with gauze. At first blood kept soaking through the gauze, but eventually it seemed to subside. At that point, there didn’t seem to be any option other than to continue our boat journey as planned. My knee was hurting, but the pain was manageable, and we didn’t really have any other way to get back to our hotel.
We ate our lunch and took in the views along the river.
After about half an hour or so, we stopped at this pagoda where I got to limp up these stairs while trying to keep the gauze from falling off my knee.
After the pagoda, our boat dropped us off at a pier in central Hue. From there I just had to limp another half mile to get back to the hotel. Once we were in our room, I decided to remove the gauze and check out the extent of the damage. I got a glimpse of the fairly deep gash before it started out-of-control bleeding again. That’s when I knew I was going to need stitches.
We made a quick call to our travel insurance company to ensure that we knew what we would need to do to be able to make a claim and then we went downstairs to ask the hotel staff for a recommendation about where to go. The staff was fantastic. They didn’t just tell us where to go. They called a cab and sent a staff member named Alice to the hospital with us to help with communication. We went to the international hospital, which seemed pretty nice. It was Sunday, so the place was nearly deserted, and we ended up having to go to the ICU. (That part was pretty weird.) Funnily enough, I was totally chill about the whole experience, whereas Matthew was kind of freaking out.
I was seen first by a nurse who did not seem to speak English, which made us really glad that Alice was there with us. The nurse checked it out and confirmed that I would need a stitch. (Yes, just one.) While we waited for the doctor, Alice chatted with us about healthcare and life in general in America vs. Vietnam and about her career aspirations.
Then the doctor came to talk to me about the procedure. He offered me a numbing shot, but stated that since I was only getting one stitch the pain of the shot would be nearly as bad as just getting the stitch without anesthetic. I took his recommendation and agreed to get the stitch without a numbing shot. To be honest, I didn’t think through the fact that one stitch doesn’t mean just one stick of the needle. The needle has to go though your skin on both sides of the cut and then they have to tie the stitch which feels like they are pulling and tugging on your skin. Let’s just say, it hurt. A lot. But luckily it didn’t take long.
The doctor (who was extremely friendly and spoke excellent English), also asked me about a tetanus shot. When I told him that I had just had one about 7 months prior, he said I didn’t need another one. Then he sent me on my way with prescriptions for a pain medication and a scar-minimizing gel and instructions to change the gauze every 2 days and remove the stitch after 2 weeks. My total emergency room bill ended up being about $45. (We didn’t even bother making a claim with our travel insurance company.)
When we left the hospital, Alice helped us find a nearby pharmacy to pick up the medications that the doctor had prescribed, plus some gauze, betadine, and medical tape. The she called a cab to take us all back to the hotel.
In 6 months of nonstop travel, some kind of medical issue was bound to happen. I feel very lucky that it happened the way it did. Everyone from the boat driver to our hotel staff to the medical personnel was absolutely lovely and went out of their way to be helpful. The whole experience only grew my love for the country of Vietnam and its people. And to this day, seeing the scar on my knee makes me smile as I think about our little adventure in Hue and the wonderful people who took care of me.