Not wanting another mediocre hotel breakfast*, we decide that this would be a good morning to try one of the many street-side kitchens. We pick a friendly looking establishment with a few patrons sitting on tiny red stools slurping noodles. We approach the woman serving, smile and hold up two fingers. She points to the pots of broth and pulls up pieces of meat as a way to offer the choices. We choose one of each kind of broth and our pieces of pork. A man working with her motions us to take a seat. Crash! The tiny red stool breaks under Don’s weight (I think the price of our noodles just went up!). We all laugh and a sturdier blue stool is offered. The noodles are served in a rich stock, one bowl spicy the other plain, garnished with cilantro, green onions and a side of hot chilies. It doesn’t get more authentic than this.
Hue’s principle sight is the Citadel, the Imperial City built in the early 1800s when the Emperor Gia Long moved the capital from present day Hanoi to Hue. It remained the capital until 1945. Two years later a large fire destroyed many of the buildings. The rest, neglected over the years, deteriorated due to termites and humidity such that by 1978 only 20 out of the original 148 structures were still standing. A major restoration project was begun in the early 1990s. Today it is a massive site with a 10 kilometer perimeter wall surrounding an eerie mix of unmaintained open areas and newly painted reconstructed pavilions.
The best preserved area is to the left of the central Thai Hoa Palace. Walking through this area of brightly painted pavilions, temple and archways surrounding pretty courtyard gardens one can get a sense of the magnificence of the Hue complex in its heyday.
It’s about a 30 minute walk to the Citadel from the other side of the river where most of the hotels and restaurants are located. Public parks line both sides of the river. Mirroring the condition of the Imperial City the parkland is tended and not tended. Dirty areas with trash and uncut grass are intermixed with maintained flowerbeds and contemporary sculpture. The pathway closest to the river is lovers’ lane where on every bench a young couple, wanting a little privacy, waits patiently for us to pass.
While not cold there is a drizzle in the air and a general gloom over the gray city. We go to the Mandarin Café for a light lunch. Mr. Cu, the owner of the café and photographer, runs a nice little backpacker business serving good food and offering various tours around Hue. Of course you can also buy one of his many photos that cover the walls. At lunch time he was cruising his café chatting up the patrons with stories of his photography and how much his camera and lens cost. His camera is expensive and his photos are wonderful. The food here is cheap and tasty. We ordered two plates of stir-fried noodles, served with lots of veggies and a side of stir-fried morning glory. This is also where we arranged our boat tour of the Perfume River the day before. I would highly recommend the café for both its travel services and its basic menu.
*The Breakfast buffet at the Hotel Villa Hue has an OK selection of items. Catering to mostly Western guests there are few Asian options. Although I’m not sure they know what Westerners like to eat for breakfast. Crepes with chocolate sauce is an odd choice. With a decent selection of breads and pastries, you won’t starve. They will also whip up an omelet or fry an egg for you.