Vietnam travels were going so well.. before we travelled to our second destination, Huế. Hanoi old quarter was great for us, everything was within walking distance, the food was a great introduction to Vietnamese cuisine and there's plenty of people watching to do in the 100's of bars & cafes. Then we had to start our travels South and the halfway house was Huế.
Let me bring you up to speed with it's recent history: Huế is a small city, which was the imperial capital between 1802 and 1945. After that, things clearly got shit quickly. In 1968, during The Battle of Huế the city and it's people literally got the shit kicked out of them by both the communist North and Americans. The US of A laid a shit storm of bombing campaigns that destroyed most of it's historical buildings (and laid to waste many locals too), whereas the communist North decided to torture then proceed with massacring up to 6,000 people for the sheer fun of it.
Huế enjoyed it's heyday when it was still colonised by the French and was a sort of sun, sand and sea destination. Now with it's dwindling population of just 400,000 it paints a depressed picture of a relic from history, that is still managing to grip onto a destination on most travellers maps only because of it's central location on the backpacking trail. If there was a way to avoid this place, I think most would after a day of staying here.
The streets in Huế are mostly empty, with 100's of rickshaw drivers waiting to wave and shout over to you for an uncomfortable hour of ‘sightseeing' for an unreasonable sum of money. Walking around in the day, is like walking along the promenade at Margate, Kent. The only difference is the weather is actually warm here and people still travel through the city. Anyway, below are my top reasons why Huế can be officially crowned the shittest place on Earth..
- WHERE ARE ALL THE TOURISTS? Will be what you ask yourself after a few hours of wandering the lonely, sad and depressing streets in central Huế. It's only really at night you see more than a handful of fellow travellers also passing through mostly on Phạm Ngũ Lão road, where the western focused bars & cafes are located and a few hotels. You will walk past restaurants that can cater to 100's and see not a single patron at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- EVERYONE IS GOING TO TRY AND SCAM YOU Yes even that little old fucking lady selling fruit from a basket on the street will see your western ass a mile off and try charging 10x the price for a Pomelo. Here is a tip, if you are buying something, question the price every single time. Even at a local shop selling soft drinks, they will most of the time try hiking up the price for you. Want Noodles on the street? “Well sir, because I am a dodgy fuck from Huế, it's going to cost double than the guy sitting next to you!” will be your welcoming from the lovely local people.
- HELLO, HOTEL! 1 HOUR! Will be what you hear every time you are walking on the streets from rickshaw drivers and passing men on motorcycles. The depressing state of affairs in this city is there are far too many people working in the tourism industry than there are actual tourists coming to the city. So when you walk outside, you will be constantly harassed by rickshaw drivers, motorcycle taxi's and random men who I don't even know what the fuck are selling! Avoid eye contact, shout NO! when they come near you and keep walking.
- VISITING THE ATTRACTIONS (SHOULD THAT BE SINGULAR?) Yes the major attraction in Huế is their version of China's Forbidden City (Huế Imperial City). We have been to the former one and can say it was fucking awesome. The one here has the size that would make you think it would be impressive, but upon arrival realise it's a bit shit. Sure, in it's heyday it would have been a spectacular marvel in this region of the world, but the American's saw to it that it wouldn't live past the war and still the majority needs to be rebuilt. However, if you have the time (not like there is much else to see) you can sit and watch a video showing what it would have looked like before it was blown the fuck up. I mostly enjoyed the people animation that was clearly taken from The Sims PC game.
- THE SHITTEST FOOD YOU WILL LIKELY EAT IN VIETNAM I read somewhere that if you want to eat authentic food from Huế, you should go to Hanoi. Yet, another story I read was Huế has some of the most varied and unique dishes in the whole of Vietnam. That's because the previous Emperor demanded a different meal every day of the year, he never wanted the same meal twice. Hanoi was easy to find a great meal, even the empty restaurants that were located opposite a packed out, widely acclaimed restaurant offered awesome food that was worthy of an award. Huế is the complete opposite, it's hard to find somewhere that looks acceptable to eat for starters. The bar and cafe streets have same-same food that lacks any character (kind of like the city itself) and offers sandwiches that aren't even baguettes (a Vietnamese essential must-have). Our rule is if the menu serves western food, then the local food in the menu is not going to be up to scratch. We went out for meal one night and found ourselves waiting an hour for our last dish to arrive (bearing in mind we were the only people in there the whole time!) and when it came out, it looked nothing like the dish we originally ordered. Even a locals restaurant isn't going to serve you great food, because they are all family run (i.e. Housewife in the back) kind of places that don't serve anything remotely authentic old style Imperial Huế. At least in Margate the fish and chips aren't always that awful.
- THE TRANSPORT AROUND THIS SHIT HOLE IS SERIOUSLY LACKING When you arrive at the station, you will be mobbed by dozens of taxi drivers. For the remainder of your time, you will find that when you most want a lift, they won't be there for you. It also seems like the local taxi companies here are even more scam-like than Hanoi. Vietnam itself doesn't have regulated taxi fares, so they can charge you whatever the fuck they want and you will notice the meters skipping very quickly after the first 0.5km's. With no local buses to use, no coach stations and a train station that is far out and offers no help to local attractions, taxi's are your only option unless you want to hire a motorcycle for the day or spend loads on a day tour. Just getting from the new quarter to the Imperial City would take half an hour of walking or a taxi ride that will cost roughly 35 – 40,000 dong and is just under 2km's away!
So there you have it, Huế is now the shittest place on Earth that you could travel to. At least in Margate I could enjoy a stroll around the dilapidated town, play some penny arcades, grab a 99 Flake (that costs £2) on the beach (in the rain), grab a cone of chips and then go out for a few drinks in the Wetherspoons and finish the night off with a healthy doner kebab and watch the waves crash in.
Oh dear god, this place is so bad.. It's making me miss good old Margate!