Breakfast was far less busy today, which was nice. This was one of the more elaborate buffets we encountered so it was nice to peruse when it wasn’t so busy.
When Jenn told me about hiring a private driver to drive us to Hue, I secretly balked but figured she had done the research and it made sense. (Jenn did basically all the planning for this trip.) Hiring a private driver is exorbitant in most of the places I’ve traveled to. But in Vietnam it is quite affordable. Moreover, in our case it made a lot of sense given our route. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of the trip.
The Marble Mountains
Up to this point the highlight of my trip to Vietnam had been in Cambodia. I enjoyed Saigon and out day trip outside of it and enjoyed Hoi An, but neither compared, for me, to Angkor Wat. And I felt like I hadn’t seen anything in Vietnam that really awed me in the way I like to be awed when I travel.
That changed when our driver dropped us off at the Marble Mountains outside of Da Nang. The Marble Mountains are a series of limestone and marble hills on the edge of Da Nang that feature caves and temples (and shrines inside of caves). I have never been to a place like this before. It is the closest I’ve come to those crazy temples in China on the cliffs, a place that is also on my bucket list, if I have one. So this puts off the need to go to China for some time.
There are so many shrines and so many statues it’s almost overwhelming. It’s really a truly unique place and I spent the entire time grateful that Jenn had come up with this idea and that the hotel lady who set our itinerary made sure to give us a few hours here. I am surprised this place isn’t even more popular than it already is. (I suspect it’s more of a destination from Da Nang so, had we stayed there, there would have been more encouragement to go here.)
After we climbed up past some temples and caves, I climbed to the top of the highest peak for the view.
The highlight of these caves and shrines for me came near the very end of our walk. It was a shrine set deep inside the cave, somehow tiled with marble.
Pardon my western ignorance, but it felt like we were in Temple of Doom or something.
My shitty pictures cannot convey how impressive this place it is. It’s absolutely incredible. For me, it and its surrounding caves and temples is one of the must see sites in Vietnam.
Hai Van Pass
We drove through downtown Da Nang and both of us felt pretty happy with deciding to pass on the city. It’s very modern and has a massive beach, but I’m not sure how much there is to do within the city itself.
North of Da Nang is the most famous road in the country, Hai Van Pass. This is the point in the country in which the mountains come straight to the see, essentially cutting the country in half. There is a tunnel through them but the more fun thing to do, as long as you’re not driving, is to drive the pass. (I must say that, though I am extremely happy I didn’t drive in Vietnam and especially happy I didn’t drive the pass, it wasn’t the worst road I’ve ever seen. It actually had guardrails! It was far less intimidating than roads I’ve driven in Montenegro and the UK and even a couple I’ve driven in Canada.)
It’s really the drive up and back down why you do it. When you stop at the top, there is a Vietnamese fort (well, the ruins thereof) and a bunch of tourist trap cafes. The view from the top is decent but not quite as good as the views from the road on the way up and back down. The nearly perpetual haze in Vietnam makes my pictures not very good. (Also, my camera is not as good as your phone.)
It’s worth the drive if you’re in Da Nang or do like we do and drive to Hue from somewhere south.
Also: Jenn had an embarrassing moment here that I can’t help but mention. (It’s my website, after all.) She was washing her hands after using the toilet when the owner of the cafe got very excited, yelling at her. Apparently, this was the urinal. Fortunately, there was a sink she could use afterward.
Our last stop on our drive before Hue was the beach at Lang Co, just north of Hai Van. (I believe that’s the beach in the north looking view above.) Beaches were not a priority for us on this trip but I think it’s safe to say that Jenn and I both had a tinge of regret as we stood on it. Lang Co is a beach town and it’s probably not a place you want to stay for more than one night unless you really like beaches, but the beach is gigantic and a very short walk from the hotels. Moreover, when we were there – during the rainy season, I must point out – there was basically nobody. It was extremely pleasant. And had we not been going in the ocean later on in the trip, I would have gone swimming if only for a moment.
If I could do the trip all over again I would spend a night here. (Though I bet it is very busy in high season, since it is so close to Da Nang.)
The rest of the drive didn’t involve any more stops. But I still enjoyed it as driving through country I’ve never seen is one of my favourite things to do. The countryside here is very, very different than the Mekong, as you much imagine, and much more classically “Vietnam” in terms of western impressions of this country.
In Hue, our driver had trouble finding our hotel. He tried to drop us off but we looked out the windows and saw no signs of the hotel, so we insisted he was wrong. We showed him the “real” location on Jenn’s phone and he drove a few blocks and dropped us off, telling us it was in an alley he couldn’t drive up.
So we walked up the alley and it wasn’t there. We soon realized the alley was the wrong number. We switched Jenn’s app from Apple to Google and it showed the alley the driver had attempted to drop us off at. This wouldn’t be the last time that Apple’s map app wasn’t as accurate as Google Maps. Head’s up if you’re using Apple’s map app while traveling. Anyway, we walked back to the other alley and found our hotel. There are alleys throughout every Vietnamese city but in Hue there are wider and so there are more major businesses in them, including many hotels.
We had failed to look for a hotel with a pool so we showered and then went out to find Jenn some coffee. The coffee we found was the cheapest we had yet found in Vietnam. I had a strange drink that wasn’t apparently notable enough for me to record what it was. Was it blueberry jam and soda? I think it might have been.
We found a place to eat dinner which served a platter featuring many of Hue’s unique foods. Hue’s cuisine is particularly unique for Vietnam because it was the home of the royal court and so there is a long tradition of elaborate food preparation. The food was among the weirdest we had yet encountered in Vietnam, but some of it was very good.
After dinner we went to the river walk, recommended to us by an American at our hotel, and we walked the length of it, which was very pleasant.
When we returned to our neighbourhood we went to what we thought was a craft beer bar. We found out they had given up on craft beer and no longer served it. So we had some cocktails; Jenn’s was more successful than mine.