The ancient city of Hue with its citadel and burial sites of the Nguyen emperors welcomed us at 1pm – since we had decided only to have a short stopover on the way to Cat Ba island we wanted to take a bus in the evening. Getting off the bus, getting rid of the tuktuk and taxi drivers , we walked along a street south of the river, apparently the traveler quarter, with many hotels and quite a few travel agencies. Our first goal was to get our bus to Ninh Binh in the evening, so the next day we could travel from there onward to Ha Long and get a boat to Cat Ba the next day. That way we wold save time because we didn’t have to take the detour all the way north to Hanoi. The first offer for a bus ticket was 15 US dollar – quite expensive, but just because as usual we had to pay all the way to Hanoi, even if we wanted to get off earlier. We asked around at some other places, but there was no better price, so we settled for it and the option to leave our backpacks at the ticket office. The bus was to leave at 6 pm, we should be back at the ticket office at 5 pm. This left us with about 4 hours time, just enough for a quick visit at the Hue citadel.

But before we could go exploring, we needed coffee and some food…breakfast in Hoi An seemed such a long time ago. We walked along the river to the next bridge, passing through a deserted park with many dragon boats moored empty to the piers, testimonial of traveling in low season, sticking their dragon heads out and looking at us passing by. We got only asked twice in a half-hearted manner if we wanted to ride a boat. Crossing the river on the bridge a fair breeze came up, and we felt good and refreshed for it. On the northern shore of the river we walked over to the Hue citadel, looking out for a place with coffee and food along the way. On Dinh Tien Hoang, a street leading up to the citadel we came across an interesting restaurant called Lac Thanh. It advertised as being the original recommended by leading guidebooks such as Lonely Planet and Stefan Loose, and it was framed on both sides by two places called almost the same, apparently trying to hop on the success. Curious, we sat down and the first page of the menu caught our attention – the chef’s specialty were wrap it yourself summer rolls with green banana, figs and a spicy peanut sauce as filling. We had to try, no way around that. And since we were hungry and curious we both ordered two dishes – and finished almost all of it. Plus, we had a very good iced coffee, giving us enough energy to spend the remaining four hours exploring the citadel.

Hue - wrap it yourself summer rolls with peanut sauce

The emperor’s city in Hue reminded me of the forbidden city in Beijing – it is also square with a huge wall and surrounded by a water-filled moat. We entered through the south-eastern gate, and immersed into the huge area filled with big and small wonders. Inside the walls of the citadel there are several temples, ruins of houses, places in the process of being restored (we watched the restoration of a painted ceiling), and several gardens. It was so easy to imagine what life must have been like – the royal family and the noble people, running the state and taking care of their businesses, spinning intrigues against each other or having grand festivities and ceremonies… One interesting detail about the restoration of the citadel is that for the old wall mosaics and ornaments many different materials had been used. The blue scales of the dragons were made from broken porcelain, the green leaves of the trees from seashells – it was fun to take a close look and examine all the materials.

We spend the whole four hours walking in the citadel, and I was loath to leave for the bus so early. Hue is surely a place I would love to spend more time at. And I was very frustrated when we sat about one more hour at the bus ticket office, waiting for the pickup. Sometimes the Vietnamese stretched timing is really annoying for me. So we got on the bus, sat in our seats (we had designated seat numbers this time) and were driven to the next pick up location. Here one hour of drama awaited us – two travelers from Germany were not happy with their seats, as they had been promised they’d get window seats, which were a bit longer and better suited for tall people. So they insisted on getting those seats, and then some other travelers decided to switch seats as well, and the Vietnamese bus conductors were unable to handle this situation and come up with a good solution. It took forever until everyone was seated somewhere, and my patience with the way the bus traveling went reached another low point. I secretly wished we had taken the train to Hanoi, that would have been much more expensive but at least with less (or at least different) troubles.