We have taken a lot of overnight buses during this trip, but the ride from Hanoi to Hue was the coziest. Vietnam's sleeper buses have three rows of bunk beds front to back with two aisles so that everyone has a private sleeping area, but to maximize on space, in the very back is a single line of five beds side by side. Of course this ended up being where our seats were assigned, numbers 38 and 39, with a Finnish couple at the other end and a Vietnamese man sandwiched in the middle. It was already awkward enough to look over and see this guy's face inches away, but the man also had no qualms stretching out, draping his leg over Patrick's and getting comfortable. More comfortable for him, but less for Patrick, who slept with one eye open during the 12-hour ride south.
We were relieved to finally get to Hue and the town was a refreshing change of pace from the motorbike mayhem of Hanoi and the tourist-packed waterways of Halong Bay. We're not sure if it was the rainy weather or the spread out nature of the sights, but we were practically alone during our exploration of the Citadel--which just added to the abandoned feeling of Hue's old walled imperial city. The area is vast, filled with crumbling buildings and ponds covered in blooming lilypads. It's a maze to get through and ornate gateways lead from section to section.
The imperial tombs are several kilometers from downtown, but they are easy to reach by dragonboat ride down the Perfume River. It's a spectacular way to approach the complexes as the grand structures seem to arise out of nowhere. The tombs are incredibly impressive, but not in the jaw-dropping, Taj Mahal kind of way. They are serene and stately with a quiet beauty that suggests the emperors were thinking very strategically about where they'd want to spend eternity. Despite being a tourist attraction they've managed to remain unspoiled. Other stops included Thien Mu Pagoda and a Kung Fu demonstration which our guide described as what people in Vietnam used to defend their borders, before 1945 when "the Russians came and gave them guns."
View more pictures from Hue here.