I had a wonderful night’s sleep at the Ngoc Mai Hotel. Our guides, Le Tien and Cuong were early and ready to take us around. First on the agenda is breakfast. One of the famous food of Huế is called Bún bò Huế. It is a noodle dish with meat splashed with some chili oil. It was actually nearby a Huế television channel. When we got there, the place was already crawling with people, including young professionals working nearby. Unlike the previous night, this place seem to be really popular with the locals.
We managed to get seats and our guides ordered noodles for us. And for the first time, they ate with us. Normally they just watched us eat. I guess that goes to show how good this place is. The bowl is filled with delicious soup made from the meat. I was a little annoyed eating my bowl since the meat I got was actually a whole bone, so I had carve the meat out from the bone with my chopsticks. No mean feat considering how slippery the bone is. The noodle dish come with the obligatory fresh vegetables and bean sprouts that make Vietnamese cuisine so delightful.
After that tasty meal we headed out to our destination – the Thien Mu Pagoda alongside the Perfume River. It is just outside the city of Hue and all we have to do is follow the train tracks to get to the pagoda. The city of Hue is built around the Perfume River, so it is easy to get there. Well, maybe not. We were perched behind our guides’ motorcycles and we always have to hang on for dear life. Make no mistake, our guides are very safe drivers and even provided helmets for us to use. It is just that I am not used to riding motorcycles that I’m a little wary of riding them.
We reached a bridge that will cross the Perfume River. Apparently, this is a bottleneck as traffic slows to a crawl. So slow that our guides had to literally drag the motorcycles with their feet to cross the bridge. I wonder why the Vietnamese authorities haven’t thought of widening the bridge since so much traffic is going through it. If you look at the map, it would seem the this bridge is the only bridge within the area.
After crossing the bridge there was a brand new highway and somehow it was very windy. So windy, that we almost felt like toppling over. Fortunately, our guides were good drivers that there was no danger of that ever happening. The pagoda was just at the end of the highway, following the Perfume River.
The Thien Mu Pagoda was a honestly quiet disappointing. It wasn’t really that tall, nor that ornate. It is only 7 stories high and it can’t be climbed by the public. Regardless, it stands there elegantly on top of a rise, overlooking the Perfume River. It was built in the early 1600s and the name means “Heavenly Lady” – a name, which I strongly suspect, is actually Chinese in origin. Through the years, this pagoda, has stood the test of time and has become the symbol of the city of Hue.
Going down from the pagoda, is the shore of the delightful Perfume River. It is known as Sông Hương by the locals. This is probably the first time I’ve seen a river that I really liked. The river seems to be clean and alive. It doesn’t seem to be heavily silted and seems to be quite deep thus giving that nice blue color. Traditional fishing boats can be seen cruising the river. It really is an attractive scene. Little wonder that it had attracted Vietnam’s artists for centuries. As for the name, it is said that flowers from upstream trees and forests fall into the river waters and carry them downstream, thus giving a “perfume”-like aroma. To me, the name is quite romantic.
There were quite a number of tour groups at the Thien Mu Pagoda. But not enough to bother me. There were old women in traditional costumes hanging around the river area. I wanted to take some pictures of them when they started to ask for money. I said no and walked back up and zoomed at her instead. I find it irritating to have these kind of touts.
After admiring the scenery for a few moments, we were once again on our way.