Looking beyond the royal tombs and ancient temples, it becomes clear that Hue is also a great place to enjoy the beach.
Before setting off to Hue, I had been constantly warned of freezing drizzle, empty streets and desolate landscapes. Who, then, in their right mind would go to such a place?
After much fighting with myself, however, I finally climbed aboard a train and left Hanoi on a cold, dreary afternoon. The journey from Hanoi to Hue was by far the longest 12 hours I've ever experienced. The cabins were stuffy. Phones buzzed every few minutes. Fellow passengers trundled back and forth down the car's hallway to wait for their turn to use the restroom. I slept sporadically and woke up every time the train halted to pick up passengers.
It finally hissed into the station in Hue at 8 a.m. I disembarked from the train in a zombie-like state but was soon energized by the sun.
A shuttle bus driver, sent by the resort, picked me up at the train station. He escorted me to his mini bus and handed me a bottle of water and a warm towel. Ahhh! Sweet!
"Lucky you!" he reported to me. "At this time of year, we would have expected an awful lot of rain."
We whizzed past rice-paddy fields, roaming chickens, herds of buffalo, and uniformed children wobbling on rickety bicycles.
After a 20-minute ride, we arrived at Ana Mandara Hue, and I found myself stepping into another world. A woman clad in yellow ao dai (Vietnamese traditional dress) immediately sat me down with a warm herbal tea and a cool face towel. After a quick check-in, I was shepherded to a beachfront villa tucked away in a leafy, tropical garden. As soon as the door was thrown open, it was as if I'd returned to the bygone colonial era. The whole room was awash with dark purple hues, reminiscent of Imperial vibes. The bedroom was a piece of art in its own right, with an ornate, brightly lit, domed ceiling in stark contrast to the darkly polished wooden flooring. A sliding door opened up to the bathroom, which elicited the feel of a botanical garden.
Because I had arrived during the off season, the beach was blissfully quiet. There were days when I'd just laze away hours on the cushioned patio lounge, soaking up the last rays of sunshine. When I got itchy feet, I simply jumped a shuttle bus with the staff to visit the city center.
On one of these days, after a whirlwind tour of the citadel's confusing maze of buildings and temples, I decided to end the day with a leisurely stroll along the beach. I boarded the last shuttle bus, which whisked me back to Ana Mandara Hue. After a shower, I fortified myself with crispy spring rolls and Hue-style roasted pork ribs at a candle-lit, open-terraced restaurant looking out onto the vast stretch of coastline. I rounded out my meal with a customized Bailey's Irish Cream cocktail at a palm-thatched bar perched on the beach. I sighed and settled deeply into my chair. Could life get any better than this?
I wrapped up my day with a long walk on the beach. Afterward, back in my room, I discovered two little cakes with a goodnight note sitting neatly on my bedside table. That night - as on previous nights - I sank into sleep with windows flung open, the sound of gently lapping waves offering a welcome respite from the soon-again-daily soundtrack of honking horns waiting for me back in Hanoi. It was a blissful experience of intimate spaces, exquisite interiors, beach-hugging views, and eco-friendly offerings.
About the Author
Nga Hoang is a freelance writer and translator from Hanoi, Vietnam. She writes for a range of travel-related publications and websites, including Adventures Magazine and RESORT AND RECREATION Magazine.