Chả Cá Lã Vọng: The Must Eat Northern Specialty When in Vietnam

cha ca la vong

Chả Cá Lã Vọng: The Northern Dish you Must Eat When in Vietnam

When guests ask me for my favourite Vietnamese foods, chả cá always challenges for a top spot. Every aspect of the 100 year-old northern specialty contributes to one of Vietnam’s most enriching dining experiences. Chả cá hasn’t reached similar global heights to its edible peers, which makes it harder to find outside of its birthplace in Hanoi. Fortunately for those who missed chả cá lã vọng in the capital can save themselves the return trip to Hanoi by visiting a new restaurant in Hue.

What is Chả Cá Lã Vọng?

Chả cá simply translates to grilled/braised fish, but its minimalist name doesn’t hint to the complexities of its flavours. The river fish is marinated with turmeric then fried with dill and scallions. The fish is fried twice, once by the chef and then at the dining table. The dish must be eaten straight from the pan and additional ingredients added by the diner moments before consumption to maximise its taste bud sensations.  Along with the dining table stove and frying pan, chả cá also comes with a plate of vermicelli noodles (bún) and several small dishes of lime, fish paste, peanuts and fresh chili. A delicate portion of each ingredient creates a dish like no other.

cha ca hue tours

How to Eat it

The chả cá dining experience can be a daunting one for those not entirely experienced with Asian cuisine. Due to the delicacy of the dish, getting the balance of flavours right is essential. Although there is never one way to eat any Vietnamese dish, my Hanoian friend gave me some invaluable advice for eating chả cá; after adding every ingredient and condiment, the result shouldn’t be bigger than a mouthful! Keep that in mind when following these steps.

  • The waiter will bring out the pan of fish and set the stove alight. Although the fish has already been cooked, this is merely to reheat the fish, dill and scallions. Your waiter may do the cooking themselves or leave you to it. Keep the ingredients in the pan moving to avoid it sticking and burning at the bottom of the pan.
  • Use your waiting time efficiently and get some quick prep done. That tiny bowl with the purple shrimp paste needs a few cuts of chili, several drops of lime and a stir with a chopstick.
  • Once complete the waiter will lower the stove’s flame and the fish will continue to simmer.
  • Take a small piece of fish along with a tiny amount of dill and a shred of scallion to your bowl. Dress with a few strings of vermicelli noodle.
  • Squeeze a drop or two of fresh lime, a couple of peanuts, a dab of purple shrimp paste and if desired, a cut of chili or two.
  • And that is chả cá lã vọng. Get the whole thing between your chopsticks and send it down the trap. Destination ngọn!
chả cá lã vong hue

Where Does the Dish Come From?

Chả cá lã vọng originates from one eatery in the centre of Hanoi’s old quarter. Still active on the street that has been renamed after the much-loved dish, the restaurant first began operating during the French colonial era over 100 years ago. Legend has it that anti-colonial revolutionary cells would frequently congregate there under the cover of the restaurant to exchange information on latest activities and findings. The name Lã Vọng belongs to a Confucian legend whose statue would sit overlooking diners at the restaurant and now lends its name to the dish.

cha ca la vong

Bún Chả Hà Nội vs. Chả Cá Lã Vọng

When Anthony Bourdain took Barack Obama to bún chả in Hà Nội, I always wondered why he couldn’t have spared a couple more dollars and took him for chá cả lã vọng instead. Maybe they got the names confused? I am certain that a serving of chả cá lã vọng may have instilled some of that age-old revolutionary spirit in Obama and could have changed the current dystopic face of global politics we find outselves in today. Don’t make the same mistake as Anthony!

 

bun cha ha noi

Despite both having bún (vermicelli noodles), their respective meats being chả and originating from Hà Nội. There are multiple distinctions between the two dishes. Firstly, bún chả is a dish based on minced pork shoulder squeezed into meat balls.  While both dishes include vermicelli rice, chả cá uses shrimp paste rather than fish sauce as its primary condiment. Vegetables for bún chả are pickled whereas chả cá’s dill and scallions come fresh and fried on the table. Finally, there bún chả is mainly a greasy affair whereas chả cá lã vọng is evened out with its side-ingredients. Oh and of course, chả cá lã vọng is much more of a table spectacle!

Where to Get the Goods in Hue...

Despite being a dish exclusive to Hanoi, recent years have seen a few locations open up in Hue and despite being almost 1,000 kilometres from home, they serve a decent chả cá lã vọng.

Chả cá Lăng Hà Nôi
254 Ngự Bình
While the restaurant is further out of town than …. The restaurant surrounds the exterior of the owner’s house and tables are set beside the garden.

Chả Cá Hà Nội tại Huế – NGƯ PHỐ
1 Dương Văn An
Classier dining experience than your average street food joint. Close the to centre of town and quality is to a high standard.

But it Ain't That Local

Chả cá lã vọng is a northern dish and a finer dining experience. This is the kind of dining experience for families. Don’t expect these restaurants to be full of streetlife buzz! If you’re looking for something curbside and definitively loca, take the Hue Grit Food Tour!

Best Homestays in Hue Vietnam-Live Like a Local

homestay in hue

Homestay has been something of a buzzword in the South-East Asian tourist industry the past few years. For travellers looking for new ways to engage with local culture, a homestay can provide so much more to their guests than hostels or hotels. Here are some reasons why to choose a homestay. If you’re sold on a homestay and just looking for the best homestays in Hue, skip further down the article.

Why choose a Homestay When Travelling?

Engage with Local People

Homestays are run by people that aren’t necessarily affiliated or professionally trained in hospitality.  Hosts often work in other industries and have specific interests outside of travelling. You could be staying with artists, government officials or business men. Their recommendations and view on their city will differ from the tourist narrative and you’ll have a unique insight into where you’re staying.

A Different Perspective on Vietnamese Life

It’s hard to get a real insight for life at home in the country you’re travelling if you’re staying in hotels. Homestays are often made up of different varieties of family units or even friends! This leads to candid moments that will be  interesting to the anthropological traveller. You’ll see how people eat together, how rooms are used and feel the atmosphere of household life.

A location Away from the Tourist Area

For the most part, homestays are modifications of buildings that function as homes for a family. They’re generally located outside of tourist spots and in residential areas. While your homestay might not be conveniently placed among all the tourist attractions or places to interest, you’re going to be in a real Vietnamese neighbourhood where the tourist industry hasn’t dictated the growth of the local community. With Vietnamese streets being so lively, you’re certain to find some local eateries and shops near to where you will be staying.

Eat with the Family

As mentioned before in the Cafe Nha article, it’s hard to get homemade food in restaurants. If your homestay proes food for guests, then you’ll have the rare opportunity for a home-cooked meal! Eating with your hosts will be an opportunity to learn local table etiquette and dining habits.

What is a homestay?

With the rise in popularity of homestays in South-East Asia, it’s worth noting that there isn’t any standardization of the word. A lot of small guesthouses and hostels use the term ‘homestay’ even though their accommodation doesn’t provide the experiences you expect them to. It’s best to read reviews and be frank when contacting the homestay about what you’re looking for. Similarly, couchsurfing is a database of people offering free accommodation and similar experiences to a homestay.

Best Homestays in Hue, Vietnam.

We’ve found some fantastic homestays during our time living in Hue. We encourage you to look through this list and see what fits your needs.

Lagom Home:

Artistic community Homestay, riverside, clean, great hosts

homestay hue grit tour

Sitting on the Huong River’s edge is the elegant Lagom home. This spacious homestay is run by friends Tram and Beo who have a keen interest in local arts and sustainable living. Lagom home is on the peaceful Trinh Cong Son street opposite the northern-side of the Huong river. Plenty of restaurants nearby but the bigger attractions such as the citadel are a walk away.

The building is new and beautifully decorated. It’s best to book in advance  as rooms here are limited (one private room and a small dormitory). Not a place to meet travellers but as Lagom homestay doubles up as a cafe, it’s a great chance to meet local people.

Bikes and motorbikes can be arranged for rent. For an additional fee, The hosts are happy to show you how to cook or cook Vietnamese meals. Breakfast is free every morning. The hosts frequently hold a community crafts session which guests are welcome to participate in for a small fee.

Lagom Homestay
196 Trịnh Công Sơn, Phú Cát. Huế
Facebook Page
Booking Page

homestay kitchen hue grit tour

Le Robinet Homestay:

Great Location, close to Citadel, helpful staff, good value

Robinet Homestay Grit Tour

Le Robinet is a recently new homestay that opened in early 2018. It is run by Linh who has taken over her family-in-laws house and turned it into a hip place for independent travellers to stay. Being a fellow non-native Hue enthusiast, Linh is admirable in her determination to find the city’s best spots for food and entertainment.

Le Robinet Homestay is situated down a small road within a stone’s throw of Hue’s Purple Forbidden City. This is one of Hue’s better locations as you really get a feel here for old Hue. While the citadel is flocked by tourists during the daytime, the citadel’s serenity is more distinct after dark.

The homestay composes of three buildings. Despite guestrooms being in the newest part, The oldest building, which dates back to the 1940s, is still accessible to look around. The spacious patio out-front has tables and chairs scattered around for a few evening beverages. The family room on the top floor is accompanied by a pleasant balcony with furniture.

Le Robinet has 5 rooms at very affordable prices ranging from dormitories, a family room, double bed and twin bed rooms. There is also self-serving kitchen for travellers who want to cook at home. Bike rental and motorbikes available.

Le Robinet Homestay
47B Trần Nguyên Hãn, Phường Thuận Hòa
Facebook Page
Booking Page

Le Robinet Homestay

Bamboo Homestay Hue

Friendly owners, Off the Beaten Track

Bamboo homestay Hue Grit Tour

Bamboo homestay is run by jolly newly-weds Trang and Hung. They recently took over the premises and after a refurbishment of all the rooms, are open for business. Thuy is exceptionally welcoming and more than happy to help visitors on their trip to Hue.

Although simplistic in decoration and minimal in design, Bamboo Homestay has a range of room options for all types of travellers. The bamboo furniture in the homestay was inspired by Japanese furnishings but all was made locally by nearby manufacturers. The concept of Bamboo homestay is to reinvent the purpose of a local cornerstone raw material into a contemporary, yet sustainable use. A large proportion of the furniture is made from bamboo!

Although it’s not popular location for tourists, Bamboo Homestay is within reach of some Hue’s lesser-travelled places of interest such as; the Nam Giao Esplanade, the Phan Boi Chau memorial house and Tu Dam Pagoda. The nearby streets Phan Chu Trinh and Phan Dinh Phung run adjacently along the An Cuu river and make for a nice evening stroll. Le Loi street also includes a variety of museums and art galleries as well as riverside park. While I was initially put-off by Bamboo Homestay’s location, it makes for a good place for people who want to avoid the tourists crowds and want a real experience of urban Hue

Dien Bien Phu street receives a large amount of traffic but the windows and doors are double-glazed so noise pollution in the rooms is limited.  There is a kitchen where guests can cook themselves or the hosts will cook for an additional fee. Breakfast is free and vegan options available. Bamboo Homestay offer motorbike and bicycle rental as well as a bus-ticket booking service.

Bamboo Homestay
56B Điện Biên Phủ, phường Phường Đúc
Facebook Page
Booking.com

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Bamboo homestay hue grit tour

Khanh’s Home: Homestay and Art Gallery

Artistic, new rooms, out of the city

Khanhs homestay hue grit tour

Khanh’s Homestay was initially an art gallery where Khanh and his father would display their work. Due to it’s out of town location, Khanh’s family decided to extend their family compound for tourists wanting to get out of the city and head somewhere more relaxed.

The homestay is made of two recently furbished en-suite bedrooms. Breakfast is optional and guests are free to browse the gallery through the day. the trees between the houses bear an assortment of tropical fruits and flowers. This isn’t a boutique hotel but it’s worth remembering that Khanh’s Home primarily functions as residence to Khanh’s family.

Khanh’s Home is on Minh Mang street. It’s a short driving distance from a number of tombs as well as graffiti wall and the abandoned waterpark. Probably more suited to the intrepid traveller and people willing to travel by motorbike or bicycle on the city outskirts.

Khanh’s Home
89 Minh Mang, Hue.
Facebook page
Booking page

Khanh homestay hue grit

Other Homestays of Interest

Homestays come and homestays go. I imagine this list will have to be repeatedly updated. Here’s a few more to check out if you don’t strike luck with any of the above.

Quynh Hostel

Beautiful house down an alleyway in the heart of Hue tourist area. The building itself is still being decorated at the time of writing but host Hoan is incredibly entertaining and loves to hang out with his guests. Once the homestay is complete, Hoan will have his work on show at the homestay. Only dormitories here but prices that can’t be beaten.
31 Kiệt 56 Nguyễn Công Trứ tổ 15
Facebook page
booking.com

Citadel Homestay

Exactly what is says on the tin. Based on the north-east side of the Imperial City, Citadel Homestay is new and refurbished. Nice balcony, cool living room and a kitchen for guests to cook in. Owner Anh Tuyet doesn’t speak much English but can speak French. Mrs Tuyet can cook up a storm in the kitchen on demand. Breakfast is free too!

86 Tran Quoc Toan
Facebook page
Booking.com

What do you prefer? Hotels or homestays? Have you stayed in any great homestays in Hue? Have you stayed in any of the homestays listed? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section at the bottom of the page!

All photos in this article by Ana Fortuna

Hue Grit Tour

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Want to know more? Check out the itinerary.
Looking for some gritty tips? head over to the blog.
Have some questions to ask? Contact us.

Guide to Places to Visit between Hue, Danang and Hoi An

Hue Grit Tour Danang Hoi An
So you already know that central Vietnam is the best, right? Hue, Danang and Hoi An is a route regularly traveled by visitors to Vietnam. But most people don’t realize that there is so much to visit outside the cities. The 120 kilometers between Danang to Hoi An offer plenty of opportunities to visit lagoons, beaches mountains and some interesting characters along the way. We have included some locations of interest as well as some travel options at the bottom of the page. If we’ve missed something out, tell us in the comments below!

Hue to Danang: Lagoons, Mountains and Springs (Oh My!)

The distance between Hue to Danang is around 100 kilometers and takes between 2-3 hours. Most people head straight down highway one to Danang. What you should consider is everything on offer in between. Get up as early as possible and hit the road!

Thuan An Beach

beach, local food, fishing town

Ice Cream Vietnam Hue Grit Tour Danang

Lagoon at Thuan An Fishing VillageThe drive from Hue to Thuan An leads you east towards the coast. 15KM makes it a short drive to this sleepy beach town. If you’re keen on an early dip in the sea, stop off and strip down. Otherwise, Thuan An is also home to popular food banh ep. Which will make for a light breakfast or brunch. Thuan An has a few things going on with some other places to check out around here. Check our blogpost on Thuan An for more information. Once you are done, take the road south (road 49B) which meanders between farming land, lagoons and beaches. Certainly more scenic than the highway!

Google Maps Link: Thuan An Beach.

An Bang Cemetery: Valley of Tombs

Unique tombs combining old traditions and new money

an bang tombs Vietnamese Grit Tour

Oriental graveyards may be nothing new if you’re travelling through South-East Asia but the Valley of Tombs (Nghĩa Trang An Bang in Vietnamese) in An Bang Village is especially unique. After the American-Vietnamese war, many families from this area were torn apart. Some family members left the country while others remained. As elder relatives passed away, family living abroad sent money back to support the construction of their tombs. Since Vietnam has a tradition of showing great respect to those who have passed on, it is not unusual for a lot of money to be spent on rituals and burial processes. The Valley of Tombs is possibly one of the most extravagant in the region. Tombs are more akin to small temples with immense detail on each one to emphasize their significance. Some cost as much as 2,000,000,000 VND (88,000USD) to construct. Note that many include influences of foreign decor, possibly from the countries that relatives now live in. If you explore thoroughly enough, you may find some empty graves at the cemetery. These are for ancestors that have yet to pass away. Spooky!

Google Maps Link: An Bang Cemetery

An Bang Beach

Local beach, local seafood

Opposite the City of Tombs is An Bang beach. Not to be confused with the An Bang beach in Hoi An. Very makeshift restaurants serving back-to-basics seafood. The newly-constructed beach shack/bar will provide a place for a quick swim in the sea and one of the best fish salads (gỏi cá) I’ve ever eaten. Don’t be disheartened by the term fish salad, these are sashimi-like strips of fish with mango and spices rolled up into a spring roll. Delicious and cheerfully-cheap. Google Maps Link: An Bang Beach

Truc Lam Pagoda and Bach Ma National Park

Wildife and stunning landscapes. Beautiful pagoda.
Bach ma Truc Lam pagoda Hue Grit Tour Danang
Continue south around the beautiful Cau Hai lagoon and you’ll reach the Tu Hien bridge (Cau Tu Hien) where the lagoon meets the sea. There’s some discreet beaches around here if you have the time to spare. Continue further until the QL49B joins with the highway and backtrack to Bach Ma mountain. If you are an avid trekker and a wildlife enthusiast, a walk around Bach Ma mountain may be just for you. Boasting hundreds of unique flora and recently discovered species of monkeys and deer. It may be worth spending the night camping at Bach Ma mountain if you have the time. At the bottom of this article are links for companies that can organise this. Bach Ma also has it’s own pagoda. 15 kilometers into the mountain is a monastery sitting on a hill at the foot of a lake. You’ll need to take a small bus to the lakethen take a boat to get to the pagoda. the Buddhist totem on the jungle-like islet in the centre of the lake is enchanting. The strand of Buddhism practiced at Truc Lam Bach Ma arrived from India via China 300 years ago and thus differs from the Buddhism more commonly practiced in Vietnam. The monastery happily takes in people who are looking to meditate. We don’t have any contact details for this but we are advised to just turn up and stay as long as you want. Google Maps Link: Bach Ma National Park Google Maps Link: Bach Ma Pagoda

Elephant Springs

Refreshing fresh-water pools. chill time.
Elephant Springs Hue Grit Tour
Elephant Springs (Suối Voi in Vietnamese) is a popular location with tourists both domestic and international. Around halfway between Hue and Danang on highway 1, it features several pools of fresh water. Plenty of jumping points into the deep water too. Easy Riders often bring guests here on their ride between Hoi An and Hue. A lot of travelling Vietnamese also stop here for a boozy chicken lunch and a paddle in the springs. Really busy during the summer breaks, quieter in periods out of summer vacation. Both atmospheres are enjoyable providing how easy-going you are. A lot of huts serve food and drink but often charge for using the space. Clarify with the staff before getting comfortable. Google Maps Link: Elephant Springs

Lang Co Village

Seaside. Beach. Lagoons. Views.
Lang Co Hue Danang Grit Tour
An optical precursor to the famous Hai Van Pass. Lang Co Village is idyllic. A stretch of land no wider than a kilometer wedged between lagoon and sea. The Lagoon is calming at points away from the highway. It’s idle waters only interrupted by the tug of a fishing-boat engine. Lang Co is beautiful, no matter the time or season. Lang Co also has a fantastic range of seafood restaurants. I guess bad seafood is hard to come by around these parts. There are a few restaurants such as Viet Long Lang Co which extend into the lagoon on stilted huts. However, we prefer the gritty integrity of Susu restaurant. A local family-owned restaurant favoured by truck drivers driving up and down the country. Susu restaurant really know how to put on a feast. Their fried squid and claypot fish is a must. Susu first. Lagoon instagram after. Google Maps Link: Lang Co

Hai Van Pass

Winding roads, top panoramics, mountain meets sea.
Hai Van Pass Danang Hue Grit Tour
Racist homophobe Jeremy Clarkson and cronies came to Vietnam and proclaimed Hai Van Pass to be one of the most beautiful roads in the world. Kind of like Anthony Bordain saying that the best banh my is in Hoi An. Henceforth, Vietnam gained another entry on the flashbacker bucket list. Don’t let a cynical bald man like me put you off. The pass’s fame has generated a lot of money and local authorities have take extra care in maintaining the roads. Hai Van Pass is a stunner. Higher points provide fascinating panoramic views of both Lang Co and Danang. Most people don’t take time to explore the mountain. There are a few hidden roads that lead off to more exclusive viewpoints. The easiest trail to find lies right at the top of the highway behind the old war bunker. While this path is incredibly steep it takes you to several view points where Danang and Lang Co can be seen from great heights. If you’re travelling through twice and haven’t got the energy to do the Hai Van pass again, there is a shuttle bus that can take you and a motorbike through the mountain. Google Maps Link: Hai Van Pass

Leper Beach (Bãi Xoan)

desolate settlement, secluded beach, cove.

Nestled into a cove on Hai Van’s southside is a small beach that used to be home to Danang’s leper colony.  Resettlement of the colony happened in the 2000’s to make way for a resort but for now owns the beach is empty and hardly visited. Definitely for the most adventurous of travelers looking for secluded beaches with an ominous past.

Google Maps Link: Leper Beach

Nam O Beach and Nguyen Tat Tan Street

the road easier traveled.

danang bike trip hue grit tour buy sell rent
As you approach Danang, it’s worth turning off the highway and taking the quieter and more spacious beach road towards Danang named Nguyen Tat Thanh. It’s seldom used by anyone other than those desperate to escape the traffic in and out of Danang. The nearest corner of Nguyen Tat Tan street from Danang is Nam O beach. Nam O was where the American ground troops first landed into central Vietnam. Unsurprisingly, like those infamous opening scenes from the film Apocalypse Now (which was based on an area in the Mekong Delta), Nam O is considered by many of Danang’s residents to be the city’s finest surf break. Once more, this beach is now in the possession of developers and will eventually be off limits. Google Maps Link: Nguyen Tat Thanh Street

Danang to Hoi An: The Route Well-Traveled

Danang to Hoi An is around 30KM as the crow flies. While there isn’t as much as you might expect between Danang and Hoi An, there are still some places of interest.

the Dragon Bridge and Danang’s Other Bridges.

modern engineering and architectural landmarks
Danang has a total of five bridges over the Han River. Some old. Some new. Others minor works of stylistic architecture. Completed in 2014, The dragon bridge has become the city’s lead mascot over recent years. Every Saturday and Sunday around 8PM the dragon’s head breathes fire and sprays water. It’s not the most spectacular display of pyrotechnics but still impressive considering it serves as a bridge.

Son Tra Pensisula

Adventures on monkey mountain
Son Tra Peninsula Hue Grit Tour

Son Tra Peninsula is a day trip in itself. Firstly, Linh Ung pagoda where Lady Buddha (67ft tall) looks over Danang akin to Christ the Redeemer does in Rio Di Janeiro. There’s also numerous beaches dotted around the peninsula which host bamboo huts and restaurants selling seafood. A steep drive to the top of Son Tra and you’ll find Ban Co peak which delivers a breathtaking panoramic view. The Son Tra Peninsula hosts the city’s Intercontinental Resort. If you’ve got the money to splurge, treat yourself. Known to foreign visitors as monkey mountain, Son Tra has garnered international attention for being the residence of a rare breed monkey called the Red Shanked Douc. Some people have seen the monkey, others haven’t. If you’re a budding Steve Irwin, then let the search begin! I forgot to mention there’s a 1,000 year old banyan tree too.

Google Maps Link: Son Tra Mountain

Tam’s Pub

Burgers and old tales
Tma's pub hue grit tour danang
Tam has been a Danang institution since the 1990’s. She spent her childhood and teenage years living through the American-Vietnamese war. Her tales of survival and working with the US army have captured the hearts and attention of Danang residents and travelers alike throughout the years. The endless amounts of photos that decorate the wall are testament to her popularity. There’s even a few of Jimmy Buffet! Speaking of burgers, there was once a time when Tam could claim to have the best burgers in town and the only surfboards available to rent. Nowadays, competition has grown rapidly and Tam’s inability to keep up with the market has left her receiving less customers and generally ignored by travel guides. Sadly, Tam lost some of her pizzazz when she suffered a stroke in early 2018. Nevertheless, she’s more than keen to show you old photos of Danang and Hue before and during the war. She can still crack a good story too. Google Maps Link: Tam’s Pub

Hoa’s Place and Ngu Hanh Son

marble mountain and beach side hostel
Heading further south towards Hoi An on Vo Nguyen Gap street is Ngu Hanh Son. a small collection of marble and limestone mountains. This area was once a primary resource for marble-related creations around Vietnam, most famously Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum in Hanoi. Today, the collection of mountains serve less as a source of marble and more for tourists to hike around it’s caves and peaks. There are a few pagodas nesteld into the mountain too. Ngu Hanh Son isn’t peaceful; it’s usually crowded with tour buses and hawkers. Needless to say, it’s amusing to be on top of the mountains knowing that once stood American GI’s while their enemy hid in the caves below. Beach side of the road opposite Ngu Hanh Son is Hoa’s place. Hoa was a marine with the American’s during the war and his chilled out demeanor makes him popular with his guests. Hoa and his wife run a homestay which doubles up as a restaurant and a bar. His homestay was relocated in 2013 to make space for the mass resort development in the area. His new location stands a stone’s throw from the beach but what was once a quiet retreat outside the city is now surrounded by resorts and other businesses. Nevertheless, Hoa is a charming host and he has kept prices to a minimum in order to continue attracting the Bedouin travelers that have always frequented his business. Google Maps Link: Hoa’s Place & the Marble Mountains

An Bang Beach (Hoi An)

Tourists’ Paradise
An bang beach Hoi An Danang Grit Tour
The beach road to Hoi An was once relatively quiet and ran through a couple of tiny villages. While the villages remain, the road encompasses several resorts and multiplexes. Furthermore, most tourist transportation has opted to take this route rather than the highway. While there isn’t really anything of note between Ngu Hanh Son and Hoi An, there are a few beaches. The most popular one now being An Bang beach which usurped Cua Dai of it’s title of being Hoi An’s number one beach location. An Bang has grown so much since I first visited. From being a few seafood restaurants and scanty beach bars, An Bang has received overwhelming investment from private businesses that sell everything from luxury ice cream to fusion tacos. It’s far from being anything like the other beaches mentioned in this article but excels in lavishness and decadence. Google Maps Link: https://goo.gl/maps/A1YjX7RYEqK2

Beyond Hoi An

the adventure resumes!
Mural village hue grit tour
There’s a lot more on offer beyond Hoi An as you head further south. The new and stunning Cửa Đại bridge, Vietnam’s heroic mother monument and Tam Thanh graffiti village. They are all worth a day trip if you’re planning a few days or more in Hoi An.

How to Travel Central Vietnam

Motorbike Purchase and Rental

Despite the dangers and risks involved with driving your own bike in Vietnam, there isn’t really any substitute for the autonomy you get with your own motorbike. Travel is truly best served in your own time. Please consider the risks involved, especially if driving for the first time. Motorbike purchase in Hue Motorbike rental between Hoi An and Hue

Easy Rider

Easy riders are available in abundance throughout Hue, Danang and Hoi An. Most are flexible in their itineraries and give an extra touch as local tour guides. Sometimes can be annoying in their demeanour but sit down and have a beer with one to see if he or she is the right fit for you. Easy Riders between Hoi An, Danang and Hue: Amazing Easy Riders

Private Transport Hire

Depending on your group size, there are a a variety of transports available. There are cars, vans, jeeps and people carriers available. Once again, many are available to provide a custom-fit package to suit your needs. One negative of private transport hire is the limit a roof can have when so much of central Vietnam’s charms come in it’s landscapes. Consider this when booking your transport. Private Transport hire between Hoi An, Danang and Hue: Tours From Hue

Train

Obviously, the train is very restricted in what you can experience on this route. One upside is that the tracks meander around the Hai Van pass and give a unique perspective to the set of mountains. Unfortunately, the train only serves Danang and Hue which means you will require another means of transport if you’re planning on heading to Hoi An. Check times and book tickets at least a few hours before you plan to leave. Cheaper to buy at office than online. Google maps: Hue Train Station Danang Train Station

VIP bus

travel in luxury with HAV travel. between 6am and 6pm, the company offer shuttle buses between Danang and Hue that take no longer than 2 hours. Comfortable reclining seats are great for sleeping through the journey. Wifi included. The bus goes through Hai Pass rather than over meaning you’ll miss the majority of spectacles on your trip. HAV Travel

Hue Grit Tour

Why wait? Book now! Want to know more? Check out the itinerary. Looking for some gritty tips? head over to the blog. Have some questions to ask? Contact us.

Things To Do in Hue: 10 Pro Tips and Activities From a Hue Resident

There’s a general misconception with backpackers on the banana pancake trail. Hue allegedly has nothing to offer it’s visitors except for a citadel and an abandoned waterpark. Let me tell you that those people are quite simply banana pancakes. There’s plenty of things to do in Hue.

Hue food tour grit
Dessert along the Huong River.

Hue is definitively the place to get to grips with real Vietnam; it’s the country’s capital of culture! Hue demonstrates the country’s past, present and future in equal measures. All of this can be accessed much easier than larger cities such as Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.

Beachside afternoon dining

While people may argue that Hoi An is a better representation of Vietnamese culture, it simply isn’t. The town is a 21st century tourist construct, built upon the age-old orientalist perceptions of east Asia and today permeates a sculptured culture to please the tourist masses (an academic agrees with us!). Hoi An has some incredible history but all this has been swallowed up by the density of what it has become. Is Hoi An more pleasant than Hue? Disputably so. Is Hue more ‘real Vietnam’? Undoubtedly yes.

10 Things to Do in Hue

1. Serendipity in the Hue Citadel

Hue citadel can be described in three parts; the imperial city, it’s surrounding citadel and the city beyond the citadel walls. The entrance to the imperial city comes at a steep 150,000VND per person. The imperial city is impressive but information for visitors is sparse and disappointing. If you’re there for the history, it’s best to hire a guide or do some research before visiting. The Hue citadel surrounding it is equally enjoyable to investigate if you’re short on cash.

Things to Do in Hue Grit Tour
Imperial City inside the Hue Citadel

Take a stroll through the various lakes and pavements that encompass the imperial city and you can find great food, friendly people, quirky establishments and remnants of history’s presence. The 200 year-old building hosting a cafe is lavish and can be accessed without paying the entrance fee. The labyrinth of hawkers and shops in the 100 year-old Dong Ba market is fun to get lost in. There’s even a restaurant that sells seaweed in edible varieties. There might not be tonnes of things to in the citadel but there’s plenty to explore. For a detailed guidebook to the history of Hue and the citadel, we suggest picking up Exploring Hue by Tim Doling which is available from Phu Xuan/Phuong Nam bookstore (two names, same bookshop). If you’re looking for a tour guide, we can help you find one. Contact us!

1. Hang outs at Hue’s Abandoned Waterpark

Due to it’s Instagram-appeal and minor Jurassic Park vibes, Hue’s abandoned waterpark is a quick riser on every backpacker’s list of things to do in Vietnam. #wanderlust. Truth be told, what more could you ask for when making a day trip out the city? the abandoned waterpark is a great place to recreate and more so to procreate. I’m not playing devil’s advocate here but I’m pretty sure that it would top any hostel story you encounter after you visit Hue.

Things to Do in Hue Grit Tour
Thuy Tien Lake: Hue’s abandoned waterpark

Plenty of space for a picnic here. Bring sandwiches and a sugarcane juice. At the time of writing, some local fellas guarding the premises in an attempt to keep curious visitors out. Be nice and charming. If they don’t let you in, take another route.  if they ask for an entrance fee, it’s your call. Remember your actions will impact future visitors. Think local, act global, yada yada yada. Check out our article For a better informed and more prosaic piece about Hue’s abandoned waterpark. If you don’t get in. No biggy. The banana pancake hype makes it seem way better than it really is. #coldfact. Maybe try #3 for an instagram substitute.

3. Visit Vietnam’s longest Graffiti Wall in Hue.

Growing hip-hop collective Block Party hosted international graffiti jam ‘Meeting of Styles’ in 2018. The result? a 820-metre wall that now features fantastic graffiti art from all over the world. Be sure to crawl under the fencing at the beginning of the wall to get to the other side.

Things to Do Hue Grit Tour

Hue’s graffiti wall is only a few kilometres country drive/ride from the abandoned waterpark. So why not kill two things to do with one trip? Here’s our article on the graffiti wall for more information.

4. Take an Alternative Tour in Hue

It’s tough engaging or understanding a culture, especially one that is so different than the one you come from. Have you found yourself walking in squares not sure what you’re doing or why you’re even visiting an area? Undecided on what things to do while you’re in Hue? Struggling to choose what to eat or even where? You want to get out of the tourist traps but don’t know how. I’ll admit, when traveling, these are the conundrums I face regularly.

Grit Tour Hue Vietnam Karaoke
Hue Grit Tour

The Hue Grit Tour is designed with people like you and I in mind. It’s a multi-purpose tour; an adventure of firsts, several challenges and a period of cultural understanding. Join us at the deep end on the Hue Grit Tour for a plunge into Vietnamese culture.

5. Get Out of Town and Hit Hue’s Beach

Want to experience Vietnamese seaside culture? Get to Thuan An Beach! 12 kilometers out of town is a bit of a stretch but if you’re in need of some seaside adventure, the trip is worth it.

things to do in hue grit tour
Thuan An Beach. 12km from Hue

There’s a few places to check out from the public beaches, the bus cafe and the lavish Beach Bar. A few places for accommodation and plenty of seafood bites. Check out our article on Thuan An beach for things to do there.

6. Eat Hue Food: Hue’s Distinguished Range of Vietnamese Cuisine

The Jury’s still out on where the best Vietnamese food is in the country but Hue has arguably the most distinguished local food in Vietnam. Restaurants around the country try to imitate Hue food or simply gentrify it, Hue is where Hue food is best.

Hue food tour grit
Popular local dish banh khoai

Eating is the most obvious activity on any things to do list, but are you eating how it should be done? Be warned that eating  is only half the experience. We suggest taking a food tour so you know where to eat, how to eat and why the food is eaten in Hue. Don’t go to trip advisor eatery for your Hue experience. A city’s cuisine can’t be summed up into a tourist restaurant!

7. Drink a Coffee Kick to Great Music at Cafe 054

If you’ve become irritated with the constant rotation of shitty pop songs during your travels to Vietnam, then Cafe 054 is right up your street. Great music, easy vibes, pool table and great people!

Hue cafe tour tours Vietnam
the homies of cafe 054.

Cafe 054 plays a collection of hip-hop and electronic-related music that will keep you happy over a drink or two. Soft drinks, budget cocktails and beer available. Be sure to try out the cafe’s signature drink the coffee kick. The cafe is run by some of the local hip-hop community and they are more than happy to tell you some more things to do in Hue.

8. Tomb Raider: Quest for the Royal Tombs

Hue was the capital of Vietnam for around 150 years (1802 to 1945) and the monarchy went through plenty of emperors during this era. Most travel websites count 6 or 7 royal tombs in Hue but they are WRONG. Technically speaking, Hue has tombs for 11 of the 13 Hue emperors and for the 9 Nguyen lords that preceded them. There’s also Prince Nguyen Phuc Hong Cai who was neither a lord nor an emperor but has a mausoleum for fathering three of Hue’s emperors.

Things to Do in Hue Grit Tour
Tomb of Minh Mang in Hue

Most tourists buy onto package tours which only include the more popular tombs of Minh Mang, Thu Duc and Khai Dinh . All mausoleums are accessible to the public but can take up to 2 whole days to see them all. Get a motorbike, bicycle or rent a private car driver and go catch ’em all! We once again recommend a tour guide since information at the tombs is sparse. Prices for each tomb range from 40,000VND to 100,000VND. You’ll be lucky to find an ATM near a tomb so go prepared to spend heavy.

Most blogposts about the tombs seem inadequate. The best around is here. We’ll make sure to write a one soon!

9. River Wander and Boating on the Huong River

The Huong River is the soul of Hue. When the Citadel was built, geomancers recommended it’s location on the river’s bend for it’s defensive attributes and the balance in feng shui provided by Hen island and Da Vien island. Com hen is a local dish that encapsulates the history of the river with it’s blend of baby clams and local produce. Hen Island is worth visiting for it’s islet culture and fame for com hen.  Le Loi street and Trang Hung Dao street run along the river’s opposing banks. Both have numerous shops and stalls set up that bring small pleasures and things to do for their visitors.

things to do in Hue Grit Tour
a makeshift cafe overlooking the dragon boats on the Huong River.

Behind the Ho Chi Minh museum lies a makeshift cafe; a great place to watch the day pass with the river breeze. Boats are available for rent by the hour for numerous uses including karaoke parties, cultural shows or a means to get to various landmarks. If you’re exhausted, river drifting might be the perfect. If you’re looking to rent a boat on the Huong River, the Dragon Boat company are reliable, responsive and flexible.

10. Night Prowling on Hue Walking Street

To my own dread, Hue authorities announced the opening of Walking Street; the part-time pedestrianization on the streets surrounding the tourist area in late 2017. Comically titled ‘Pho Tay’ (westerner street) by local residents, rental prices on buildings have sky rocketed since it’s inception. Strangely enough, walking street has transformed the area into a bizarre hybrid of ‘fashionable’ Vietnamese beer drinking restaurants and a few nightclubs for local millenials. Although walking Hue street still retains numerous tourist traps, it has become a focal point for the amalgamation of Vietnamese culture and the population’s desire for modernity. This area is fast moving; restaurants and bars close as quick as they open. It’s hard to keep track on what’s happening there.

things to do in Hue Grit Tour
Sunset view from Midtown Hotel’s sky lounge

Walking Street is transport-free from 6pm until 11pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Not so many things to do but plenty to drink and eat. Midtown Hotel’s rooftop bar is a great place to watch the 18:00 sunset. Tevet bar is a lively millenial restaurant for barfood eats. Ta coffee shop’s balcony is fun people watching, as is the intersection between Vo Thi Sau and Chu Van An streets. Brown Eyes and Factory club for the party, burger shack for drunk food on the way home.

Hue Grit Tour

Why wait? Book now!
Want to know more? Check out the itinerary.
Looking for some gritty tips? head over to the blog.
Have some questions to ask? Contact us.

Beach Of Hue: Thuan An Fishing Town. The Allure of the Sea

beach hue grit tour thuan an

Thuan An Beach for 2019

Thuan An is Hue’s closest beach. Around 15KM from the city centre, it isn’t as tourist-convenient as the beaches that serve Hoi An or Danang but it’s charm and the variety on offer makes it a worthy day trip. Thuan An is a small fishing village with a population of around 21,000. While a resort and some villas have cropped up, Thuan An has retained it’s strong cultural identity tied closely with the sea. Ultimately, this means cheap seafood, cheap beer, strips of sparsely-populated beach and an authentic culture to discover!
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Cafe Nha: Fantastic Homemade Lunch in a Rustic Hue Cafe

Homemade lunch hue grit tourHow Authentic is Your Lunch?

Visitors to Vietnam will tell you that local food is a divine exploration of the palate. Although flashpacking foodies travel with a golden bucketlist of dishes, it is easy to forget that no culinary experience can be more authentic than one in a home. Unless tourists stop in an intimate homestay or are invited to eat with a Vietnamese family, they may not have the opportunity to eat homemade food. Cafe Nha in Hue is changing this. In contrast to the fast-turnaround noodle shops and beer-centric restaurants, Cafe Nha have brought the household culinary experience back for lunch. Read more “Cafe Nha: Fantastic Homemade Lunch in a Rustic Hue Cafe”

Mi Op La 33: Best Vietnamese Breakfast Restaurant in Hue

Mi Op La 33: The ‘Full-English’ Vietnamese Breakfast!

best Vietnamese breakfast Hue Grit Tour
Birdseye view of the first floor during Tet Holiday.

Any visitor who likes a drink will find out that Vietnam has some of the cheapest beer in the world. Following that evening of small serendipity will be the second realization that tropical hangovers are brutal. Read more “Mi Op La 33: Best Vietnamese Breakfast Restaurant in Hue”