DAY TRIPS - Other Sights

MonksEasily reached by motorbike or bike on the riverside road north of the river, the THIEN MU PAGODA is a favorite stopping point for locals on boat tours or riding around. The hill-top pagoda dates from 1601, and is known for one of its more famous monks: Thich Quang Duc, who protested South Vietnamese policies against Buddhism by setting himself on fire in Saigon in 1963. The blue Austin car he drove to Saigon – and is pictured behind him in the infamous photo – is here to see. The pagoda, now a World Heritage site (and under renovations), is as popular for its lovely river views. From the Hue Citadel head west along the river 6km to the pagoda.

Not covered in guidebooks, the HUYEN KHONG HAI PAGODA, 7km past Thien Mu, is a rarely seen pagoda in the mountains that many locals go for quiet picnics on weekends. It’s a very traditional layout, with open, all-wood buildings set up around gardens and with hand-painted scrolls in cursive posted. Monks here keep more to themselves than at some places, but you’re welcome to sit in the sitting area and have a glass of water, or stroll around the nearby pond. Getting there is an adventure. Follow the riverside road past Thien Mu for about 3km, and turn right at the small overgrown stone marker that points to ‘Huyen Khong Son Truong.’ After 0.7km it reaches Hwy 1 (you’ll see a gas station to the right); go straight here, under a pink gate, and turn right on a small road that weaves left 3km to the pagoda. On the way are two forks: go right at both.

An odd and fun little site to search out back on the other side of the river is the so-called ROYAL ARENA, a now dilapidated round wall set in a country village. Built in 1830, the site staged one-sided fights between elephants and de-clawed tigers – it was considered good luck for elephants to win; they symbolized the dynasty’s unequalled power – for the emperors and their mandarins to watch. Now it’s rather dilapidated, and surrounded by a country village that presses up to its walls. You can freely walk up the top of the wall and around the former pit where the bloody duels were staged. The arena is about 4km south of Hue; go on Bui Thi Xuan St to Phuong Duc village, and turn left at 198 Bui Thi Xuan, then left again at the fork. You can stop by here en route to the tombs, but it’s easy to get lost.

Beach folksTHUAN AN BEACH, 14km east of Hue (go via Le Loi St northeast, then turn right on the big river overpass to the beach), is not Vietnam’s best, but it can pass for a little sand time. On the way, stop off at Duong No village to see HO CHI MINH’S HOUSE, where he lived in Hue from 1898 to 1900. The village is a few kilometers away. Turn left at the second white bridge, just as the road starts to veer right, a few kilometers from the overpass. You’ll see a small market just across the canal. Take an immediate right (by a small pagoda) to get to the house – ask about “nha Bac Ho” if you get lost. It’s 100m or so down on the left – a small sign points it out. The toothless attendant may be quite perplexed you showed up.

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