We did this boat trip over two days but it can easily be combined into one if you’re pressed for time.
You will find lots of dragon boats down by the river and we organised our trip directly with the boat owner, rather than through an organised tour. The first woman we approached down at the riverside wanted to charge us nearly £20 to go to the pagoda. She then followed us, reducing her price, and refused to go away.
We walked a bit further down and found a lovely woman (called Sâu-Linh) who charged us £7 for the same trip. From memory I think she charged us £10 for our second trip, which was longer. Her boat is number 345 and we would certainly recommend her services.
We were the only people on the dragon boat and had a lovely trip down the river. It was a bit hot sitting in the direct sunshine so we sat inside.
We only had 30 minutes at the pagoda (we should have asked for longer) which wasn’t really long enough to fully appreciate it. It is in a beautiful setting; on a hill near the river and very peaceful, despite the many tourists.
There were lots of young monks, with distinctive hair – their whole head is shaved, apart from a long section of hair around their face. Other people were taking pictures with them, but we held back because it didn’t feel quite right, until a group mobbed us, wanting to practice their English. One of them, Ang, was particularly confident and they were all happy to pose for a picture.
The next day we took the same boat a bit further down the river to see two of the famous tombs in Huế. There are seven Imperial tombs in Huế – and by tombs, we are talking sprawling complexes full of ancient buildings, gardens, statues and gateways – so you may not have time to visit them all.
Our first stop was the tomb of Minh Mang. It took around 90 minutes to get there from the centre of Huế. The tomb is like a palace with gardens, a lake, a temple and lots of different elements to look at. Completed in 1843, this is the most stately of the Huế tombs. The tomb of Emperor Minh Mang is behind a locked gate that is opened once a year, but there is still plenty to explore.
We were there for about an hour walking around. It was raining on and off but we managed to stay fairly dry. We were kept entertained by a runaway cow that was rampaging through the grounds with the groundsmen running around trying to capture it. It went for a trip around the lake and up and down the gardens, pulling a rope with a piece of wood behind it.
The boat then took us back up the river to Tu Duc tomb, which is considered the most picturesque of the tombs. We were dropped off by the river bank, with no discernible route to the tomb. We had to scramble up the bank and then up a dried-up river bed to find the main road. I didn’t really have the right shoes on, and we were worried about getting lost. There were no sign posts but we managed to navigate our way to the tomb by asking people on the way and being pointed in the right direction.
It is in a beautiful, peaceful setting and the whole area is designed to take advantage of the natural surroundings. The complex was completed before his death and Emperor Tu Duc regularly visited to write poetry and fish in the lake. However, he was not eventually buried here but in a secret location.
There are five other tombs to explore if this has whetted your appetite. They are:
• Gia Long
• Duc Duc
• Thieu Tri
• Dong Khanh
• Khai Dinh