One of our contributors recently spent a day taking in the sights and flavors of Hue, Vietnam. She tells us about how the cultural heritage, the castles and a cooking class made for an enjoyable day with her family.
Nestled along the banks of the Perfume River is the once Imperial city of Hue. And it was here that we spent the day exploring on a day excursion from the cruise Ship Voyager of the Seas®. When we visited in August 2015, Voyager of the Seas® was the largest cruise ship to dock at Chan May. But you’d never know it. We were docked and ready to disembark right after breakfast. The minute we were off the boat and into the mini van, it became clear that this coastal region of Vietnam is stunning.
The cultural heritage
Hue is the ancient capital city of Vietnam. Not only does it hold a special place in the hearts of the Vietnamese, it’s also the first place in Vietnam recognised by UNESCO for its enormous cultural heritage. At the heart of this cultural significance is the Citadel, which hides the Forbidden City. This is an important cultural site because it’s the most-intact, remaining historical monument of Vietnam’s monarchy. A lot of it was damaged in the war, but surprisingly (and thankfully) much of the great expanse of significant buildings still stand or are being restored.
Castles to delight the kids
Visiting Hue is a true delight for adults– it presents a seemingly never ending, picturesque network of castles, fortresses, temples, pagodas, bridges and mausoleums. Little girls will love the Princess factor and little boys will delight in the feudal details – there’s even copper pots made for boiling intruders in oil. Not of interest for my little Sophia the First fans, but I can imagine little boys would really enjoy some of the stories the ancient walls can tell.
It’s well worth the visit, but bring your sunscreen, hat and mozzie spray – there’s a lot of walking around and exploring outside. It’s also handy to bring some toilet paper, wipes and hand sanitizer. The toilets were fine, but supplies like toilet paper and soap seemed to have run dry.
Cooking Lessons with the family
After working up an appetite, we headed to Queen Mother’s House for a cooking lesson. Queen Mother’s House is a beautiful venue. This was the residence of the mother of Vietnam’s last King, Bao Dai. She died in 1980. It’s since been restored and is surrounded by a lovely courtyard with a fountain and gorgeous greenery. The location is quite inspiring and a visual delight. We were kindly hosted for an afternoon of cooking and tasting Vietnamese flavours. Yum! Upfront I’ll admit this is probably not the most ideal activity with young children. It would be perfectly relaxing and quite a special afternoon if you weren’t looking out for little ones. So it’s great for parents, and those with older kids. I say this because there’s raw meat, big knives, boiling oil and hot water out for little inquisitive hands to grab. I found it a little stressful at the beginning with a 2 and 4-year old in tow. Having said that, we did have a wonderful afternoon after we made some adjustments to the set up.
We were introduced to classic Vietnamese ingredients and treated to a step-by-step breakdown of how to cook a selection of meals. It was an abyss of new knowledge, hot tips and exciting flavours. If you like a PHÖ, you’ll love it’s heartier, spicier cousin BÚN BÒ HUÊ, a rich and spicy soup with deep layers of flavour. This was delicious and we made a less spicy version for the kids that was gobbled up by my 2 year old. My 4 year old loved the NEM LUI (Hue Lemongrass Skewers), made from a seasoned pork paste and grilled on an open flame bbq. She dove right in and loved making these.
We also made a pancake that was crispy and light. BÁHN KHOÁI (Hue Pancake) translates as “Happy Pancake” and I know why – it makes you happy. It’s a Vietnamese rice flour crepe cooked and then filled with fresh herbs, veggies and prawns. Then it’s folded on itself and deep fried. It sounds like a lot, but it’s surprisingly light even on the very hot day that we made it. This was a wonderful experience for the kids to try new foods, to get involved and have a giggle with some very welcoming and lovely Hue locals. We had a ball and would go back in a heartbeat.
The lazy session went all afternoon and the kids dipped in and out of the conversation. In between dishes they got buzzed on freshly squeezed orange juice, explored the gardens and played with flowers in the pond. *A word for mums who prefer seatbelts – there were no belts in our van, so be sure to check that before you book.
Queen Mother’s House is at 145 Phan Dinh Phung St, Hue City, Vietnam. To book a session at Queen Mother’s House email [email protected]