As a general rule if you’re on a cruise then excursions come under three broad categories: short ones, medium length ones with a snack, and longer ones with a meal. During our Princess Cruises full-day excursion in the Vietnamese city of Huế we’d spent the morning exploring the Imperial City followed by a brief visit to the Pagoda Of The Celestial Lady so with lunchtime on us the next stop was to get something to eat as part of our included meal.
The location for lunch on this Huế excursion was the Hotel Saigon Morin on the southern bank of the Perfume River more-or-less where we’d crossed over to take a tour of the Imperial City earlier in the day. We were greeted by a large hall featuring entertainment from musicians and dancers at one end, lined along the windows with tables conveniently near blessed air conditioning units, and filled in the centre with a huge array of tables laid out for a buffet. The variety and quality of food was superb although with several tour groups arriving at around the same time and the concept of queueing apparently evaporating in the Vietnamese humidity it was a bit of a slog to fill a plate up.
There were meat dishes, fish dishes, vegetable dishes, and different types of rice, salads, and fruits to satisfy anybody’s tastes and there were a selection of chocolate and matcha cakes that I felt deserving of some taste-testing too. If you are taking one of the cruise excursions in Huế that includes lunch here then you won’t be disappointed.
Our final historical site for the day would be the Tomb of Emperor Tự Đức which was a fairly short drive from the centre of Huế and gave me a chance to fire off a few photographs through the window of the bus. As anyone who has regularly read any travel posts on this site (counts on fingers… nobody) knows I am not a fan of shooting photos through the window of a moving vehicle because the vibrations and bumps are bad enough but the inevitable problems with dirt and reflections drive me insane. Still, I do try to grab some on occasion just to see if any are half decent enough to warrant posting.
Getting something to eat might depend on the duration of your cruise excursion but one thing that’s almost always guaranteed is a stop at some sort of location for shopping. This is one of those areas where our views over the years have changed somewhat. When we first started cruising and heading ashore on organised trips we found the shopping opportunities something to barely tolerate; they seemed a bit forced, you always wondered if there were kickbacks to the excursion operators, they seemed like they were taking too much time away from the cultural things we wanted to see, and they often had nothing we could afford. To be fair, we’ve mainly cruised with Princess who edge into the more-well-off traveller market as a rule whereas we initially saved just enough for the experiences but had nothing left over for mementoes. As we’ve gained in age and weight we’ve also accrued a little more spending money so while we don’t come anywhere near the average fellow passenger in terms of personal wealth we have come to appreciate the shopping stops more especially as documenting our travel experiences has become the norm for us.
Our shopping stop on this particular excursion was just a few minutes away from our final destination. The trip notes had indicated we would be able to see local people making conical hats and would have the chance to buy one and we’d pictured a little village with a few huts and stalls for some reason. No idea why. The important thing is that was a terrible bit of guesswork on our part as we entered what was pretty much just a reasonably large store by the roadside next to a junction. Directly in front of us was a woman making incense sticks and behind her was another making hats; the remainder of the establishment consisted of pieces of artwork, bookmarks, packets of incense, statues, dolls, slippers, etc.
We would have bought something were it not for two cultural issues: firstly, the pushiness of the sales people. Upon walking in the store there were a number of local women who mobbed us as a group and immediately started asking what we wanted to buy. We wanted to browse first. The problem was the women seemed to work on a commission basis as it became very clear that the first one we said “Just looking, thanks” to insisted we come to her when it was time to buy and pulled away one of her colleagues a few minutes later who’d got close to us while we were looking at something else. The competitiveness was not a friendly one. The second issue was when we looked at some paintings. While the paintings were formulaic and similar in appearance (a temple with a bird and a river, or a boat on a river with the sun over the trees, or a group of women in local clothing and conical hats; that sort of thing) they were at least not mass-produced and so appealed to us as a souvenir of our time in Vietnam. The price we were quoted didn’t appeal, though, so we said no. And then came the “How much do you want to pay?” pestering. I’ve haggled before but this high-pressure pushing from multiple sources being dragged around to stop us from leaving, urging me to pick a price just didn’t make me feel comfortable.
So, not the best shopping experience but we accept what happened as something that occurs when you go somewhere you’re familiar with. All part of the reason to travel. We escaped from the turmoil of the shop and snapped a few photos of the greenery until it was time to board the bus for our visit to the emperor’s tomb.