When you talk about tourism in the ancient city of Hue, many people will think about the mausoleums of the Vietnamese kings.
Once those sites have been checked off the list, there is nothing left to see and no need to return. That is the established thinking, anyway.
To me, however, it is very different. I am fascinated by this small and historic city and its surroundings, and I am struck by a great happiness every time I return. There is far more to Hue than meets the eye.
I love the cuisine, the beautiful scenery and the slow pace, and it is easily among one of my favourite destinations.
My love for Hue has been enriched even more after a recent visit to Suoi Voi (Elephant Spring), which is hidden away in Loc Tien Commune in Phu Loc District. In this place, my friend and I swam in the springs, played in the forest and ate delicious local chicken. It was a wonderful day.
Suoi Voi is about 60km from the centre of Hue, and 40km from Da Nang City. Its location between these two cities makes it a popular pit-stop for people making the journey between the two.
While people call it a spring, it would be more accurate to say that it is a network of pure springs, boulders, mountains and jungle which come together to create a truly stunning landscape.
The journey there is unremarkable, and the road ismade of cement. We parked the car when we could go no further and clambered up high steps with some uncertainty. Then the spring appeared.
It was breathtaking. Suddenly I became very aware of an incredibly fresh atmosphere caused by the pure and cool pool of water and the green of the surrounding forestry.
Bamboo huts built by local people lined the two sides of the stream, with the water bubbling past creating a natural soundtrack to the idyllic scene.
Visitors here are able to hire a hut, take a rest and enjoy the local cuisine.
We did exactly this, and lay back with our feet dangling into the cool flow of water.
Talking to the hut’s owner, I was informed that Suoi Voi was once called Suoi Me (Me Spring – me meaning large elephant in the ancient language).
In spring, she explained while preparing a meal for us, when the weather was warm hundreds of elephants from Bach Ma Mountain would come to the forest and this particular stream to find cassava shrubs and other food.
Oddly, they only came to this one region, and then after some time – just as mysteriously – they left for the last time and never came back.
The elephants left their marks in the shape of large holes surrounding the spring, which over time filled with water to become small pools.
These are clear and cool and instantly attractive to visitors who want to jump in and swim as soon as seeing them. Signposts clearly label which ones are safe for them to do so.
My friend, who comes from northern region of Viet Nam, said that he has visited many places like Suoi Voi in the north, such as Suoi Tien, Khoang Sanh and Ao Vua, but he loved this experience the most.
“They all have the combination of natural fountains, forests, and rocks, but the ones in the north are less beautiful. Here it is clean and safe for swimming,” he said.
To make absolutely sure we were safe, my friend hired a lifebuoy to swim for just VND10,000.
Suoi Voi soon proved to be an equally perfect destination for sunbathing, with visitors tired from their swim able to rest at full stretch on the large rocks to enjoy the sun as it radiated through the canopy of trees above.
While my friend swam, I took the chance to gaze out at the surrounding landscape.
I noticed a big rock shaped like an elephant with a long trunk, and the hut’s owner told me that it was artificial, made to memorise the real elephants that gave the site its name.
This elephant marks the nearby Elephant Lagoon, which is perhaps the most beautiful pool as it lies between two waterfalls and is completely translucent.
The hut’s owner suggested that I explore further inside the forest – packed with rare animals and plants – in order to discover more beautiful hidden scenes and enjoy many new experiences such as fishing in some pools and picking local vegetable to cook soup. I wholeheartedly approved of this idea, and went for a long walk.
I think that Suoi Voi is a special place not just for its natural beauty but also for the things that it brings to the local people.
Since first opened as a tourist destination in 1994, it has brought jobs to many residents, despite only being open throughout the summer. It is estimated that each household can earn about VND12-15 million (US$600-750) per season from offering services to visitors.
At the end of the day – capped off with a delicious chicken noodle dish – I was extremely reluctant to leave. It had been a truly memorable experience, and one that I am sure I will relive in the future. For me, the beauty and cuisine of Hue and its surroundings are sure to entice me back again and again. — VNS. by Le Minh
Outstanding: Tourists cool off in the splendid natural swimming pool in Suoi Voi. — File Photos
Only a memory: Located between two cities of Hue and Da Nang, Suoi Voi has ancient links with elephants. It is becoming popular with tourists.