Saturday, February 23, 2013


We have now had a chance to explore some of the high points of Hue, the second ‘H’ on our tour of Vietnam. During the Vietnam War (or the American War, depending on your perspective) Hue was often in the news, as was Da Nang which had an airbase nearby. As most of the places on our tour seem to be UNESCO World Heritage sites we aren’t focusing on the war, but instead on a massive citadel which was commenced in 1802 when the Emperor decided to move the capital city from Hanoi to Hue.

The citadel was established by the first Nguyen emperor and contains an Imperial city, which in turn contains the Purple Forbidden City. It was used until the last emperor died in the mid 1900s. Originally it contained magnificently decorated rooms and apartments for the Emperor, his wives and concubines and his eunuchs who performed administrative functions. As it was constructed of wood it has suffered significant damage, but much more was inflicted during the war. Parts have undergone restoration. We walked more than 3 km through a number of different areas of the Citadel, only touching the surface really.
The main entrance to the Citadel which is surrounded by a moat

Inside the Citadel, leading towards the Imperial City

Our guide, Ut, with an imperial dragon statue with a pearl in tis mouth

One of the restored covered walkways in the accommodation area of the Citadel

After the Citadel we visited Tien Mu Pagoda which overlooks the Perfume River, one of Vietnam’s major rivers. The pagoda is in the grounds of an active monastery, and when we visited we were able to hear and watch the community of monks chanting their prayers.  The community gained international when one of the monks burnt himself to death in 1963 in protest against the government’s violation of religious rights. The car he drove to his death is preserved at the monastery.
Tien Mu Pagoda and frangipani trees

Monks at prayer

The car driven by the monk who self-immolated in 1963

  Our return to Hue for the night was via a privately owned “dragon boat”. All through our journey the owners plied their captive audience with their wares – trousers, pyjamas, bookmarks and many other goods were brought out for us to hopefully purchase. The term “sitting ducks” sprang to mind.
A row of dragon boat prows

On the dragon boat - merchandise spread for sale. The boat is actually the family home.

In fact the locals seem to be very good at employing this tactic – cafes, cruise boats are fair game, and when you leave the bus at your hotel you often have to run the gauntlet and avoid eye contact. Our guide introduced us to the concept of the 3 generation T shirt. You buy it and after the first wash it fits your child, after the second wash it fits your grandchild. I haven’t bought any T shirts yet.

The following morning we visited the tomb of the Emperor Tu Duc which was built over 3 years from 1864 -7. It is an extensive parkland equipped as a palace might be with all the buildings and accommodation that might be required. He died without an heir because he contracted smallpox and wrote his own epitaph which is on a giant stele weighing 20 tonnes. This emperor had a poetic bent, but that didn’t stop the cruelty involved in the killing of the 300 workers who constructed his actual burial place which hasn’t been found.
The stele containing the Emperor Tu Duc's epitaph

Replica of the Emperor's throne

At the end of this tour we had a bit of fun dressing up a queens and kings and having our photos taken. Then we headed off to our 3rd H destination, Hoi An.
Emperor David and his Queen Joy

Emperor David in his palanquin with bearers Joy and Marion

The area near Tu Duc's tomb is populated with incense makers. The whole street is full of colourful displays of drying incense just like this one.

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