Friday, May 29, 2009


1. It was an easy 2+ hours drive from Da Nang to Hue. Reaching there at about 5 pm, we checked into Century Riverside Hotel for US$70 a night after passing it and seeing that it looked good with a great view over the Song Huong (Perfume River). On the right is one picture of the hotel from the river and a sunrise view of Hue from the balcony of our 4th floor hotel room.

2. After checking in, we walked across the street to DMZ Cafe and Bar for a beer. A popular joint at the corner of a junction facing the hotel, for tourists and locals like, we took a table upstairs so that we could see the world go by while we had our usual beer after a long drive. After many days of Vietnamese food, we decided to go for a Japanese dinner for a change, in a restaurant that was simply called "Japanese Restaurant" next to Imperial Hotel.

3. Between 1802 and 1945, Hue was the capital of the Nguyen Dynasty which ruled the whole of Vietnam, at least in name in the later part when Vietnam was under French control. As such, it is well known for its monuments and architecture. Over the years, the city had been subjected to much damage through war and conflicts. In 1885, the palace was ransacked by French forces. During the Vietnam War, Hue was under the control of the South Vietnamese forces. With its location very much in the front line, Hue was the site of some of the bloodiest battles and suffered considerable damage during the war. Today, it is the capital city of Hue province, with a population of about 340,000 people. Best known for its historic monuments, Hue was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1993.

4. We started our day tour with a visit to Thien Mu Pagoda, 4 km to the Southwest of Hue. Its history could be traced as far back as 1601 when the first pagoda was built here. The existing 7 storeys pagoda was built in 1844 dedicated to Buddha. Today, the pagoda was considered the icon of the city.

5. Though its low season for tourism, there were many tourists visiting the pagoda, many of them arriving by boats along the Perfume River. Overall, the complex looked well maintained. However, to bring back the old glory of the beautiful pagoda complex, more restoration work would be necessary. Whats left of the paintings on some of the walls gave an inkling of how beautiful the complex was when it was new. Picture on the right shows what I mean.

6. Through Thuan we were able to chit chat with a number of the monks there, 3 of them through the window of their study room. They were cheerful, cheeky, quick to laugh, like normal children. We were told that there were 70 monks living in the pagoda complex, including 3 adult monks. One of them we spoke to was 18 and he joined the pagoda when he was 11. Unlike the Thai monks, he said that he was likely to remain a monk for the rest of his life. The 3 of them at the window were in their teens, 10-15 probably. Unlike other Vietnamese children, they read and write Chinese in traditional Chinese (i.e the full form). They showed us a book that they read (it was a religious script), as well as a jotter book which they used to practise writing. When asked to converse, they said they were too shy to speak as they did not have the chance to practise. Sunny read a passage in Mandarin to them. Whats interesting was the crop of hair that the very young monk kept. It seemed that they would have to pass some exams before they can cut the crop of hair away. As they were, they actually looked quite fashionable, like some punks.

7. In the afternoon, we visited the Citadel and the palace complex. The Citadel was a 2 m thick, 10 km long wall (a smaller version of the great wall. Reminded me of the wall in Nanjing built during the Ming Dynasty) where the king (and his +++) lived. Today, part of the population lives within this wall. Within this complex, some had been restored but many parts were still been restored, or still in ruins. After paying for the ticket, we walked through Ngo Mon Gate towards the Thai Hoa Palace, which was where the Emperor met his officials bi-monthly.
The smaller picture on the right is the rear view of the Thai Hoa Palace. With beautiful wooden floors, columns and carvings, it was the smaller version of the Hall of Supreme Harmony (by the same name) of the Forbidden City in China.

8. Walking further, I rested at the Halls of the Mandarins, place when the officials rested and prepared themselves before audience with Emperor. The 2 halls at both sides of the courtyard had been restored. In the middle of the court-yard were 2 cauldrons, which Thuan highlighted to us they were for boiling officials in oil who were disloyal to the Emperor. Walking further back we came to the Forbidden Purple City, the personal space of the Emperor where his concubines lived and where only eunuchs were allowed entry. This area was still in a state of ruins with a couple of buildings under restoration.

9. On the way back to the front gate, we visited the To Mieu Temple complex. After entering the ornate temple gate, we came to Hien Lam Pavilion, which housed the urns of 9 emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty, with Emperor Gia Long's in the centre.

10. After the palaces, we took a drive to the outskirt of Hue to visit the tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh. Khai Dinh ruled from 1916 to 1925. His son, Bao Dai, was the last king of the Nguyen Dynasty. Work on the tomb began in 1920 and completed in 1930. Considered by some to be the most beautiful of the royal tombs, the interior walls were designed with a mix of Vietnamese and European styles. Sunny and I thought it was odd that the interior walls were embellished with pieces of ceramic and glass, in what looked like broken pieces of ceramic and glass to us. Surely this was not good omen, by traditional feng shui. Anyway, this is history.

11. In the evening, we chartered a boat to for a boat ride along the Perfume River. It was a peaceful ride up and down the river, watching sunset, seeing many couples seated with their bikes behind them (and at the same time block the view of people travelling along the road behind them) along the river bank trying to find some quiet time away from the busy city, families boating in "swans", and a few people swimming in the river. In the pictures below, you see the boat we chartered and Sunny and Thuan relaxing on the boat.

12. Overall, it was an enjoyable day in Hue. Through Hue, we learned something about the history of Vietnam and the forces that shaped what Vietnam is today.

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