There is one way to describe our day in Hue…wet. We had booked a motorcycle tour the previous night and were picked up by our two drivers at 9:00. Rain jackets at the ready we hopped on for what was to be a very soggy tour of some of the main sites around Hue.
We rode through the countryside of Hue to see the Japanese bridge, Tu Hieu Pagoda, tomb of Tu Duc, tomb of Khai Dinh, a hillside wartime bunker and the citadel. We were supposed to see another pagoda, but we skipped it since we were so cold and wet. The rain pretty much didn’t let up for the whole tour.
The pagoda was not that exciting, except for the fact that we arrived as the monks were performing their morning chanting. This made the visit worth while and was quite enchanting (pardon the pun). I later read up on the pagoda in lonely planet and found out that it is home to a famous monk who left Vietnam on a peace mission in 1966. He was subsequently banned from returning by both the north and south and did to to come home to Vietnam until 2005.
While we were at the pagoda our guide explained that Vietnamese will often become monks if they are poor and will stay with the temple for life, sending money to relatives. A child might start his training and enter the temple from as young as five years old.
The tomb of Tu Duc was beautiful, if not a little tired. It was not so much just a tomb, as a complex. There were gardens and bridges and lakes and buildings. Apparently the emperor who it was built for actually lived there for a bit. I suppose if you’re paying for it, you might as well enjoy it before you die.
The place was quite run down. Again I find it hard not to compare things to Japan, where everything is kept immaculately, but a lot of things just seem to be let go here. You would turn a corner in a building to find a pile of something or other – just left out in plain view for storage. Gardens were overgrown, buildings were falling apart etc. Having said that, there was still a sense of grandeur to the place. This time, thankfully, without all the gaudy colour. It was much more reserved in its decoration, but maybe that was juts because no one has bothered with its upkeep. I wonder if it was restored, if it might end up over the top like the rest.
The Other tomb we visited was quite different. Set into a hillside, up another stupid number of stairs, it was more modern (started in 1920). Now this was colourful beyond words. The whole inside was yellows and golds, intricately decorated with motifs made from broken up pottery.
Our final stop on the tour was the citadel. Surrounded by a 30m moat and huge walls, the citadel is the main attraction of Hue and also home to a large number of its residents. Within the citadel there is another smaller citadel (the imperial enclsuore) which was the emperors residence. We explored this for about an hour. It was quite fascinating, but again, much of it lies in rack and ruin. It’s kind of sad, because the place must have been amazing once upon a time.
Walking through disheveled gardens and faded old buildings (although a few have been restored), I loved to imagine what it would have been like when it was in use and filled with people going about their business in ancient times. One of my favourite books (or three books) is a set of fantasy novels, the first of which is called a Daughter of the Empire. It’s set on another world and is kind of about the political struggle of a young girl who is thrust into leadership when her father and brother are killed. I think the imperial enclosure would be a great set for some scenes if the books were ever made into a movie. You’ll have to read them to get what I mean.
After an hour in the citadel, Timmy and I looked like drowned rats and had had enough. We went back to the Cafe on Thu Wheels where we booked our tour and had some lunch. This was a great experience in itself, as some of the members of the family that run the business came out and sat with us ate their lunch too. They were a really funny family (our motorbike drivers were some of the brothers) and it was great to see them just going about their day to day lives. Granny sitting in the corner, baby with mum, sister watching some crappy program on the tv.
Vietnamese families tend to all live together, all the generations. It’s seems they quite often all work on the business together as well. Sitting in this little cafe in a back ally, you got a real feel for that life and the sense of community that goes with it. I don’t think you would find many Australian families like that any more.
Once we’d finished lunch, we headed back to the hotel for some r & r. We’d made the decision the night before to book the hotel for an extra night even though we wouldn’t be staying there, just so we could use it until we left for Hanoi. This was a very good move as we arrived back dripping wet and in desperate need of a hot shower. I spent the next hour or so trying to dry my only pair of jeans and best pair of walking shoes with a very low watt hair dryer.
Our flight to Hanoi was that night at about 10pm. By the time we made it to our hotel it was about 12:15. Safe to say it was a long and tiring day. I think I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow.