My Vietnam Launch – Hue – An Ancient Capital – 2018 Backpacking
From my last blog I survived the longest bus trip known to man from Ninh Binh, some 11hrs and arrived at my pre-booked Holiday Hotel Diamond in Hue (Whey) where the manager, Ms Anna, greeted me so warmly and had everything ready for me, including my room obviously but with a complimentary breakfast to start my stay off well. Food was of major priority considering it’s been some 15hrs since dinner so I settled into my room on the 5th floor with lightning speed. This hotel has the tiniest passenger lift on Earth, with a floor area of 600x1200mm & limit of 2 persons .. or 1 person with backpacks which made my race up & back, a little awkward. Lol!!!
The Holiday Hotel Diamond is located down a narrow pedestrian laneway some 75m off Nguyen Cong Tru Street, with a shop-front-type doorway so you have to have faith you will find it, and when you do it makes an ideal location for The Citadel (about 2klms walk) and night time entertainment with bars and restaurants. Ms Anna, knowing my timeline for a few tours insisted I see The Citadel today with the hours left and then the river & Pagoda viewing the next day. At The Citadel, Ms Anna suggest I buy my group temple tour tickets to get the best advantage & pricing.
With food in my stomach and feeling to stretch my legs I walked the Le Loi street (parallel to The Perfume River) towards The Citadel (The Imperial City) some 2.2klms along The Perfume River seeking out the local culture along the way till I reached the Cau Phu Xuan Bridge & proceed to cross over using the safe pedestrian walkway. I decided to walk so I get to see everything in clear vision, unlike the usual blur from a scooter. This bridge provides immediate access to the large front fortress gates and ticket sales booth. Over the centuries Vietnam had a procession of capital cities and Hue was one of these using The Imperial City (Citadel) as the ‘castle’ of Vietnam with about 2klms of very high stoned walls, surrounding motes and bridge crossovers to further maintain their defences including using the banks of The Perfume River. I remembered Anna advised me to buy The Temple Tour tickets at The Citadel’s entrance where the pricing is better plus will save the inconvenience of separate purchases the next day. I was later to find this a very wise decision and provided a better management to my day. Thank you, Miss Anna.
Some 250yrs ago, Gia Long was born & he was the first emperor of 13 of the Nguyen Dynasty which became the last Vietnam dynasty which ruled for 143yrs and made Hue, the capital. In The Citadel’s centre was The Purple Forbidden City housing the emperor & his closest confidants. The saddest part and what struggled for me and no doubt the millions of tourists was trying to visualise what is missing in this enormous fortress. Several structures, walls, landscaping and general city infrastructures where over the years, natural disasters, evolving decades of no maintenance & most damage from the Vietnam War were obliterated. The North Vietcong attacked Hue in 1968 & the Allied Forces responded, mainly with bombs creating further damage. The Citadel had some 160 major buildings inside & now only 10 or so remain. It is pleasing to see restorations currently underway though, albeit not the original of the past. Near the main entrance is The Thai Hoa Palace used for the emperor’s official duties and that provides the best insight of what type of structures are missing.
Sighting the Bronze Cauldron sitting in its own open area was a real highlight in how masterful the ancient Vietnamese were. Being cast in 1662 and in perfect condition and weighing in as a heavy weight of 1466kgs is a true testament of their brilliance and resembles their resilience.
Using a full 3 hours on The Citadel (you can see the size of this masterpiece in the photo below) I was keen to walk back near my hotel so I could find the eating zone in a slightly Eastern direction where the night life comes alive in all forms. The variety of foods was amazing and seems like no place is the same as the other. My body was crying for any food possible & I was not short changed!
Again, Holiday Hotel Diamond looked after me with a great sleep, in true comfort and a wonderful breakfast. I was also pleased that by seeing The Citadel yesterday I could take my time and catch a river boat, organised by Anna, straight to Sung An Temple (Minh Mang tomb), West of The Citadel some 10 kilometres further down The Perfume River. My pleasure turned to a slight pain when the river boat was a dirty black smoke chugging diesel motor overcoming the clean river air. The boat was controlled by a young man under the guise of a very aged, ultra-thin lady sitting in the middle of the boat who didn’t speak English but offered loud Vietnamese commands.
I found the only relief from the heavy black fumes was being called up to peruse the wares, the lady was selling, laid out over the floor of the boat on a large tablecloth. I found the fumes wasn’t around her so it seems like a real con to entice buyers to come forward to look at the goods (cotton bracelets, jewellery and jade figurines, etc). Being the sole passenger, I felt the added pressure too of buying 3 cotton bracelets for my grandchildren. I certainly took my time in order to escape the fumes for as long as possible. It was hard with the delay, absolutely no conversation from the old lady, just smiles and a lot of head nodding. I was so overcome with the current situation I forgot in taking photos. Some 30mins of river touring done, I was at the wharf and directed towards my new tourist group of some dozen people forming along the roadway.
The group, mostly of Vietnamese & Chinese was rather welcoming and of course I’m the only westerner, again. Despite the smiles and more head nodding there was almost no direct communication towards me (no English I think), so I just accepted the peace and the ability to not be diverted away from the varying temples and artifacts as they came along. Our first temple visit is also the resting place for the 2nd Nguyen dynasty emperor, Minh Mang who ruled for 21yrs. His tomb was built in 1840-43. The grounds were built on a lake and there are 40 structures on this vast area and built on a symmetrical axis and is renowned as a masterpiece of Vietnamese Royal monuments.
Our next stop was Khai Dinh Temple & Tomb which represents this 12th & last Nguyen emperor ruling 1916 until his death in 1925. This temple is unique as it differs from past emperors & also this monument & grounds are one of the smallest of the dynasty. The constructions took 11yrs to complete. Even though it is the smallest, it is also the most elaborate and effort consuming and being in the early 1900s it was the most expensive. Khai Dinh was condemned by his people as he imposed a heavy tax to complete it, plus he was called a puppet of the French.
You enter the grounds by a large set of steps into a quite large paved area walking past the scaled 1:1 rare stone soldier sculptures in a parade line. You take another 27steps to reach the temple’s doors. The temple is a slightly miniature grand structure as stated above & I’ve now seen a few temples in my time here in Vietnam and Cambodia so I’m a little accustomed to the sometimes usual. Like most temples, it is until you enter when you see the magnificence of decorations to please their religion and dynasty emperors and the like. WOW! Look at this brilliance!! Ceramic mosaic brilliance with gold everywhere, paint artistry and really too much to take in with one visit. Everywhere you looked you could not believe the detail and the perfection in every square inch of wall & ceiling. Khai Dinh has his tomb under the altar which his throne seated above, was cast in gold plate in France & shipped out. Behind the altar there is large portrait of the emperor, highlighting his youth. The centre of the altar is the prime photography shot so I start trying to squeeze a photo in between all the tourists and time is getting away. I think someone noticed me in my frustration. LOL!!
Out of the blue, I was grabbed by the arm and a woman in my group ushered a friend to take my photo in front of the ‘altar’ and in a blink she was photo bombing me. Out of the entire group she was the most welcoming and always happy whenever I saw her. Out of her kindness I knew her ‘agenda’ in wanting a photo to show friends back home of a ‘story’ of meeting a westerner on her travels but that didn’t bother me at all. It’s happened a lot to me during my travels. One must always be gracious and take reasonable steps to ensure everyone enjoys their travel days, even when it’s raining, windy & gloomy and utmost thanks today is such a beautiful nature day. With her thoughtfulness I didn’t mind being in her ‘story’ and it was unfortunate there was this verbal language barrier however words didn’t need to be spoken in this instance; just huge smiles and a prayer clasp in sequence. I’m very thankful the lady organised this photo shoot as it also allowed me to use her kindness into my story/ blog too. Thank you, ‘Lady in Red’.
Back onto a larger & more comfortable boat we head back towards The Citadel however we have one more temple to visit and 2 more places to visit on the one last stop. The temple is the tomb of Tu Duc, built 181864-67. It is situated in a narrow valley some 6.5klms from the city and was designed by Tu Duc himself where he based on his design for his life use and his death use, concentrating on tranquility. There are about 50 structures here and you do forget this is a place of someone’s resting place & view it as a large botanical garden. There is a garden island where the Emperor would find true peace and his poetry and singing was placed in a theatre not far from it called Minh Khiem Duong. While there is a tomb here, Tu Duc’s true grave is not known. The 200 workers who created his true resting place were all beheaded so as not to disclose the place to grave thieves trade. A gruesome act in today’s term but probably usual back then. While he had some 104 brides, he never managed to record an offspring. The 20 tonne stone with the emperor’s own words were inscribed is truly amazing. This complete park and tomb took his 50,000+ soldiers to complete the main landscaping, canals & the like.
With such a large estate (12ha) it took a while to get to our next stop, Nha vuon Phu Mong (Garden House) where it is now managed by a very old lady carrying on what her, & her husband has created over some 50yrs. They built their home and started planting and creating. Certainly, a great effort and applauded results on all types of vegetation, fruits & herbs. The lady still remains in the house and is very pleased for strangers to enter the grounds with a monetary donation and take in the pleasures of nature. Today, local volunteers help with the labour in keeping to this large estate.
The next stop is Chua Thien Mu Pagoda, a Buddhist temple adjacent to the ‘Garden House’ estate. This pagoda was built on a legend where a ‘heavenly lady’ was sighted (named Thien Mu) & ‘saying’ a King would come. King Nguyen Hoang upon hearing of this began the construction in 1601 & it was later refurbished in 1665. The 7-storey pagoda is regarded as the unofficial symbol of Hue where basically the same number of visitors to The Citadel come to The Pagoda. The pagoda bears a more common title of ‘The Celestial Lady’. This location, mainly in the last century became the icon focal point of hunger strikes, protests and the like and Buddhism was being tested and slightly rebuffed by the region. Over time, this is now a more peaceful and respectful location.
The giant bell weighs in at 1,985kgs, cast in 1710. It is said it is audible some 10klms away therefore whoever rings it must be; or go deaf, surely? The large marble turtle greets all visitors at the entrance doors to the temple and represents the longevity of life, so it was touched by a lot of visitors of course. This is not the only time I had seen Great Turtles on display and each one a true marvel of artistry and detail and none of them ever disappoint in the viewing.
Climbing back onto the boat it was a pleasure to find a comfy seat and take in the last few kilometres of The Perfume River sights until we disembarked at The Citadel where everyone dissipated quickly without the customary good-bye or pleasantries. Not the first time I experienced this also. Again, I decided to walk across the bridge and to a further parallel street back towards my hotel for a well-earned hot shower and head towards the night spot again for more food and drink testing.
On this happier subject of remembering The Marble Turtle of peace and longevity I’ll end my Hue temple blog here and get ready for the next, more testing blog of The Vietnam War Demilitarise Zone, so stay tuned. Stay safe, happy & hopefully enjoy the photos and kick this COVID-19 & the vile vaccines back into history.
Thank you again for reading my blogs and I trust you will stay safe, happy & healthy for 2022 and for it to be a far better year for all. I do not receive any commissions &/or ‘perks’ from the above nominated businesses & locations as I am purely happy to provide the acknowledgement and connection.
I always look forward to seeing the feedback so don’t be afraid to comment. My next blog/s will be more of the amazing Vietnam experiences and quite a few were life changing, & not just for me.
Live life to the most and a quote that I truly love is from Eckhart Tolle ..
“If I am not the hero of my life … who in the hell could be?”