Land of the emperors

Trip Start Dec 25, 2011
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Trip End May 10, 2013


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Flag of Vietnam  , Vientiane Prefecture,
Monday, February 25, 2013

I was ready waiting for the bus at 7.30am when the reception lady came running up to me, 'bus no pick you up, you go now!' pointing to their shuttle bus. I suppose the bus got lazy and couldn't be bothered to pick everyone up, so the hotel very kindly drove me to the bus station. Maybe this happens every morning.

The bus (unusually for a 4 hour morning journey) was a sleeper bus. I've never been on a sleeper bus before - very strange. 3 rows of 'beds' - seats that almost lie flat - running the length of the bus, at two levels. One at ground level and the other raised above. The corridors running down the bus were very narrow I could barely fit! Novel. I found myself a bed-seat, actually pretty comfy!

The bus left on time at 8am and still not feeling too good, I fell asleep for the whole 4 hour journey up to Hue! For the brief few minutes that I was awake, we were driving through pretty rice fields.

We arrived about 12pm and were bombarded by motorbike drivers. I bartered one down to a sensible price - my hotel was barely a 5min drive away and dropped my stuff off.

Hue, pronounced 'hway' is yet another UNESCO site and was once the capital of the Nguyen emperors. In 1804 building of the Citadel was started, it was completed in 1833 but then in 1885, the French invaded the citadel and removed all the treasures. More recently, in 1968 in a war between North Vietnam and South Vietnam (including America) much of the city was destroyed, and 10,000 people were killed.

Given it was only just gone midday, I decided to go out and explore. The main sight here in the city, is the Citadel. The Citadel (also known as Kinh Thanh) has surrounding walls that are 2m thick and 10km long! It is encircled by a moat, 30m wide with 10 gates at various intervals around.

After walking for over half an hour, I still wasn't there! So stopped off for some lunch. Food in Hue is traditionally as a result of the imperial Emperor Tu Duc. I tried some nem lui ga - chicken with a variety of vegetables that you wrap yourself in a very thin rice paper (almost like a milky colour cling film!). Pretty good!

It definitely looked a lot closer on the map, but I finally reached the Citadel after an hour of walking! I crossed over a moat through a cute hole in the massive wall and inside was totally confusing. There were walled areas within walled areas within moats within walled areas! I eventually found my way into the Imperial City, the centre of the Citadel. A lot of the Imperial City is in ruins. They are reconstructing large sections of it - which look totally out of place as they are brightly coloured and brand new looking!!

I wandered around the various buildings - no idea what any of it was, there was no information anywhere which is unusual. But there were corridors, ponds, 2 small bandstands and a few large buildings which now house galleries. It was ok, not that exciting, not really a lot to see - and no idea what I was looking at!

After making my way out of the maze of walls and then an hours return walk, I collapsed into bed for a rest!


Tuesday 26 February 2013


The emperors during the Nguyen Dynasty of 1802-1945 had built for them huge extravagant mausoleums (huge tombs). These were used as hanging-out spots during their lifetime, as well as intended to be burial sites. There are many dotted around the countryside outside of Hue.

I hired a motorbike driver for the morning to take me to a couple of these tombs. The traffic in Vietnam is chaotic - hundreds of motorbikes and bicycles weaving in and out of each other, cars are a rarity. At one point I thought we were on a one way two-lane street, but turns out not - the road markings are just ignored. As are red lights! But it all seems to work.

First tomb - Khai Dinh. The entrance fee is rather extortionate at 80k (£2.50 - perspective, I would pay about 30-40k for a meal). And lucky I was paying attention. The ticket lady tried to short change me - handing back change of a 10k note, rather than a 100k note. She knew exactly what she was doing as she handed the right money over as soon as I questioned. Cheeky!!!!

The temple has a hillside location, with many steps leading up several levels. It's been made out of a black concrete and has a very gothic feel. At the second level, several rows of concrete 'guards' were standing in line facing each other - a couple of elephants, horses and men wearing conical hats! Cute! Right at the top was the largest building, containing the tomb. The inside of the building was incredibly ornate, mosaic pictures across all the walls, dragons, goats and fish dancing around! A golden statue was seated over the tomb, which is apparently 16m below. I really liked it!

Next up, Tu Duc. This tomb was a totally different atmosphere - built in a pine tree woodland! The air had a green haze to it, I realised afterwards this is due to the high pollen content of the air. I was covered in green dust!!! There was a large lake with a couple of wooden pavilions, very pretty. Around the main courtyard were several buildings - one containing a large throne! A large moat ran through the middle of the area, separating the various buildings. There were several tombs, one meant for Tu Duc (but apparently he was never actually buried here in the end). The others are tombs for his adoptive son and mother.

On the way back, obviously we needed a shopping stop. So stopped off at some stalls where the ladies were making incense sticks and conical hats - that was cool to watch, but I didn't need to do any more shopping!

The motorbike ride back into the city was a bit less chaotic this time, but I was still scared as we zoomed along! Every time I ride the back of a motorbike, I say to myself that will be the last time I do it. But always end up doing it again. Needs must.

I'm tired and still can't face any more overnight transport. The price of the 15 hour train to Hanoi is the same as a 1 hour flight. So, what's the point - I'm flying!

Well my peaceful afternoon turned out not to be quite so. While I was sat in the hotel lobby, there was a crazy American guy (apparently on all kinds of drugs) arguing about his bill. The argument turned very nasty with him throwing the (tiny!) reception guy to the ground. I was sat in disbelief (and very scared!). This whole performance went on for nearly an hour. And even then for the next hour and a bit, a huge fuss being made. It turned even worse when the police turned up. In the end, no one was hurt and the American seem to calm down...a bit. I've never seen anything like it.

I caught a bus to the airport, 30 minutes away. Upon check in, was given the fanciest boarding pass ever - thick shiny card! To get to the plane, we went on a transfer bus. The plane was literally 20m away. It was ridiculous! The bus drove for about 10 seconds in a loop, dropping us 20m away from the plane, 90 degrees from where we were!!! What's the point?!
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