Trip Start Nov 30, 2004
18Trip End Feb 04, 2005
Hue is located almost halfway down the coast from Hanoi in the North to Saigon in the South. According to my Lonely Planet guidebook, it "has been one of Vietnam's main cultural, religious and educational centres." For me, it became an education into the culture.
When I follow my intuition, things go well. Sometimes that just doesn't happen. I let my guard down coming to small town Hue and here's what happened: 1) I got on the wrong bus again. I originally signed up with the respected Sinh Cafe but one of their competitors came along first and whisked me on board. 2) I was walking around the huge, local market. I sit down for dinner without first asking the price. Before I know it, there are four extra dishes
In Asian culture, 'saving face' is important. That means not getting hot under the collar. At this point, I didn't care about anybody's face so I let the hotel have it. I became the ugly tourist that I despise so much. It's still taking a bit of adapting to get used to Vietnam.
The first day I rented a motorcycle and drove out into the countryside. About seven kilometers out on a bumpy road there's a classic Japanese covered footbridge. Most of the fun is in just finding it. Took me over an hour. When you get there, there's a small temple inside where locals often take naps. I saw a bunch of little kids just hanging out. To get there I drove on a dirt path that was elevated over rice paddies. Lots of workers in their conical hats on both sides. The sun finally came out for a few hours and warmed me up. It was really pleasant.
The second day, I took the tour of Hue. Here's what I learned from my guide book. Hue has become popular for two reasons. One is that it's the site of some of the most intense battles during the Tet offensive. The second are the remnants of the last dynasty of independent Vietnam. The Nguyen dynasty lasted from 1802-1945. The first started in 939. For a long time the city considered these sites to be representative of feudalism and let them decay. It wasn't until 1990 that the city recognized their importance and started promoting tourism.
Driving into town I saw the most prominent site, Kinh Thanh Citadel. It resembles a medieval city with a layer of bricks two meters thick that was constructed by tens of thousands of workers. The outer perimeter is 10 kilometers long, entirely surrounded by a moat
Throughout Hue there are several pagodas and tombs. The most famous pagoda is Thien Mu. It's an octagonal tower that stands 7 stories high and known throughout Vietnam. All of the tombs are of rulers of the Nguyen Dynasty. The structures are pretty impressive. Each mausoleum has five components: a staele pavilion, a temple, a sepulcher, an honor courtyard and a lotus pond. The most famous tomb is Tu Duc. He constructed a pavilion overlooking a peaceful lake where he composed and recited poetry. Ironically, he was never interred at the site. To preserve his treasures, he was buried elsewhere. And the 200 servants who buried him were beheaded after wards to maintain the secret. Another popular tomb is that of Khai Dinh. The courtyard is lined with honor guards that resemble the terracotta soldiers in China.
Those are the highlights of Hue, all courtesy of Lonely Planet. I originally planned a trip to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) with my extra time. That's the area that split North and South Vietnam. Some of the bloodiest battles during the war are located there. The most famous is Khe Sahn Combat Base. Due to the intense chemical fighting, there are still huge areas that will not support any type of plant life. Unfortunately, I cut this out of the trip. I was ready to leave Hue and get to some warmer weather.