Yes Hue

Trip Start Dec 28, 2007
Trip End Dec 01, 2008

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

We arrived in Hue after a 3 hour car ride from Hoi An. Our stay in Hoi An was wonderful, we will blog more about that later. But suffice it to say, out of the 7 or so times Andrea and Andrew have been to Hoi An, this was the best weather by far. Blue skies, warm weather, comfortable nights. Not too humid either.

On Thursday afternoon, we all piled into our minivan Jack arranged from the hotel and took the Hy Van pass route to Hue. Hue is the former (ancient) capitol of Vietnam and is located in the center of the country near the coast. For those of you familiar with the American-Vietnam war, Hue was just below the DMZ. It was also home to some of the fiercest battle scenes in the war, some of which are depicted in Stanley Kubrick's fantastic movie "Full Metal Jacket."

The biggest battle in Hue occurred during the "Tet Offensive". Tet is the lunar new year for Vietnam. Prior to Tet, a cease fire had been agreed to by the North and South. However, in what turned into a very good strategic move for the North and a turning point in the war, the North Vietnamese Army broke the cease fire agreement and launched attacks on American and South Vietnamese troops throughout the country, including a large offensive in Hue. In addition to heavy casualties on both sides, many of the historic sites of Hue were badly damaged, including the old city, which is called the "Citadel." Thanks to the industrious Vietnamese people and help from UNESCO, the "Citadel" is currently being restored.
In addition to the Citadel, the other major sites of Hue consisted of Pagodas and the Imperial Tombs. The Imperial Tombs are the burial sites of the former Emperors of Vietnam. The tombs range in age from late 18th Century to early 20th Century.
On our first day in Hue, we arrived at our hotel at around 2:00 pm. Our hotel was lovely and the service was excellent. After a quick rest, we headed out for a horrible lunch at the Tropical Garden restaurant. The consensus was this was everybody's worse meal of the trip and most of our food was left uneaten. The restaurant had been recommended to us by a staff member of the hotel. We quickly concluded that because the food was so bad, the only explanation for the recommendation was the restaurant must have been owned by her uncle or something like that.

After lunch we walked the perimeter of the citadel and back to the hotel through some local Vietnamese neighborhoods. It was a long walk, but there were some interesting moments and the walk around the Citadel was nice. We arrived back at the hotel, took a quick rest and headed up to the great rooftop bar for a nice drink. Everybody was so pooped from the last few days that we decided to stay in the hotel for dinner and ate at a pretty decent Japanese restaurant in the hotel.

Jack made travel arrangements for the next day, and we headed off to bed. We rendezvoused for brekky and met our driver at 9:00 am the next morning. The driver dropped us off at a dragon boat which we had to ourselves. As we boarded, the family that owned the boat was very friendly. The husband guided the boat down the river while the wife proceeded to unload a boatload (literally) of wares for sale: shirts, pants, pajamas, paintings, drawings, wood carvings and the like. She pretty much had an entire store inside her boat and was aggressively pushing her wares. Jack, in his newfound love for bargaining for Vietnamese products, purchased quite a few items for a whopping total of $22 USD.
Our first stop was the Thien Mu Pagoda. The pagoda was lovely and also included a momentary where novice monks were studying. Other than the temple itself, perhaps the most interesting feature of the pagoda was the monument to the Buddhist Monk who burned himself in Saigon in 1963 in protest of the US backed government which ruled the South at the time. Those of you in your late fifties and beyond probably remember the horrific images and act itself occurring. Those of your in your twenties and thirties probably recognize the image as well, as it is on the cover of the first Rage Against the Machine album/cd. The monk is now a folk hero of sorts in Vietnam and his act of self sacrifice has not been forgotten. A monument to his efforts is at the Pagoda, which includes photos of the monk, photos of the monk afire, the actual car which he drove from Hue to Saigon prior to his sacrifice and a photo of his heart, which did not burn when his body burned. The Vietnamese interpretation of this is that he had such a big heart for his country that it could not be destroyed.

After the Pagoda, we re-boarded the boat and headed off for Minh Mang's mausoleum. Minh Mang was a former emperor of Vietnam and his burial grounds were amazing. It was probably about 1 sq km of land which included moats, bridges, temples and a burial mound. Our guide book speaks of emperors being buried with their treasures and then the murder of the temple constructors to avoid future looting (this way, nobody would know the whereabouts of the buried treasures). Not exactly a good day at the office when you get the call to go work on the mausoleum I suppose. Next, we headed to Khai Dinh's mausoleum. By this point our boat ride was over and we were back in our van. Khai Dinh's mausoleum was the newest and architecturally the most interesting of the Hue mausoleums we visited. During the rein if Khai Dinh, the country was under French rule so he was just a puppet emperor. The building of the mausoleum itself occurred in the 1930s and the architecture is heavily French influenced. It also has a great Fen Shui feel to it. The first level contains a temple and perfectly rowed mandarin and priest statutes. The next level contains the main mausoleum, the inside of which was very odd. It was mostly decorated with broken glass held together by groat. The effect was beautiful, but a bit cheesy. There was also many photos and statues of Khai Dinh as well as displays of gifts he had received from VIPs and clothes he wore during his reign as emporer. Very interesting.

The final mausoleum for the day was that of Tu Duc. Tu Duc's mausoleum, although in significant disrepair, was very nice and the garden grounds were fantastic. Tu Duc and many of his family were buried in the complex. We had a leisurely stroll around for an hour or so, and then headed back into Hue for a late lunch. We lunched at a colonial hotel called the Saigon Morin. After another bad meal, we concluded the food in Hue left much to be desired. (Most of our meals in Vietnam as a whole have been fantastic and very cheap - two people can eat a huge meal and have a couple beers each for $10 or so at a normal restaurant). We lunched and then headed to the Citadel fo an hour. This time after some debate we entered the citidel. As previously mentioned, the Citadel was much destroyed during the American War, but a tremendous restoration effort is now in progress. Our driver picked us up outside the Citadel and we proceeded back to our hotel. Unfortunately, it was now rush hour traffic, and although our hotel was close, it seemed we were moving nowhere. This was a problem since our travel companions had to leave for the airport at 5:45 and the airport was 15 km south of Hue in Phu Bai. We decided it would be faster to walk, so jumped out of our vehicle and proceeded back to the hotel on foot. It didn't take long for the traffic to ease up, so our driver caught up with us and picked up a few of us right next to the hotel. The rest of us were busy tending to a Vietnamese girl who had a really bad motorbike accident right in front of us. Since being in SE Asia, we have seen many motorbike accidents (15?), but this one was the worse. Fortunately, most of her wounds seemed superficial and she was soon on her way.

We got back to the hotel, said our sad goodbyes to Mom, Jack, Nancy and John and went out for dinner and drinks at a fun place called the "DMZ Bar." The next morning we arranged for a car back to Hoi An where we spent two more days at the Palm Garden hotel. We checked out this morning and are now on our way to Quy Nhon, a five hour drive. We are stopping on the way at Son My, the village in which the My Lai massacre took place. Three years ago, Andrea and Andrew visited this site and were very moved by it. We were also interested to see that at that time, they were building a replica of the former hamlet, so we wanted to see how that came out. Additionally, yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the massacre, so we thought it appropriate to visit and pay our respects.

Miss and love you all,

Andrew and Andrea
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