(10) Historic Tour of HUE & "D.M.Z"

Trip Start Oct 03, 2007
Trip End Dec 20, 2007

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Friday, October 12, 2007

 DAY 10 - Friday October 12th:

Wow, what a rough, cramped sleepless night on the bus with lashing rai outside the windows - more or the same damn same and definitely NOT different man!
Taxiing into dowtown Hue gave me the best vibe yet (to prove even more strong the more time I spent there) as we passed the infamous enormous Citadel on our way to the Bus company's office where me me the usual vocal hostel-haggling motorbike dude reps in their masses. Sure enough we were soon on our way to the backpacker focal area down a niec narrow alley off the main avenue and 5-10 minutes walk from the riverside. At this point, the English couple veered off and I joined forces with the 2 Dutch pals to share a trio. Great fun!

I think now is the best time to reveal the Hue factfile: As the nation's fourth largest city housing a third of a million, it has classically been renowned as the ancient cultural, religious and scholarly heart still visually boasting this title today. It formely served as the political centre from 1802-1945 under the array of 13 Emperors of the Nguyen dynasty. Most of its attractions other than the crumbling citadel (UNESCO World Heritage Site) are laced along the banks of the Perfume River (Song Huong), including 2 pagodas, 3 royal tombs, bridges, a market, local arts & crafts villages and so on......On the recreation and nightlife side, it equally provides a splendid scene priomarily along the southern riverfront. Despite the rain, I got to feel the lot....

OK, given my allocated maximum 2 1/2 days stay, I first decided to take a full day bus-boat combo guided city tour to fit all the half dozen main "must-see" sites in at a decent pace, also taking in the surrounding scenery. this 7 hour excursion proved value for money overall. First off was a visit to a roadside incense stick and cone hat fabricating factory where we were shown the step by step procedure for both items. Quite interesting really. Onward to a major attraction, and the first royal tomb of  3 venerated Nguyen dynasty Emperors:
Tu Doc's tomb is a majestic site full of pine trees and set alongside a small lake, complemented witha  gloorious blazing sun at this stage in the day. His crypt is basic and exposed in an open-air square-walled room yet the guide informed us the exact burial place of the ruler actually remains still unknown to anyone as deliberately intended, although the likely reting place lies within a 2km radius somewhere in the vegetation.

The lunch break we had is worth a mention - buffet-style group meal within a fancy local cuisine restaurant..Had a sticky rice wrapped in banana leaf with a sweet centre amongst other delights.

As for the avo's activities, initially did the Khai Dinh tomb and at this point the rain finally came pummelling down as we exited the bus! Compared with the first tomb, this elaborate hilltop one stands out from the rest for its unique Euro-Vietnamese architectural style. Seemed so much more potet and regal with stairways leading up with statues and figureheads eitherside. Inside the crypt are wonderfully finished off floors, ceilings, walls wit vivid golden patterns and supporting beams. Gazing at the detail of this place simply didn't tire and if anythting, the rain showers gave an eery ambiance outside. Following in from the second tomb was naturally the third and final and by the time we came to a halt at Minh Mang's one the rain had stopped...We were now in pure countryside and so this one agai offered a different feel. This one is perhas the most majestical for its size and separated temples, bleding harmoniously into nature. The temples are undeniably Asian and the feng shui element is omnipresent. A perfect, though humid stroll.....

Templed out, our last destination at the Thien Mu Pagoda. Octagonal in shape, it is one of the most outstanding structures in Vietnam. Its location is 4km form the citadel and right on the banks of the river.It was home to someone who publically burned himself to death in protest of a President's policies and there is alegend about this also. From the pagoda the view out to the river is scenic and stretched for ages and the sun was in a great position. To round off the trip came the Dragon Boat cruise back to Hue Cuty along the Song Huong for a couple of hours at a leisurely pace. The camera popped out more than ever now as the housing, buildings and markets on either side provided nice opportunities.

Shattered from the overnight bus and mentally drained from information overflow, I had a nice Western comfort dinner in a hippie grafitti-laden book cafe "Cafe on Thu (/too/) Wheels run by a mid-aged sound lady by the name of Thu.She had a rough voice and great sense of humour with an impressive knowledge of English slang lol! A right hoot....Her nephew was adorable and playing with his dragon head costume as if in a play whilst she was intermingling with foreigners of all nationalities individually. Crazy! Beacuse the 3 of us wanted to go on the risky "DMZ" (De-Militarized Zone) day tour the next day with the usual dawn rise, it was another sad hour hitting the pit.

DAY 11 - Saturday October 13th:

Rrrrrrrrrrrrain!!!!! Fancy it! So today was a once over DMZ tour around the area of the  former border between North and South Vietnam. Historically it was a narrow band of terrain extending from the Laos border to the coast, five km on either side of the Ben Hai River, roughly on the 17th parallel north latitude. The area saw heavy fighting in the war, and ruins of old American military bases still exist. Even if you're not interested in the history, the area has some spectacular mountain scenery and rugged jungles.

The day's 6am-6pm 12hour itinerary entailed a range of war-related places, which were scattered along our llllllllllong bus ride...more commentary was given aboard then at the sights themselves...Still it was nice to be sheltered from the rain which continued until lunchtime.
Rather than harping on about the chronological A-Z of our personal tour, here's a brief synopsis of what the terrain encompasses from the East (Vietnamese Coast) to the West (Lao border):

Vinh Moc Tunnels: a 3 tiered residential/hospitality/fighting network of dark, humid, stagnant and cramped channels, cleverly concelead by the Viets, which open out to China Beach (pleasant one in itself). We walked through a few of the residential chambers, hospital and weapon storage rooms were about as big as a single-sized bed! Phenomenal survival and resilience! Enough! Simply, the photos do more justice than verbal description..... 

Ben Hai Bridge crosses the river and marks the former border. There is Liberation monument on the north side and an archway and the odd cemetary around, but not the tense, face-to-face DMZ of North and South Korea for example. It now appears a peaceful countryside area with zero effects of the explosive landmines visible from the highway. Just open flat plains for acres. Disappointing from a foreigner's viewpoint but probably the best thing for Vietamese.

Truong Son National Cemetery is Vietnam's national war cemetery. Camp Carroll is located south of the highway near Cam Lo village. A small monument features a caricatured depiction of a defeated American soldier. The Rockpile was a Marine outpost built on top of a huge outcropping. Though it's inaccessible, it's a prominent sight from the highway

Dak Rong Bridge leads to the A Shau valley and the infamous "Hamburger Hill". Though not entirely legitimate, there is a monument commemorating it as a point on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, an incredibly long road linking the South.

Borrrrring......................after a long day's trip, we dined at a renowned Indian Restauraunt trying out the house Tandori chicken washed down with Dalat (Central Highland town) Red Wine, the first consumed in Vietnam and actually rather palatable! In need of letting hair down, it was a tuc-tuc ride a la Italian Job with platic sheets locking us inside to fend off the rain. We drak at the coincidental "DMZ" Bar where a fair amount of Hue backpackers gathered to wait until the England-France Rugby World Cup semi-final would be wide-screened! Wishing to complete my Hue tour, I grabbed an early night before doing the Citadel, Old Quarter, Bridges and Market all on foot the following morning.

DAY 12 - Sunday October 14th:

Blazing sun and cloudless skies during my final morning here!

I set off early and arrived at the nearby Citadel, defining itself by a sauring National Flag and towers. This corroding enclosed imperial city was heavily bombed by the Americans so its contemporary usage is as much for agriculture as temple visiting. Men are at work reconstructing huge devastations in front of your eyes. Construction of the moat began by Emperor Gia Long in 1804. Basically, the official functions were carried out in the Emperial Enclosure forming a citadel within a citadel. Within the 6m-high 2.5km-long wall is a surreal world of deserted gardens and abandoned ceremonial halls. And within the Imperial Encloure is the Forbieen Purple City, reserved only for the Emperor's private life.

On the course of my morning's explorations, I weeved in and around many halls and gardens, each with their own importance and stupor. Among these were the MAndarins' room, royal Library, a Theatre, Concubines quarters, Royal Mother's residence and the palce where the 10 most venerated Emperors' shrines lay with a statue, photo portrait, candles, ornaments, flowers surrounding the tablets.....Again, verbal descriptios cannot rival photograhy here....

Around the confines, I poked a nose iat the students in the College of Fine Arts before exiting the complex via the Eastern Gate.  Pestered by tuc-tuc drivers wanting to take me on a tour, I favoured a simple stroll first around hte ordered grid-like outer streets of the Citadel....Just loals around, no foreigners! Many dogs lying on the roads, bikes, small stores and cafes, nothing more....a real community-orientated feel here. Could easily have got a pushbike.....

A few kilometres in, I came across the Dong Ba canal bridge where many boats were docked and a more commercial and trade-like feel took over. Beyond the bridge I got engrossed in wandering between the residential areas which seemed rather affulent with grand villa-syle polished buildings, restaurants and schools, self-sufficient miles off the tourist radius. Even saloon cars were parked inside large gates. Further along I stumbled across several small cute Indian-syled Pagodas before I made my way back to the riverbanks ending up the circuit at the infamous street market at Dong Tran Hung Dao. Many young intellectuals followed my on their bikes just wanting to chat and share common interests without any materialistic objectives in sight, so I duly spared them time. How safe and particularly welcoming the true city is! Shame I couldn't afford more time in this place, my favourite thus far in Northern Vietnam...

Moments before my short bus ride to Hoi An, I devoured a local speciality 4-course set meal luncheon of mushroom soup, beef in pineapple sauce, battered garlicy/sautéed shrimp and rice plus a complementary sticky rice-based sweet centred leaf wrap thing! Divine! Not one flaw or bad incident in this city I could easily study abroad in for a semester......
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