With the exception of some chilly nights at high altitude on the Eastern Tibetan Plateau in Western Sichuan Province, we had been sweating since leaving South Korea at the end of June. The streets of urban China offered many reasons to keep feet covered, but we abandoned shoes entirely after entering Southeast Asia in September. Nearly four months of unshodden bliss resulted in some striking sandal-tan-lines, and we were proud of them. Waking up after the journey on the overnight train from Ho Chi Minh City to Hue, Vietnam, we knew those steamy days were over. There was a noticeable nip in the air, and I shivered as I dug my windbreaker from its hiding place at the bottom of the backpack. In reality, it was in the mid-60s F (just under 20 C), nothing those of us who grew up on the east coast of the US (especially the northeast) would ordinarily define as cold. But here I was with chattering teeth and thinned blood. It took a couple of days to acclimate enough to leave the hotel for more time than just to forage for food.
The restful days at Tran Ly Hotel were perfectly welcome, as the staff there made us feel totally at home. We caught up uploading some photos, watching the Australia network (one of the only English language channels) and reading. Nearby, we found a Japanese restaurant run by The Japanese Association of Supporting Streetchildren (JASS), a non-governmental organization formed by a teacher, with the aim of helping disadvantaged children get an education and improve their standard of living. The slight lack of atmosphere was made up for by the eagerness and energy of the young ladies who served us. Operating since 1994, it seems to be a good program. Our favorite dish in Hue, though, was the spicy beef noodle soup that takes its name from the city, Bún Bò Huế. Known throughout the country, it gets its delicious flavor from beef bones, fermented shrimp paste, chilies and lemongrass. Hue has a rich tradition in food!
When we did venture out, it was on foot or by rented bicycle. The ever-present, ever-persistent cyclos (sort of like a backwards tricycle, with the passenger in a semi-reclined position in front of the driver who pedals) were not for us, though they seem to by almost a symbol of the city. Walking along the Perfume River, we crossed a bridge leading to the famous Citadel. Although it is oriented east rather than south, the Citadel reminded us of the Forbidden City in Beijing. The Emperor’s palace is here, inside several sets of walls and moats. The innermost area, the Purple Forbidden City had many buildings with hundreds of rooms. Walking through the many gates, courtyards and gardens, it is easy to imagine members of the royal family and their closest associates passing their time happily here during the Nguyen Emperors’ rule. American bombing in 1968 flattened most of Hue, and bullet holes can still be seen in some of the stone walls of the Citadel. Many of the destroyed buildings are now being reconstructed. By the time we made it through the Citadel, it was back to the hotel to get warm and dry again.
On our next to last day (having extended our stay a couple of times hoping the sun would come out) we bundled up in as many layers as possible, and started cycling. Further along the Perfume River from Hue, some a few kilometers out of town, are the Royal Tombs of seven emperors, including Khai Dinh, Minh Mang and Tu Duc. We visited Tu Duc Royal Tomb, built between 1864 and 1867. Tu Duc had the longest reign of all in the Nguyen Dynasty (35 years). He used this expansive site as his second home, and spent a great deal of time here. There is a big lake in the middle, with a pavilion, as well as numerous monuments, all surrounded by a 1500m wall. Also known as “the poet emperor,” Tu Duc composed thousands of poems in both Han Chinese and Vietnamese script. Some works can still be seen, worked into the architecture of the site.
Hue is indeed an impressive ancient capital, with lots of history and some impressive sites, but for us it will always be remembered as the place we finally had to put on socks.
More photos can be viewed HERE.