Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Hue: Part 1

Leaving Hoi An, we arranged for a car to take us to Da Nang, to the train station (took about 45 minutes). We were early, and had to hang out in the train station, where the TV seemed to only show one episode of Mr Bean on a loop, with ad breaks at very inappropriate moments. (Same ads over and over, too.) Finally the train, and the journey itself was slow and pretty uneventful. The view of the coast out the window was pretty fantastic, though - the train snaked around the side of mountains, just above where they met the sea.

Alley to our hotel.
It was raining in Hue when we arrived, so we took a taxi. Our hotel was on the tourist side of the river, off the main road and down a small alley (classic location for a Vietnamese hotel). The staff were excellent, very friendly - even the elevator was friendly! - and the room was also really nice. There were actually rose petals scattered around - not sure if they got the wrong idea about us? We relaxed for a bit, and planned out what we'd do after Hue - Hanoi, Sapa, Halong Bay - then ventured out.

About 2 people and no luggage fit in the friendly lift...
Hue was humid. We walked from our hotel down the main tourist drag - guesthouses, restaurants, tacky-looking bars - then onwards towards a more regular part of town. As always, the sidewalks had to be carefully negotiated, as did the traffic, but we found an excellent french bakery (I had pan au chocolat banane - delicious!). We walked down to the river and walked along, passing the prep for some kind of food festival, some kids rehearsing something on stilts, and a section of riverbank where for some reason someone was playing the loudest dance music ever.

We had dinner at a place near our hotel called La Carambole, and saw ads for a charity shop called 'The Healing of the Wounded Heart', which we decided to check out after dinner. It turned out to be a pretty amazing store; all profits go to a charity for victims of Agent Orange, and most of the goods are made by those victims. Not only that, but the goods were actually really nice and good quality - we both bought some jewelry and bits and pieces, to give as gifts.

On our way back to the hotel, I talked B into going to the DMZ bar - awesomely backpackery, with good beer and nikko signatures all over the walls from various travellers. We met a couple who were actually from Brisbane - I swear, you can't go anywhere in the world without running into people from Brisbane - and they recommended lots of stuff for Sapa, including a guide we could email.

Hue - The Imperial City

The Noon Gate: Main entrance into the Imperial City.
On our first day in Hue, we got up early in a futile attempt to beat the heat, and set off for the Citadel. Hue was once the Imperial capital, and the closest large city to the North-South divide during the war. The town is bisected by the Perfume river, and there's a huge fortress and palace dominating one side. The outer wall is huge, and once we made it inside, we found ourselves in a fairly vast courtyard, outside the entrance to the Imperial City. We paid the entrance fee, and spent the next three or four hours wandering in the Imperial Palace, the Forbidden City (which used to be restricted to the Emperor, his family, concubines, and various eunuchs) the grounds, and the many temples.

We'd arrived by 8.30, but it was already baking hot. Thankfully we'd each bought an umbrella in Bangkok, so we took a lesson from the Japanese girls we saw and used them as sunshades - best idea ever. There was quite a bit of shade, but also extensive courtyards without trees, and in other spots, the buildings themselves had been bombed out, leaving nothing but grass. Actually, the whole city except one or two buildings was totally flattened in 1968, during the Vietnam War, so many of the buildings were restorations rather than the originals. They've done an amazing job, though, and there are plans to gradually rebuild the whole complex - I'd love to come back in 10 years and see what progress has been made. I think it'll be an amazing historical site, once the restoration is complete.

As we circled away from the bombed-out centre to some of the reconstructed temples around the edges, we could see the effort that's been put into restoration - the details, the paintwork and carving, down to the painted blinds. Everything was painted bright colours, beautiful golds and reds. There were also lovely, tree-lined walkways, with beautiful gates - marked, of course, by remnants of the war.

In another part of the grounds, there were also elephants!

The ruined centre of the Imperial City.


Lovely avenues around the sides of the complex...

...where the gates still bear bullet holes from the war.

The restored buildings are impressive.

Details of the restoration, including beautiful gold tiling and brightly coloured blinds.

Continued in Hue: Part 2

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