Published: April 12th 2012April 12th 2012
dragon boat on the Perfume River
this is on the river near the Pagoda of the Heavenly Lady, Hue Vietname
Nautica arrived this morning at Chan May port outside Da Nang. The bay is surrounded by beautiful lush mountains. It is hard to imagine that 40 some years ago it was in the middle of a terrible war. We boarded our bus for the 1 ½ hour drive along Vietnam highway no. 1 to the old imperial capital of Hue. The highway runs parallel to the railway, both of which connect Ho Chi Minh City in the south to Hanoi in the north. Nothing connected these two cities back in the 60s and 70s except war and destruction. The highway is under constant construction and it is narrow. At one point the road snakes over a mountain pass and then descends into the flat plain on the other side. Driving here is not for the feint of heart. Our friendly guide said, “In U.S. drive on right, in England drive on left, in Vietnam drive in middle”. He was right about that, but he failed to mention that at any given moment cars, trucks, bicycles and motor bikes would be careening in five or six different directions at the same time. It would not surprise me that there is a work crew whose job is it is gather up the deceased along the road way each morning, but I saw not a single accident.
Hue is a very beautiful city though it was pointed out that most of it was destroyed during the war especially after the Tet offensive in 1968. It is not a protected Unesco site. In spite of many reminders of the role of the U.S. and before that, France, in Vietnam’s troubles, everyone is very friendly and welcoming. Our guide said that a huge percentage of the population is under age 30 and they are only interested in moving the country forward, not in looking back to earlier years of war.
We visited the Pagoda of the Heavenly Lady which sits on a high bank along side the Perfume River. It was built in the 1600s and is just gorgeous. It is an active Buddhist shrine with monks at pray and the scent of incense strong. There were huge throngs of visitors from all over the world, but mostly from Asia. Hue and the rest of Vietnam is in the midst of celebrating 2012 as the year of the tourist and we landed right in the middle of a week long festival. From the pagoda we were taken to the Green Hotel which appropriately is painted green. There we were given a lavish lunch buffet and were serenaded by traditional Vietnamese orchestra in traditional imperial costume.
The next stop was to the Citadel, home of Vietnamese emperors beginning in 1804. It is a huge site and contains the Palace of Heavenly Harmony and behind it the Forbidden City where the emperor, his concubines (up to 500 I was told) and the rest of his family, servants and guards all lived. The whole area is surrounded by 11 kilometers of brick walls and moats. It is breathtaking. Most of the buildings have been rebuilt after they were destroyed during the war. This rebuilding project is a tremendous undertaking but the Vietnamese seem determined to restore as much of their history as possible.
I should mention that it was a very hot, humid day. I was drenched to the skin by the time I returned to the tour bus each time. A couple old folks had to be confined to the bus due to heat exhaustion, but I am surprised so many in our entourage averaging about age 75 were able to keep up the pace. Our fellow passengers are largely intrepid travelers and we have met some very interesting folks.
The last stop was a visit to the tomb of one of the emperors who died in the late 19th century. He used the tomb as a summer residence for many years before they put him there permanently. It is located in a beautiful pine forest not far from the city. This place survived intact. The story is that his body is not in the sarcophagus where you would expect it to be, but was buried in a secret place somewhere on the grounds of this huge site. It was said that he wanted it this way to spare his family the indignity of having some folks at a later time disturb his remains. That was also the reason he wanted no valuables buried with him to discourage grave robbers.
We are now underway sailing along the coast of Vietnam toward Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). This means a whole day and another night at sea; time to rest, eat, exercise and attend another lecture. I am having a grand time.