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Published: March 24th 2014
Matt in Huế drinking a Huda, Kristin enjoying an amber ale in Buena Vista.
Together in spirit.
It's Matt's (and his twin sister Kristin's) birthday! So the celebratory trip was his choice. He decided we should spend a few days in Huế, then tour the The Demilitarized Zone between North and South Vietnam before continuing on to Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park to tour its caves and grottos. A place we are sure to encounter leeches again. Sigh.
We took a bus to Đà Nẵng and then the Reunification Express train north to Huế. Queuing for tickets was as stressful as we expected - in Vietnam the person that pushes, prods or otherwise tramples his way to the front of the line gets served first, so people don't hesitate to force their way in front of you, even thrusting money around you to the clerk and calling out destinations from behind. There is no concept of waiting in line at all anywhere we've been here. The trip itself was fine, the trains in Vietnam are modern and run on time, even if they are a little run down and dirty. We moved slowly north through rice paddies and along the deserted coastline giving us lovely views of beach after glorious beach. The weather had turned the night
before and it had been raining on an off throughout the morning, but none of that prepared us for the change we experienced when we arrived in Huế. Even though we were only around 100 km north of Hội An, the temperature had dropped from 24C to 18C.
From 1802 to 1945 Huế was the imperial capital of the Nguyễn Dynasty. Our number one priority was to explore the Citadel which contains the ruins of the Imperial City. Inside the Imperial City is another enclosure and within that is the Purple Forbidden City where Vietnam's Emperors lived from the early 19th century until the last emperor abdicated in 1945, surrendering to the North Vietnamese Army. The entire site was bombed into near extinction during the Indochina War (called the French War in Viet Nam) and the Vietnam War (called the American War in Viet Nam). In the 80's only a few buildings remained of all the original structures but in the early 90's the Imperial City was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site and the Vietnamese went to work rebuilding and restoring it to its past splendor. It was originally scheduled to be completed in 2015 but there is
still lots to be done and today artists were painting and building and gardening everywhere. We can tell you that what they have done so far is wonderful.
There are two moats filled with water from the Perfume River. The first one encircles the Citadel and inside there are still neighbourhoods where Vietnamese live today. A second moat protects the Imperial City where the Emperor, his family and eunuchs lived and worshiped and where the court would gather for certain important events and ceremonies.
When you cross the bridge over the second moat you feel as if you are walking back into time. There are temples where the Emperor and the male Manchurians worshiped the royal ancestors, gardens, classrooms, storerooms and workshops. The Throne Palace is here and that is where the Emperor held court. Most importantly it contains the Purple Forbidden City where the Emperor actually lived. Some of these structures have been restored so they are today as they were then and they are very impressive. The gardens are incredible to stroll, with painstakingly managed bonsai trees adorned with orchids and other epiphytes and charming walkways. The moats host bright pink water lilies and enormous koi
fish and man made islands float in the middle, adding a whimsical touch. You can't help but rest your arms on the stone walls and gaze at them. In the trees kingfishers, herons and jacanas thrive.
As we were leaving Matt pointed out the many bullet holes in the citadel walls; a sober reminder of the wars that nearly demolished the City.
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