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Asia » Vietnam » North Central Coast » Thua Thien - Huế » Hué
January 5th 2012
Published: June 23rd 2017
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Geo: 16.4635, 107.585

We hadn't planned on stopping in Hue, but we were talked into it by other travelers that had just come from there. We only have 3 years so we can't stop everywhere but we thought we'd take a flyer on this place. To get to Hue we did another of the overnight Vietnamese trains and were bunked in with an Aussie couple once again- I've got to think that at any given point in time, at least half of the population of Australia is not actually in Australia! We traded a number of stories but they took first prize with a funny story about a Vietnamese scam we hadn't heard of yet- apparently they had asked hotel staff about cooking school options and were told that the hotel chef would give them lessons- they did visit a market where they paid for all of the groceries and spent the rest of the day jammed in a small doorway watching the chef cook all the food they had purchased. Funny stories aside, this was the longest train trip yet- 14 hours and after our new Aussie friend broke both the window and door to our cabin,and the train engineer started working in a new set of brakes, there wasn't much sleep to be had.

Upon arrival we found an honest cab driver (Vietnamese oxymoron??) who, after talking to his friend on the phone as well as a couple of street people, got us to the hotel we had booked. Hot shower and a nap? Not quite. Apparently another common scam is to take bookings for a popular hotel, apologize profusely, and then shuffle you to a less popular hotel (which normally has a reason for being less popular). With limited options we did the shuffle (although we did insist on a second room- one with less mold in it).

Hue is billed as a royal city although it's a bit of fabrication (it does have the UNESCO designation which seem to be handed out quite liberally in Vietnam). During the Colonial period, the French established a puppet monarchy complete with emperor to facilitate their control of the area. As a result most of the royal buildings in Hue only date back to the mid 1800's. That said the Citadel must have been quite a complex in it's day. Modeled after the Forbidden City in Beijing, the Citadel was bombed quite heavily during the American War (by both sides) so it's only reclaiming a portion of it's former glory through recent restoration work. There's a video showing in one of the temples that digitally recreates what the Citadel must have looked like at it's peak- it's hard to like the lifestyle gap between the emperor and his subjects but the result is often an architectural wonder.

We rented a couple of basket bicycles to explore some of the more far-flung pagodas and royal tombs and the first stop was Thiên Mụ Pagoda- the temple complex stretches north from the river banks in seven successive tiers, each of which is dedicated to a human form taken by the Buddha or a step to enlightenment (depending on whom you ask). The octagonal Phuoc Dien Tower sits in the front of the complex. Perhaps one of the most interesting artifact on the site was the car in which the monk Thich Quang Duc rode from his temple to Saigon in 1963. He stepped out of the car in an intersection, sat down in the lotus position, and burned himself to death in protest against the regime's violations of religious freedom. This act,captured in memorable photos, had a significant influence on public opinion particularly in the U.S. After hitching a ride on a boat to cross the river, we stopped off to see an arena that was used to host tiger vs. elephant fights (since elephants were linked to Vietnamese royalty the fights were rigged- the tigers were drugged, had their claws and fangs removed, and if that wasn't enough, a second elephant would be sent in), before tracking down the tomb of Tu Duc, the ‘poet Emperor'. The centrepiece of the tomb is simplicity itself despite the lavish opulence of his reign (it's really just a monument – he was buried
elsewhere to thwart grave robbers).

After stumbling around the tomb complex for an hour or so we hopped on our bikes and set off for the next royal tomb... only to find out that DH had a completely flat tire. We asked for some help at a nearby house only to see a lady racing down the street with a bicycle pump in hand- the same lady who had a food stall directly across the road from where we had locked up our bikes. Coincidence and ESP?? After pumping up the tire, our 'good Samaritan' charged us for the use of her pump- this scam caused only 50 cents worth of financial damage but it really bothered me from two perspectives. For this woman to have flattened our tire, she would have had to do it with an extensive audience of locals including the ticket sellers, and secondly, just in case the tire was indeed defective, we had to cut our tour short and head back (of course the tire remained remarkably full for the duration of our trip)- we missed out on some of the sights we had really wanted to see. It's a bit tiring to have your Vietnamese scam deflectors on all of the time and the 50 cents has a disproportionate influence on your view of a place like Hue.


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9th January 2012

Interesting commentary. Thanks for providing some insight into the different shades of Hue (bad pun I know). Are Pagoda's considered Holy Sites? Keep the blogs coming, always a treat! Travel safe.
9th January 2012

LOLOkay this one takes the cake. What's the saying......"People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones", but what about if you're riding a bike?
9th January 2012

Heavenly Lady Pagoda
9th January 2012

The fearsome temple guardians have real facial hair. Now, how is it that a temple guardian built sometime around 1864 can hold onto his hair but my poor husband born in 1960 can't?
9th January 2012

It's a nice picture of a car but ask DH what happened to me when I took a picture of a car in one of the world's most famous museums. Ah the memories and the laughs .... ;-)

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