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Published: November 24th 2018
The Marble Mountains - 1
The ancient and the modern!
We are off again today, with an 8.00 am departure for our trip by coach 80 miles north to the city of Hue (pronounced 'hway'), the ancestral home of the good old British comedy actor and 'Carry On' stalwart, Jack Douglas - those readers of a certain age might get what I'm on about! If not, Google: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=VLg-DB-q65k
and perhaps you'll see what I mean. We are only one night in Hue (before moving on again to Hanoi), but we have a lot to pack in before our flight out of Hue tomorrow night.
Our first stop, just outside Hoi An, was at The Marble Mountains, an outcrop of limestone promontories, of which the main ones are named after three key Vietnamese elements of fire, water and iron and the biggest of the three was 'water' and that is the one we went up. However, the guide was kind to us and instead of climbing numerous steps to reach the Buddhist temple, pagoda and shrines at the top, we went up in a very modern lift and the juxtaposition between the ancient mountain/temple and the modern lift shaft was, I have to say, pretty stark! The mountains are
The Marble Mountains - 2
The two other mountains.....and a hillock!!
not really that high, but they are pretty steep and Vinnie reckoned that it would be about a 2 hour climb to the top - therefore, we were very grateful for the lift! The pagoda and temple at the top, were certainly worth a look and there were some good photo opportunities.
After leaving the Marble Mountains, we continued on our way towards Hue, passing through the longest road tunnel in Vietnam, called the Hai Vam with a total length of 6.28 kilometres. This is a new tunnel under the Hai Van pass, which is said to save up to 2 hours journey time, compared to the original road itself. This was a bit of shame, as the views from the Pass Road are said to be spectacular, but this is one of the negatives of going on an escorted tour, where you really have no choice but to stick to the schedule. However not to worry because, on exiting the tunnel, we arrived at the stunning Lang Co peninsular, a spit of land separating the South China Sea from the Hai Van mountains and enclosing a beautiful lagoon of clear water, which drains into the sea, further north.
The Marble Mountains - 3
The temple through the trees.
We stopped here for a coffee and for a comfort break in, what our guides have consistently referred to as, the 'Happy Room'! I passed on the coffee, because there were picture opportunities everywhere and this is the sort of Vietnam that I have been really looking forward to. One of the many handicraft sellers was very pleased when she heard that we were from the UK; as it happened, she had a load of British pound coins with her that she really wanted to change into Dong AND she would give me a very good rate! Bearing in mind that there was probably more chance of the chocolate money we have on our Christmas trees being real, compared to the pound coins she was offering, I decided to let the opportunity go by on this occasion,
After leaving Lang Co, we headed on towards Hue. Overtaking on these roads is insane and seems to be pretty much as crazy as the traffic we have already seen elsewhere; the basic approach seems to be that whenever there is a vague gap, the vehicle behind simply sounds its horn repeatedly and goes for it, regardless of what is actually coming
The Marble Mountains - 4
The temple.......with less trees!
the other way! The driver then hopefully gets past by cutting up the vehicle being overtaken, or alternatively has to pull out at the last moment to avoid a collision!! Our coach driver wasn't trying any of these manoeuvres, but we saw a number of very near misses! Absolutely scary and in response to one of our questions, Vinnie advised us that 25-30 people are killed on the roads in Vietnam every day, a staggering 10,000+ deaths a year.......and, it really is no surprise!
Our next stop was lunch, in a cracking restaurant, close to The Imperial Citadel in Hue (our destination for this afternoon) and a somewhat unusual meal it was too! It was the usual set meal of half a dozen or so courses, with a really good noodle soup to start, followed by some seriously good mini spring rolls, beautifully presented on a peacock design made out of a pineapple and shaped carrots. Then we had...............a plate of chips! Next was a piece of baguette with some strips of grilled beef - shame the baguette didn't arrive a little earlier, then we could have had a chip butty!! And finally a mandarin orange and a very
The Marble Mountains - 5
Those trees are back again!
sweet and colourful mung bean cake; we were advised to eat the orange first, so this would cut through the sweetness of the cake, and it did! A really tasty meal, but quite bizarre.
Lunch done, it was then on to The Imperial Citadel and The Forbidden Palace, a World Heritage site, built between 1805 and 1833 by Emperor Gia Long as a fortress, temple and palace for the King and his entourage. The Forbidden Palace was a secret 'palace within a palace' and the only man allowed to enter was the Emperor, together with his queen, various concubines, female servants and eunuchs. Unfortunately, this element of the Citadel was destroyed during the Vietnam War and many other parts were badly damaged and the whole place is in the process of being renovated and/or rebuilt. However, this was another must see destination.
After a couple of hours in baking sunshine, we were all just about ready to drop and Vinnie wisely loaded us back on the coach for the short trip to our hotel for the night, The Moonlight Hotel, in Hue. Another good hotel, with super rooms and..........a free cocktail on arrival! One very handy aspect of
Lang Co Peninsular - 1
Looking north down the lagoon.
the trip so far is that, when we arrive at each hotel, all our room keys and other information have been immediately available for our guide, who simply dishes them out to us all, so no queuing at reception! We had a couple of hours or so free time before dinner and we all took the opportunity to crash out, before freshening up in our rooms. Dinner was at eight, but to be honest I'm not sure that many of us were up for it. It was Italian this time and whilst it wasn't bad, the appetite just wasn't there. I think this three meal a day approach is catching up with us a bit; it certainly is with me and I suspect some of us may be opting out of one meal or another at some point going forward. Dinner over, a group of about 12 of us decided to make an evening of it in the Why Not Bar, close to the hotel and very enjoyable it was too. We've got to know pretty much all the people on our trip and it is a really nice group, of all shapes and sizes, so to speak!
Lang Co Peninsular - 2
Looking north this time.
two in Hue and we fly on to Hanoi tonight, but before we do, there was some more sightseeing to do and this morning it was a couple of royal tombs. Sounds a bit morbid, but each of the tombs are set in their own expanse of beautifully manicured grounds and surrounding buildings, with each King seemingly looking to outdo the others for the level of opulence! Our first tomb was that of Emperor Minh Mang who died in 1841, having married over 500 wives during his lifetime and fathered over 140 children. We don't know what he died of, but I suspect it was sheer exhaustion! The second tomb was that of Emperor Tu Doc, who reigned for 35 years (the longest of any king) and had only one wife and no children - there looks to be a clear moral to this story! The actual tombs are kept away from tourist eyes, but the grounds of each site were well worth the visit in themselves.
We were back to the hotel by 11.30, giving just enough time for a quick shower, before check out by noon. Our lunch restaurant was a couple of doors away and it
Lang Co Peninsular - 3
No, this isn't our next mode of transport......
was by now, pretty standard fayre and whilst it was really good once again, I just snacked a bit this time. Post lunch, it was then on to the Thiên Mu Pagoda on the banks of the Perfume River, the river so called because in the Autumn, flowers from the orchards upriver, fall into the river and apparently give it a distinctive aroma. The Thiên Mu (or Heavenly Lady) Pagoda was founded in 1601 by Lord Nguyen Hoang and is another beautiful Buddhist temple. At the entrance is a huge bell cast in 1710 and weighing more than 4,400 lb; pretty big, but as it turns out, less than a sixth of the weight of Big Ben! The temple is dominated by a seven storey tower known as the 'Source of Happiness Tower' (Thap Phuoc Duyen), which is probably the most impressive building on the complex. However, one of the most interesting things at Thiên Mu (to me anyway), was in a humble little side building, housing an old Austin Cambridge car. The car that Thich Quang Duc, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk used to drive himself a couple of hundred yards to a busy intersection in Saigon, where he got
Lang Co Peninsular - 4
........nor are these!
out of the car and then burned himself to death, while staying put silently, in the lotus position, the whole time. The monk was protesting against the Catholic President's persecution of the Buddhists and although I was only 10 years when it happened, I remember his selfless act getting worldwide publicity and support at the time, through the picture of him aflame, being published in every major newspaper. I haven't put the picture in this blog for obvious reasons, but if anyone wishes to see the picture used in the press and TV (with the Austin Cambridge at Thiên Mu in the background), a link is below: https://www.google.co.uk/search source=hp&ei=ZIL1W5fDEImm9QOxoKqwCg&q=buddhist+monk+on+fire&oq=buddhist+monk&gs_l=mobile-gws-wiz-hp.1.1.0l5.5731.11359..12824...0.0..0.321.2284.0j10j2j1......0....1.......3..41j46j0i131._1joK5ANiMI#imgrc=jPaW1h9hTO5IrM:
After our visit to Thiên Mu, we boarded our colourful vessel at the nearby jetty, for our 40 minute trip along the Perfume River to the largest market in Hue. The vessel itself was extremely colourful, but pretty spartan inside, with freestanding plastic chairs put out for seating, depending on how many people are on board. There was the usual sales pitch on board for all manner of tat, but we didn't give in this time and some of us were even able to grab a bit of shuteye
The Hue Restaurant
The decorated peacock!
instead! We were given an hour at the market, which was about 59 minutes too long (!), primarily because we were all carrying a lot of cash (with our next stop being the airport!) and we were in a pickpocket's paradise!
As soon as we could, we moved on to a modern shopping mall, but here again our heart wasn't in it and most of us soon found ourselves in a coffee shop, while waiting for the coach to take us to the airport. Our flight was at 8.30 this time and check in was without drama this time and were soon boarding our plane for the short hop to Hanoi. The flight to Hanoi was short and uneventful, with our guide Vinnie joining us on the flight this time, but only because he was meeting someone himself in Hanoi. Once we were through Arrivals, Vinnie handed the 'guide's baton' on to Phong (another chap; it seems that very few women do this job in Vietnam) our guide for the next 4 days. It took us about an hour in the coach to get to the Sunway Hotel in the centre (ish) of the city, by whitch time it
was after eleven and we were straight to bed.
Hue has been a very enjoyable place to visit and this former capital of Vietnam has some major points of interest, that should be on anyone's itinerary, especially if you are a fan of Citadels and Tombs!!
As an aside, as I seem to be spending most of my spare travelling time 'blogging', I've now been given the nickname 'Bryson'! If I am half as good as he is, I'd be very happy!
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