Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Vietnam (3) - Next stop Hue

We flew from Hanoi to Hue as the alternative is a 10 hour road trip. We were greeted in the arrival area by the amusing sight of our guide for the region plus one of the team from the hotel waiting to welcome us. A minor arguement followed as they decided who would take us back to the hotel. Our home in Hue was the gorgeous Pilgrimage Village . We had a lovely bungalow style room in away from the main area of the hotel complete with its own small plunge pool. This is a really beautiful hotel, a perfect location to stay if you visit Hue, our only regret was that we only had one night there.

Hue was the national capital until 1945, when Emperor Bao Dai abdicated and a communist government was established in Hanoi, in the north. In the Vietman War, Hue’s central position placed it very near the border between North Vietnam and South Vietnam; however, the city was located in South Vietnam. In the Tet offensive of 1968, during the Battle of Hue, the city suffered considerable damage not only to its physical features, but its reputation as well, most of it from American firepower and bombings on the historical buildings as well as the Massacre of Hue committed by the communist forces. 

After the war’s conclusion, many of the historic features of Hue were neglected because they were seen by the victorious regime and some other Vietnamese as "relics from the feudal regime"; the Vietnamese Communist Party doctrine officially described the Nguyen Dynasty as "feudal" and "reactionary." There has since been a change of policy, however, and many historical areas of the city are currently being restored.

The Phoenix Gate to the Citadel, Hue.
As a tourist, the main reason to visit Hue is to see the citadel of the former capital. Construction of the citadel began in the early 1800s. Originally the wall was made of earth, then a covering of bricks was added. It took tens of thousands of Vietnamese to do this by hand. During the 1968 Tet offensive there was heavy fighting in Hue, and much of it was concentrated in the area of the citadel. Consequently much of it was damaged. And because of economic difficulties there has been little resoration until quite recently, however work is now underway in many areas, and tourist interest can only help with this.

The riverside flag tower in front of the Citadel
Inside the Citadel
No, it's not a phonebox..

The longest day...
You'll see why, the day began with a trip to see the impressive Thien Mu Pagoda, this involved a short trip on a leaky boat along the Perfume River. Fortunately the boat didn't leak too much and we made it to our destination without the need to swim.

All aboard for the Perfume River ride
The Thien Mu Pagoda has its roots in a local legend: an old woman once appeared on the hill and said that a Lord would come and build a Buddhist pagoda for the country's prosperity. Hearing of this, Lord Nguyen Hoang ordered the construction of the pagoda of the "Heavenly Lady" (Thien Mu).

Construction began in 1601 under Lord Nguyen Hoang, and it was renovated by Lord Nguyen Phuc Tan in 1665. Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu contributed a great bell in 1710 and and a stele erected on the back of a marble tortoise in 1715. The Phuoc Dien Tower in front was added in 1864 by Emperor Thieu Tri.  The pagoda was heavily damaged in 1943, but was then fully renovated over the coming 30 years.

Thien Mu's seven-story Phuoc Dien Tower

"Fearsome" temple guardian

Above you can see the car which belonged to the monk Thich Quang Duc, in which he rode from his temple to Saigon on June 11, 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.

Gate to Minh Mang's tomb

After leaving the Pagoda we travelled by car to the tomb of Minh MangMinh Mang was the ruling king of Vietnam from 1820 to 1841. In 1826, the King ordered the search for a good site to build his tomb and found the place only in 1840. The construction of the tomb had been underway for a few months when Minh Mang died and the successor, King Thieu Tri continued the work based on the design chosen by his father. The construction of Minh Mang's tomb was done only in 1843, 2 years after the king died.

The tomb's worshipping area

Our next tomb of the day belonged to Tu Duc. Located in a narrow valley 8 km from Hue (Duong Xuan Thuong village), TTu Duc Tomb is one of the most beautifully designed complexes among the tombs of the Nguyen dynasty. Embedded in a lush pine forest, this tomb is the final resting place of Emperor Tu Duc (1848-83) who had the longest reign of all emperors of the Nguyen dynasty. As usual at that time, Tu Duc had begun planning and constructing his tomb long before he died in 1883. Thus, the major parts of the tomb complex were built around 1864-67. In his lifetime, the Emperor  used the tomb as a palatial retreat together with his many wives and concubines. 

Pavillion on Luu Khien lake 

Gate at Tu Duc tomb

Susy making friends with a local
After leaving Tu Duc's tomb we had another lovely lunch (you'll get used to eating a lot of lovely lunches in Vietnam, if you like seafood you're going to really enjoy the culinary experience) before setting off on a 4 hour drive from Hue to Hoi An. Time for me to take a break, next instalment to come, just click on the link to  Vietnam (4) featuring Marble Mountain, Hoi An and the contunuing tale of two intrepid honeymooners.