Trains, tombs and temples
Hue Travel Blog› entry 4 of 20 › view all entries
The Reunification Express takes 30 hours from Hanoi to HCMC. We got off at Hue after 13 hours overnight. The line is only metre gauge, but we had plenty of room in our first class sleeper. We shared with an aimiable retired French couple who forced their large cases under their bottom bunk and their several bags on the top shelf. Within an hour of our 7pm departure they'd taken sleeping tablets and settled down. At least we played cards to about 9.30 and then slept without pills. In the morning while we put back on yesterday's clothes, Madame had a complete change including matching jewellery and fresh make-up.
Our hotel had a taxi waiting for us at the station and by 10.00am we were out round Hue. It's the old Vietnamese Imperial city on the Perfume River. To the north of the river is the Citadel and Imperial city, and to the south the former French area. We hired a boat for a 2 hour trip on the river. Houses lined much of the waterside beyond the central area where there's a pretty promenade. On a side canal there were dozens of ramshackle houseboats. Our boatman told us the families were soon being moved by the government. While some embankments were messy and grubby, overall it was a pretty ride and an attractive way to see the city.
On Saturday we hired a car and driver. We stopped at the Thien Mu Buddhist Pagoda. Its monks have long been radicals and it was from there that Thich Quang Duc set out for Saigon in 1963 and burnt himself to death (there's the famos photo) in protest against the South Vietnamese regime. The blue Austin in which he drove to Saigon is on display.
With our driver playing "Abide with Me" and "Amazing Grace" we moved on to see some of the Imperial tombs. These were from the 19th and early 20th century - the latter for the penultimate Emperor who died only in 1925. They all included elegant temples and burial mounds and lovely gardens, and it was hard to believe they were so recent. They were all very well kept and peaceful. Incidentally the last , Bao Dai, reigned from 1926 to 1945 when he was deposed, dying in Paris only in 1997.
On Sunday we wandered through the market admiring the beautiful fruit and veg and then walked to the Imperial City. It's surrounded by bastion walls rather like the forts above Portsmouth. It only dates, like the, from the 19th Century. Much of the city inside has been destroyed in the various wars and campaigns. It was virtually flattened by the US after the North briefly captured it, and the rest of the city, in the 1968 Tet Offensive. The limited but fine restoration gives a clear idea of Imperial ritual, elaborate even as the Emperors became French (and later Japanese) puppets. The public areas and the temples are all elegant and calm.
Next stop a contrast - Hoi An, the tailoring capital of Vietnam.