Massive Buddha near Marble Mountain
Got up at 8am and had the same breakfast I'd had the last couple of days. Left in the minivan at 9am. Our first stop was a marble factory at the base of Marble Mountains, five craggy marble outcrops topped with delicate pagodas. The factory was quite interesting, lots of different sculptures were available for purchase, including both Buddhas and Virgin Marys twice my height, from the ancient to more modern styles. Next we headed over Hai Van Pass, a spur of the Truong Son mountain range 496m above sea level. There on the summit were bullet-scarred French forts, later used as bunkers by the South Vietnamese and US armies. It's a natural boundary between north (four seasons) and south (two seasons) Vietnam. It used to be heavily forested until the American war, and in the 15th century it formed the boundary between Vietnam and the kingdom of Champa.
Hai Van Pass
Our lunch stop was at the Lang Co Hotel on Lang Co Beach. It was a beautiful beach but for all the trash and the persistent hawkers. I had fried veggie spring rolls for lunch for 36,000D. Finally we made it to Hue, located on the Perfume River and ordained by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 1993. We checked into our hostel Ly Tuong, where K and I had a double bed each and a nice balcony. We had a rest for an hour then went on a tour of the Citadel, led by Y. It is a huge complex with 2m-thick 10km-long walls and was first established in 1804. The 37m-high flag tower was very impressive. Just inside the ramparts are 9 cannons, 5 on the left representing the elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth) and 4 on the right representing the seasons.
Lang Co Beach
Inside the Citadel only 20 of the original 148 buildings remain due to extensive bombing during the French and American wars. I enjoyed wandering around but it was super draining at the same time! Among the buildings we saw were the Royal Theatre, Emperor's Reading Room and Royal Fine Arts Museum. The nicest spot was a big hall with shrines to ten of the 13 emperors/kings. Y told us a little about each of them which was very interesting. The only ones not represented were Bao Dai (as he let Ho Chi Minh take over), an emperor who was only emperor for 1 day, and an emperor who was super evil and had a lot of people killed. After the Citadel we headed back to the hotel for another hour's rest, then for dinner K, Y + I headed to An Dinh Vien Restaurant where for 400,000D (yikes) we had a royal dinner. We got dressed up in royal costumes, along with another Intrepid group, and were entertained by 3 musicians and 3 singers while we ate. There were 10 courses all up. Unfortunately, I seemed unable to adequately communicate I didn't eat seafood or pork, but the food was exquisitely presented. After the meal just headed back to the hotel by taxi.