Searching for the Forbidden City

Trip Start Sep 19, 2009
Trip End May 19, 2010

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Saturday, April 10, 2010

Aboard our train for the night, we were sharing a cabin with two others; a Chinese chap and his Vietnamese girlfriend. When we boarded, there was ridiculously loud music blaring out from all speakers, even in our cabin. Terrified this would last all night, our roomies found a switch to stop the noise in our cabin – thank god! However, our relief was short lived, as their reasons for turning the train music off became clear... they proceeded to play horrible, tinny tunes from their phone! When this eventually stopped (in no small part down to the venomous glares they were getting from us...), we still didn't get silence; whenever the woman received a text in the night, we were treated to a minute long alert tone (at full volume of course), how considerate! Ben and I had the top bunks, and eventually managed some sleep, for Ben this was due in no small part to his blocked ears that he become now very appreciative of! Not knowing at what time we would arrive in Hue, we were awake from about 6am and poised to move quickly if need be. Fortunately, this gave us a nice chance to admire the rice fields and villages that we were zooming past.

At 8am, we finally arrived. We were welcomed by a guy from our planned hotel and his motorbike (terror)... did he not know we had massive backpacks? Apparently so, as he and his mate skillfully placed the big bags on the front of the bike while we carried the smaller bags, and we were off! Luckily, Hue’s roads were nothing like Hanoi, with much less traffic and wider streets. Plus, on the upside, in Vietnam the general speed of travel is much slower so we felt quite safe!

Welcomed at the hostel with cold Vietnamese tea while our bags were whizzed up to our room, we indulged in some banana pancakes for breakie, yummy! Hue was the old capital of Vietnam until 1945 and has a huge number of tombs and pagodas, as well as a huge centre called 'the Citadel’, with a ‘Forbidden City’ inside. We only had a day here, so opted to see the tomb of the famed "fussy eater" Emperor Tu Doc, who demanded to have 50 different dishes prepared by 50 different people for each meal, every day. He would also only drink his tea if it was made from the water that had collected as due on the leaves from the night before... brilliant! Our hotel sent their drivers & motorbikes to take us there and wait for us while we looked round (not trusting ourselves to drive...). The tombs in Hue are not just tombs, but huge complexes with beautiful grounds, and with temples as well as the actual tomb. This particular one had a huge stone, with self written inscriptions of his epitaph on it. Normally a son would write this but even with over a hundred wives and concubines he bore no children.

Returning to town on the bikes & relieved to have the breeze on our faces in the 40 degree heat, we ventured into the Citadel, stopping for some lunch at a restaurant run by a deaf proprietor. Our waiter (possibly the owner himself?) was a real character, and our meal was spent trying to work out his charades! He was very useful, and told us exactly what sights to see with his clever hand movements, as well as persuading us to order yet another banana pancake for dessert! Finally, it was onto the Citadel and the Purple Forbidden City. I have to admit that we were a little disappointed with the Forbidden City, where the Emperors used to live. It was mainly in ruins from the Vietnam War, and there was little literature or guidance as to where we could explore. We often found ourselves on the edge of a high wall with nowhere else to walk, and we never did manage to work out why it was referred to as purple! Having said this, there was a lot of restoration works in place. We wandered around the outskirts of the Imperial City a little, but in 40 degrees we were just begging to get back to our air conditioned room, and away from the rickshaws literally stalking us wherever we went.

After a lazy afternoon spent cooling ourselves down and with no rickshaws in sight, we found a street just to the side of our hotel that was full of lovely little restaurants for dinner. We were not disappointed; we ate in a lovely French/Vietnamese fusion place, all inside $3 each again! So, in just one day, we felt we had seen an example of all the main sights in Hue. Obviously there are many, many more tombs, temples and pagodas to see, but with our ever-limited scheduled time, we were very happy with our days work!
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