An Ancient Imperial City

Trip Start Jun 15, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2012

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Next on the agenda is a city called Hue (pronounced h-way) which was the capital of Vietnam before the French came and took over in the 19th century. Vietnam was a kingdom and the royal family lived in a walled City within Hue and this is what we have come to see, the Citadel. Unfortunately it was quite heavily bombed during the war as the Viet Cong fought from within the walls of the Citadel, and Hue was one of the places hardest hit by American bombing being on the border of North and South Vietnam. It also meant that despite having been a City of great pride it has a tragic recent past with a lot of Vietnamese people having been killed here during the war, both in the military and civilians. 

Whilst being here you can't get away from learning about the war as everywhere was affected, some worse than others such as Hue. We were told that when there was a 'difference of opinion' on which political system should be used in Vietnam, people were given a few weeks to move to the North if they favoured Communism and to the South if they favoured Capitalism which didn't really work because people understandably didn't want to leave their homes and be separated from their families. In the South people described the Viet Cong (North Vietnamese) as "people who love Communism" whereas in the North they describe them as "people who love Vietnam" Pretty big difference if you ask me although both are probably true. The crazy thing about all of this is that the war shouldn't have had to happen, having a difference of opinion on a political system should be resolved by an election not by a 20+ years war. The more we are learning about it, the more stupid and unnecessary the whole war seems (in my opinion), and 3 million people shouldn't have had to die! (By the way, sorry for all these ramblings, being on a train for 11 hours means I have lots of time to write my blog. haha!)
We had only dedicated one night to Hue as we arrived in the morning and left late the next day giving us two full days to explore the City. Unfortunately when we arrived it was raining, although not too heavily so we decided to go anyway and see the Citadel, leaving the next day to see anything else in the city. We put on our raincoats and headed out but the rain seemed to be getting heavier and heavier, still we plodded on and made it to the outer walls of the Citadel when the heavens opened and it started to rain seriously heavily. We sheltered under the entrance of a shop and immediately had two guys come over to us on Cyclos...
 "My friend, where you from? You want easy rider, one hour? I do very good price!"
 "No thanks, we think we're going to come back tomorrow", 
 "No, no, tomorrow it rains!"
 "Uhh....... it's raining now" 
 "No, no, no, tomorrow it will rain" 
 "Mate, it's raining now! Look around you it's pouring" 
 "No, that will stop in 2 minutes" 
Well it didn't and poured with rain for the next couple of hours and we were just happy that we hadn't left the hotel a bit earlier and already paid our entrance fee. Plus we were doubly vindicated in our decision the next day when it was completely dry and sunny all day. 

We did actually decide to take a cyclo around the Citadel as when we got there we realised just how big it is and that we had absolutely no idea where we were going. That made us easy targets for all the cyclo guys as we kept going the wrong way, then they could give us directions and follow us waiting for us to make the next wrong turn

The guy we agreed to go with turned out to be brilliant and we were so glad we decided to let him take us around, it was his recommendation in an ancient Asia Lonely Planet that sealed the deal. His name was Thinh and he told us all about his life, how his father was killed during the war when he was 11 years old and he actually had to live in a market with his mum because their house was bombed. A Buddhist monk took him under his wing and taught him for 11 years and Thinh talked about him like a second father, his master. During our tour he told us all about the war in Hue, explained some of the basic principles of Buddhism to us and showed us around a Pagoda and a temple whilst offering us his pearls of wisdom. 

I was told that I was born the year of the Tiger and that I have a big heart but that I need to be careful because people can be envious. Katy however was given a much more thorough reading as he read her palm. She is the year of the Dragon, and he told her that she has a very hot temper and then repeatedly told her that she needs to be more patient.... And I only had to pay him 10 dollars to say that! He then went on to say that she will go on to further study which will be very helpful in making her a success in her job and that she will have 3 children, a girl then a boy and then another girl. So, let's wait and see how much of this comes true. He even wrote us each a little letter with his advice for us, they started "Dear Friend" and then gave his advice for each of us. It was brilliant and such an interesting and different day, and to think we almost joined the conventional bus tour! He has lived in Hue his whole life so he could give us a real personal idea of the place, as he put it "You are my new friend, I want to learn with you and you to learn with me." He took our email address and said he would maybe send us an email some time.
The citadel is beautiful and you can walk all around the inner grounds called the Forgotten Purple City, which is an awesome name! The architecture has a real Chinese Dynasty feel to it and the grounds were enormous. I don't know if this happened but I could totally imagine monks wondering around the peaceful grounds listening to the birds chirping or finding a quiet spot for meditation. It seemed quite sad that the western world just ended their Kingdom, as there were photos from the 1930's and 40's of ceremonies there where elephants are paraded around the grounds. It looked amazing!  

As for Hue itself, I wouldn't say it's been our favourite place but it was always going to struggle to compete having just come from Hoi An. With all the rain on the first day we were a bit put off but then the second day was much better and we could actually go and see and experience some of Hue. We ventured off the tourist track a little by exploring some of the local shopping streets and the local market which was interesting. 

The market was enormous with very narrow alleyways and sold everything. The best thing was a shop selling the conical hats where the locals buy theirs. After the market we found this amazing cake shop which had loads of delicious looking cakes for 25 cents each. When we went over to the counter to order one, the people behind the counter completely blanked us in a very obvious way. There was nobody else there and the three girls all just faced slightly away from us staring down. Eventually one of them pointed at us and they seemed to have an argument over who should have to have the terrible job of serving the western people. This is definitely an exception though as on the whole the people have been friendly and accommodating. 

We found an amazing cocktail bar accidentally when we were escaping from another cyclo guy. He came charging over to us on his bike....

"My friend where you from? Where you go?"
 "No, no, we're fine thanks. We're just walking" Unfortunately we actually didn't know quite where we were going and I think he could tell as we were turning our enormous fold-up map around.
 "You get on cyclo I take you, very cheap price"
 "No thanks, we're fine" Deciding that we really weren't going to use his cyclo his tone changed and he sidled up to me tugged on my arm and whispered...
 "Hey, you want Marijuana? Very good,very strong!" 
 "No thanks!" 
 "Marijuana, my friend, yes? puff puff" 

 He wasn't really taking no for an answer so we went into the next place we came to which was this awesome cocktail bar. For less than $2 you could have the most amazing cocktails and listen to some live guitar music. The place was full of the more well-to-do locals and we could even get on Facebook which is blocked in Vietnam, so we stayed there for the evening. I say we stayed there for the evening, but what I mean is we stayed there until they closed at 10! Everything here closes at 10, when we were in Hoi An our hotel locked the doors at 10 so you had to be back by then. 

By the way being offered drugs by the cyclo guy wasn't an isolated incident, this happened 3 times so it seems that they make a bit of money on the side as drug dealers. 

 So our short stop off in Hue was pretty good on the whole, and now we head for Hanoi on the night train before we go to Halong Bay!
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