Thursday, 27 September 2012

Vietnam: Hue, the world of the ancient Kings, part 1

The train pulled into Hue just before 10am, a little earlier than expected. It was a mad rush to pull my gear together as we bundled off the carriage onto a packed platform of like-minded travellers being herded to the exit. We were certainly moving South - the sky was now bare blue, the sun a ferocious burn - temperature up at least 5 degrees.

Brunch was served in Mandarin Restaurant - which immediately transported to my dream as a coffee shop owner - this was ultra cool and had a theme to die-for; travel portraits lined the room, guide books and travel journals scattered across the tables and a menu depicting most national brunch dishes.

By Midday I was walking around the city. At 2pm we were on our first cycle excursion into the countryside for a farming museum with a rather charming woman history guide, and a rather pathetic historical UNESCO momument at Thanh Toan - in the shape of a bridge built in....1993!

Onwards and the skies darkened, here I could see the clouds forming for a torrential downpour, I was expecting my first ever rainfall that would squeeze every ounce of water from the sky here in Asia. As we cycled along I hoped to reach the hotel in time, when all of the sudden we took a sharp right, then a left and we had passed our hotel. We weren't going back, I had a bag full of electronics, my phone, camera, video camera and here I could now be expecting it to get drenched. Instead we were heading for Citadel which was built by the Nguyen dynasty (Vietnam’s ruling emperors from the early 1800s to 1945), the Citadel still dominates the left bank of the Perfumed River.

On approaching the Entrance it was an incredible sight, looking down on us from above, this gigantic structure told the stories of old and the wealth of the kingdom. On walking through the imposing entrance suddenly the excitement depleted, replaced by immense sadness, sorrow, frustration and annoyance. We were faced with ruins, not ruins of old, but recent. As recent as 40 years, 1968 in fact, the Tet Offence, the American-Vietnam war. The Americans had bombed the lot, what stood was reconstructions, this proved the resiliance of the Vietnamese. They were not going to be denied their history, instead celebrate it, even though the pain of rebuilding. My respect for the Vietnamese was growing by the hour, not only are they welcoming, friendly, courteous, but they are courageous and humble.

I left wondering what more was in store for me...I was worried about the sights I had left to witness.

This evening we made our way for a group meal, this tradition handed down by the Vietnamese kings. Originally 50 chefs, 50 musicians and 50 courses - instead we only need to stomach 12 courses and a small group of student musicians who sang and player traditional Vietnamese music for us. Believe it or not I played King, as one of the two youngest of the group I doned the fetching gold robe and head piece, slightly hot and uncomfortable but thoroughly fun and enjoyable.

Following which I headed to the centre of the fun part of Hue for a couple of drinks at DM2 bar for a couple of Daiquiris.

Day 6: Arrive Hué. PM biking tour of Hué.

Arriving in Hué this morning we transfer to the hotel and check in, after checking and adjusting our bikes the rest of the morning is free to relax and enjoy at your leisure. Once the capital of Vietnam and an inspiration for poets and artists alike for centuries, Hué is divided by the waters of the Perfume River, which separate the city’s 19th century citadel from the suburbs that radiate from the eastern shore. Even today, its easy air of leisurely ambience makes it one of the most engaging cities in the country to explore and, after lunch, we will cycle our bikes on a tour of the imposing Citadel. Built by the Nguyen dynasty (Vietnam’s ruling emperors from the early 1800s to 1945), the Citadel still dominates the left bank of the Perfumed River. Its formal moats and impressive ramparts were constructed to be an exact copy of the Forbidden City in Beijing, and whilst much of the inner city suffered badly during the heavy bombardments of the Tet Offensive in 1968, the huge outer walls and the West Wing remain an eloquent reminder of the palace’s former glory. Later today we will cycle out to the lovely tile-roofed bridge at Thanh Toan. Built over two centuries ago, the arched wooden bridge spans a canal that runs through the village and has long been an iconic and cultural landmark in the area. Late in the afternoon the old folk gather on the bridge to talk and reminisce. After enjoying the tranquil atmosphere around the bridge we will cycle back to our hotel.