After a wonderful but exhausting stay in Hoi An (Fabien’s right, shopping is tiring) we finally left and made our way to Hue, a few hours north and home to a few beautiful sites.
Our first impression was not of a Unesco world heritage city with the charm and beauty of Hoi An. Instead we were faced with overpriced hotels, excessive traffic and aggressive touts. After a frustrating morning, we finally found a place, took a needed break and set out to visit the old city. To reach the Imperial City we had to cross the Perfume River. (To tell you the truth, all I could smell when we crossed the bridge was exhaust fumes, but it was charming no less with it’s numerous dragon boats and fisherman.)
It is the only surviving Imperial City in Vietnam, built between 1804 and 1833 under the reign of Gia Long in the Chinese style. We had no idea how big it was from the outside, but the complex is surrounded by a perimeter wall 10km long. When it was still functioning, over 60,000 people lived inside. We enjoyed an afternoon admiring the ornately decorated gates,the forbidden city (now in ruins) temples in various states, meeting halls and reception rooms. Unfortunately most of the compound was destroyed during the war with the U.S. during the Tet Offensive. But, they are hard at work at rebuilding it. It made for a nice afternoon, as there were many shaded walkways, beautiful Chinese porcelain and interesting architecture sporting dragons and other symbolic entities.
Our second day, we took a dragon boat down the Perfume River to visit some of the Imperial tombs. These complexes were not only built to honor the dead but also to serve as sort of holiday palaces while the rulers were alive. One of the largest and most impressive complexes was the tomb of Tu Doc. Much of the complex was occupied by a beatiful park and small lake. Watching life on the river was also an interesting aspect of the day. Sand is an important part of the local economy. The sand from the bottom of the river is dredged and brought up in buckets in a very rudimentary fashion. They work in a small carved out wooden boat. One man guides the pole attached to a “bucket” of sorts, while three other men (or women) pedal to bring up the heavy sand. Then they deposit the sand into the bottom of the boat and start the process all over again.
Just a quick but interesting visit to Hue; we left after the boat tour on an overnight bus to Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital.