It has been about 47 years since I have ridden a motorcycle. Probably nearly that long since Bill has been on one. Today we spent almost the entire day riding around Hue as passengers straddled on the back of a couple of nice motorcycles. We booked the "Hue in a Day" tour with http://www.hueriders.com and our primary guide was a man named Ton That Quy. You can either book tours through Hue Riders or book direct with Quy. Quy speaks good English is very knowledgable about the history of his country. We would highly recommend Quy as a tour guide. He does single day tours as well as up to 5 day tours ranging from Hoi An and northward. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and his cell phone is 0935-782-533.
Our first stop today was at the top of a tall hill overlooking a sharp bend in the Perfume River outside Hue. There were a couple of concrete bunkers built on the top of this heavily wooded hill (behind me in photo on left). One was circular and was built by the French a very long time ago. Supposedly, the second bunker was built by the Americans, but Bill has doubts about that because he doesn't believe the USA built permanent concrete bunkers during the Vietnam war. This was a beautiful and peaceful setting today, but it was easy to see the strategic location for a bunker here during a war as the river took a 90-degree turn directly beneath the bunkers. There was a lot of dredging being done in the middle of the Perfume River. The heavily loaded boats taking the sand back to town looked as if they would be swamped at any moment.Next stop was the Tu Thien temple, which is dedicated to a Buddhist priest who took care of his mother. A king during the mid-1800s found this priest living in this place and taking care of his mother. The king felt that this was a worthwhile priest and donated the money and the labor to build the temple as it stands today. It is a fairly large complex; still in active use today; and is such a peaceful place. The monks were chanting a ceremony during our visit. Bill was intrigued with all the broken bits of white and blue porcelain that were embedded into the stones as decorations. This porcelain would have been brought to Vietnam centuries ago as tribute from the Emperors of China, who expected tribute to be returned to them in greater value. Porcelain was known only to the Chinese at that time; no other country in the world possessed the technology to produce such fine porcelain. Therefore, this porcelain was considered to be very valuable. It is used to decorate temples and tombs in Vietnam because the porcelain was as valuable as real jewells. We saw these porcelain bits on every tomb, temple and pagoda that we visited in Vietnam.Next stop was the Tomb of Tu Duc. This place is huge. It is like a giant park with many buildings placed around with connecting paths. The concubine domicile area was very large but little remained intact today in that section. The king had over 1,000 concubines and they all were housed here. Tu Duc was the fourth and final king of his dynasty. He married, but he was a eunoch so had no children of his own..... what a waste of all those concubines. He adopted his brother's 3 children, but had no children of his own to carry on the dynasty. When he died there were 200 servants responsible for his burial and for burying all his treasure and property -- the normal practice of that time in this part of the world. After his burial, all 200 servants had their heads chopped off so that no one could find out exactly where the king and his treasure were buried. It is pretty certain that he and his treasure were not buried anywhere on the palatial grounds of his tomb. During the past 150 years people have dug all over these grounds with no success at locating either the bones of the king or his treasure.
Next stop was the Thien Mu Pagoda overlooking another 90-degree bend of the Perfume River. This 7-tier pagoda is 410 years old. Behind the pagoda is an active Buddhist temple. Today the Buddhist priests operate an orphanage at this temple. When an orphan reaches the age of 18 years then he or she must make a decision to either beome a priest or leave the temple. The pagoda has a large bronze bell that was rung daily to announce prayers until relatively recently. Amazing that a bell could still sustain daily ringing after 400 years. Seems like it would have cracked after all that usage.
During the Vietnam war there was a Buddhist priest who set himself on fire in Saigon. That priest came from this temple. He loaded his car with a container of gasoline and drove south to Saigon. As soon as he parked his car, he sat on the ground nearby and poured the gasoline over himself and lit a match. His car is located as a shrine at this temple today. On the dashboard is a photograph of the burning priest with the car parked directly behind him. At the time, Bill and I remember the US newspapers and television said that he killed himself as a protest against the war. Like many of the things that US citizens were told by the media and our government about the war in Vietnam, that wasn't exactly the truth. This priest burned himself alive to protest the strict policies of the Diem regime restricting any freedom of religion. The US supported the corrupt Diem. Diem was Catholic, but more than 80% of Vietnamese are Buddhist. Diem refused to allow the Buddhists to practice their faith and wanted the entire country to be Catholic. More and more it is becoming evident that the US supported the wrong side in this war. Even Robert McNamara later realized his and Lyndon B. Johnson's errors about this.
We enjoyed a great lunch at an eating establishment frequented only by locals. Cost a whopping $1.25 each for lunch, including the large bottle of Huda beer. Wish I had the recipe for the sauce used on the dish of pork, cilantro and noodles with peanuts. Delicious! And the spring rolls of pork and Thai basil wrapped in rice paper and steamed were also fabulous. (Remember what rice paper is? We discovered rice paper when we toured the Mekong Delta a few days ago.)
The final stop of the day was the Citadel to see the Imperial City. You could spend an entire day at this complex. I will describe this in another posting later.
Hue has a rich history and was the ancient capital of Vietnam. The name Hue originated from the mispronunciation of the term Hoa. Before the birth of Christ, this region was part of the Nam Viet Empire. At that time it was under the realm of Champa people who had reigned over this territory for seventeen centuries. (If you are a follower of this blog you might remember the Champa people from our blogs last month about the floating village near Siem Reap in Cambodia.) In the 1300's the King of Champa handed the region over to the Vietnamese. Hue came into being in 1307, after the Champa King Jaya Sinhavarman III handed over this city to Vietnam after marrying a princess of the Tran dynasty. The Thien Mu Pagoda is built on the site where the princess boarded the boat that took her away from Hue. It is said that the local people put millions of flowers to float on the river when she left, and after that day the river became to be known as the Perfume River.
In the year 1687 the Hue region was chosen by a Nguyen Lord to be the political center. This political center was later designated to be the capital of the whole country by the Tay Son dynasty. Again in the 19th century, Hue was the capital of the Nguyen dynasty. Beginning in 1883, the region became under French colonial rule. At the beginning of the 19th century, Gia Long, the first Emperor of the Nguyen dynasty, again made Hue the capital of the whole country. This explains why Hue is known as the ancient capital of Vietnam, although it is not the capital today.
In 1945, Hue emerged as the center of the August Revolution. During this time Communist and National forces dethroned the last Nguyen king. After the division of the country, due to its strategic position, Hue (as part of South Vietnam) was the central battleground during the Vietnam War. The city was the heart of the fierce fighting between South and North Vietnamese during the Tet offensive. This was the site of major battles involving American troops. The Ho Chi Minh Trail lies less than 40 kilometers from Hue. More than 1,000 civilians were killed in Hue during the Tet offensive when the city was bombed by the North Vietnamese, and the Imperial City was badly damaged. Today there is a big restoration project underway on the Imperial City. Photos to follow in a couple of weeks.
For dinner we enjoyed a perfect Italian dinner with superb wine, topped off with homemade coffee gelato. This was at the Mediterraneo Italian Restaurant located just around the corner from our hotel. We are staying at the Villa Hue, which is a training hotel for the tourism college and is staffed by students. The attention to detail by the student staff makes this a great hotel and we would recommend the Villa Hue. We also learned that Mediterraneo has 2 locations--one in Hue and the original restaurant in Hanoi. The Mediterraneo was the first Italian restaurant in Hanoi and has been in the same location there for 50 years. We hope to visit the original location when we visit Hanoi next week.