Hue, the Cultural Heart of Vietnam
Hello, What’s Your Name?
A three week adventure around Vietnam.
Our second day of site seeing Hue involved jumping on an overcrowded boat and heading west to visit the various Royal Tombs. This boat was packed full of tourists and all it needed was a guy with a white flag saying “this way people” for the image to be complete. Needless to say I hated it! I have no problems with people travelling this way; I understand budgets and time constraints. However I’m not fan, I can’t even go the supermarket at home on a busy night. So as we slowly headed up stream, baking in the sun, surrounded by people running left then right across the boat to take photos, I pondered about life on the river.
I was pondering about the children swimming on the banks, about the people living in river boats, to the hard workers dredging the bottom of the Perfume River to their families at home. Pondering perhaps that we are no different, we all work too hard and we all have families waiting for us. This was about the time we got kicked off to go see a Kung Fu Fight and requested to pay an exuberant fare for the privilege. With that I chucked my toys across the room, started kicking and screaming, then proclaimed to the world ”I’m not playing anymore”. So whilst everyone else watched Jackie Chan take on Jet Lee, part of me regretting my tantrum, I sat outside and watched a local man fish in a drain pipe.
Rule No. 12 of being married – If you’re going to throw your toys across the room, perhaps don’t throw them at your wife, she will just throw them back.
By the time we arrived at our first real attraction, the Thien Mu Pagoda, the sun was burning its way into my soul and I was bathing in my own sweat. The Buddhist pagoda was beautiful and reached high to the heavens. As the tour guide was doing his spiel, I crept off to the back on the temple and quietly found a group of monks chanting into the fading morning. I sat quietly to the side, just listening and trying to understand what they were chanting. My peace was only broken by the squeal of delight behind me as my tour realised the enticing sound of the monks. It was a scene straight out of the discovery channel. The lions stalk their prey, before encircling it to prevent escape of the helpless antelope, then in the final dying moment of a scene forgotten, fifty cameras start clicking away causing blindness to all involved and the lion leaves well fed. On a side note, if you remember back to a protest where a Monk, Lâm Van Tuc, self-immolated himself for his beliefs in Saigon. At this pagoda there is shrine and the original car used in the protest.
The boat part of our tour concluded with us jumping on a mini bus to visit four different tombs known to the area. Nic and I chose the Tombs of Tu Duc and Ming Mang to visit. Reminding me of my travels in China, the tombs offered the chance for travellers to gaze at a world of riches, opulence and massive egos. Could you imagine a prime mister or president today saying I want the country to build a grave the size of small city to house myself and all my belongings? Tu Doc was easily my favourite, with a small pagoda built just for the emperor to write his poems in and overlooked a small pond fall of floating lily pads and swimming Koi. Ming Mang was arguably grander, with complex after complex housing various statues and inscriptions. Just like the rest of Vietnam, explanations are limited.
Nic and I jumped back on our mini bus, beginning our long cramped journey back to the hotel. We stopped on route at a small tourist trap town with Niki having the chance to get lost in thousands upon thousands of brightly coloured incense sticks. The incense was laid in bunches that made Canon printer adverts look dull. After my fellow tourists’ ooowwwed and arrrrhheddd at the colours ( secretly so did I), purchased half a rainforest worth, we resumed our trip back to the hotel.
After finding another cockroach that night in the hotel, this time the size of a small rhinoceros, I suggested to Niki it was time we moved on. Hue thrives on culture, is full of history and awash with tragic memories. With this tantalising concoction mixed with the general Vietnamese desire for chaos, you would expect Hue to be an eclectic mix of everything South East Asia should be…but it’s not. For everything Hue provides, it is lost in it’s over organised tours, its unbalanced mix of contrasting characters and Hue’s inability to express itself confidently. In saying all that, it’s well worth a stop if you are in Central Vietnam, just don’t expect Hoi An…which might be a good thing.