Day 2 – Dec 24 – Hue
………………..a day visiting a church , the Citadel & X’mas eve by the Perfume River
We arrived in Hue at 8.45am in the morning at the train station….. no hassle there! And a car was already waiting for us to pick us up to Binh Duonh III Hotel! It was FREE OF CHARGE mind you! Talk about service! We only called to book a room the day before & they offered to pick us up from the train station when we asked how far the hotel was from the station. Thanks Lonely Planet for the recommendation! (FYI: The room cost us US16 & it came with a bathtub, hot water, cable, double bed, balcony with a view & a desktop equipped with unlimited internet service. Location was also centralised! Thumbs up there!)
On the way to the hotel, we managed to catch a brief glimpse of the town…. there was already a hustle and bustle going on, good roads & then lo & behold the river came into view. Perfume River they call it and the town straddles on either side of the river. Well…. perfume or not, there was thankfully no smell coming out of it! You could see tug boats, tourist boats already doing their rounds up the river ferrying people to the sights along the river. We couldn’t wait to check in, get cleaned up & get GOING!
But first we had travel arrangements to make… i.e. buy the plane tickets from our last stop in Central Vietnam back to Hanoi…wouldn’t want to be stranded as we needed to travel to Bangkok from there!)….& wouldn’t you know it…the Vietnamese Airlines office was just a few streets away. See what I mean by convenient location?
Armed with a photostated map supplied by the hotel, we then set off on a walking tour. It was high noon & hot – 28 maybe 29 ° C!
Fat Dragon recommended a walk to an old church nearby whose building dates back to the colonial days! What a wondrous building it was. The outward facade looked so European as any other church would but then it had a surprise in store for us….. I noticed that some parts of the roof had bamboo-like tiles looking oddly like the ones you see in temples! Talk about fusion in architecture.
……………..Can you see the Chinese temple looking roof structure at the bottom left corner of the thumbnail pic?
After feasting our eyes on this quaint oddity, we proceeded to head towards the river. We walked and we walked and we walked in search of the bridge that would bring us across the river to the old city which housed the moated Citadel! Suddenly it dawned on us that Hue was a really large city after all so we had a long walk in store for us! The thing about doing a walking tour is… you could take your time…soak in the sights & sounds…stop & take a photo whenever you see something interesting… Yes, of course you have to bear the constant harassment of the trishaw peddlars etc but as Asians you only get HALF the hassle compared to the Whites, so its not too bad!
When we eventually arrived at one of the side gates of the Citadel which was built in 1804, we were redirected to the Ngo Mon Gate which was the principal entrance of the Imperial Enclosure. We circumvented part of the 10km moat & was greeted with a magnificent sight. The Ngo Mon Gate faces a formidable flag tower & on top of the gate lies the Ngu Phung …. a stage like structure made of marble where the emperor used to stand in appearance to the public.
We entered the gate into a central passageway which is actually a bridge to a pond which was teeming with fish. When in season, the pond is apparently filled with lotus flowers but we didn’t see any of that. The weather had cooled & a breeze was blowing. A sense of peace and serenity surrounded me. More so because motorcycles & trishaws are not allowed into the main Citadel area hence there was a welcome reprieve from the constant whir of the motors & beeping of horns ubiquitous in any Vietnamese city. Perfect.
I confess, I’m not much into historical sites but I am now a convert. As the Citadel was an imperial site chosen by Emperor Gia Long’s geomancers, it really does give you the impression that its got great feng shui. The grounds of the complex are huge so you don’t really feel the crowd although there is a constant flow of people visiting.
The complex houses the Thai Hoa Palace, the Halls of the Mandarins, the Nine Dynastic Urns, the Emperor’s Reading room, the Queen Mother’s residence, the concubines residence which are all laid amidst a maze of lanes, ponds and gardens! It was endless…….. we spent a whole afternoon there!!!!
That night, when we dined at a restaurant by the Perfume River, right next to the bridge we had walked across earlier to the Citadel, we were brought back to the future. A huge X’mas tree made of Heineken bottles was lit up at a square nearby, party revellers were out in full force. Motorcycles everywhere! Cameras flashing, music blasting…. against the backdrop of the bridge which was illuminated in a technicolor of lights…… and a divine X’mas eve it was!!!!!
……. to be cont’d