Letter from Hue, Vietnam – April 2013

View of city of Hue from hotel

View of Hue from our hotel.

Just around bedtime, last Monday, we were holed up in our beautiful 4star hotel after an exhausting day of exploring the old Forbidden City that lies at the heart of this large provincial town. Having had visions of cycling through wide, peaceful, tree-lined streets, we hired bikes for the day.

Uh uh! Traffic was just as abysmally bad as at Hanoi with millions of motorcycles, and cars, other bicycles, trucks and people all going wherever they chose, luckily though at about 40kph. It took us quite some time to get into something like the right Zen headspace and just relax and let them all flow around you.

Hue used to be the political epicentre of Vietnam, the place of dynastic kings, until Ho Chi Minh rose to power in 1945. Thenceforth government wielded power from Hanoi. And indeed it seems like a place that Time has passed by and in doing so has imbued the place with a rich, fantastic and melancholy beauty.

The walled fortress, citadels and Forbidden City complex is incredibly vast, filled with gardens, canals, artificial lakes with lotuses and fringed with graceful trees, temples, all kinds of buildings such as the rich carmine red and gold interior end throne room, the theatre, the luxurious residence of the Queen Mother and much much more… Anyway we took loads of photos, which you can see when we get back!

The Royal Palace complex with its surrounding fortress walls and citadels lie on the banks of the beautiful, wide, swirling, moss green waters of the Perfume River, above which scores of dragonflies hover in the warm, heavy, humid air.

River with boat before palace

Perfume River, Hue

Above the citadel at the entrance an enormous Vietnamese flag of the yellow star in red background waves. The banks of the river on our side are flanked with beautiful public gardens with trees and modern and ancient sculptures and many fine French colonial style buildings.

2013-04-14 16.35.04

There were always secret little archways leading into gardens,

Archway in Forbidden City, Hue

Archway in Forbidden City, Hue

Courtyard with archway.

One of the many little courtyards in the Forbidden City.

stone dragons winding their ways down staircases, roofs and sitting at the bases of steps

Staircase with stone dragons

Dragon stairs, Forbidden City, Hue

Stone dragon on a wall

A rampant dragon perched atop a wall.

and more buildings, to house all the eunuchs, concubines, royal family, mandarins and other officials.

Palace pavilion with artificial ponds

Dowager Queens pleasure pavilion, Forbidden City, Hue

Altar of worship.

Dowager Queen’s altar of worship.

It suggests an atmosphere heavy with suppressed intrigues and whisperings but also a sense of being a beautiful placid world far removed from the real world of working people outside whose taxes paid for it.

Residences with gardens in Forbidden City, Hue

Residential quarters in Forbidden City, Hue

Ceramic flower shaped tile in wall.

Ceramic tile in wall doing double duty as a peep-hole?

Artificial lakes with waterlilies

Artificial lakes with waterlilies.

Much of it was in ruins and dereliction,

Ruins of stone wall with trees

Bombed wall at Forbidden City, Hue.

especially since the bloody Americans (and sadly I guess we also) bombed the place. However the Vietnamese are busily restoring it with the help of German government funding and have already done some beautiful work, such as the red and gold lacquering on the wooden pillars, walls and casements of a long hall.

Restored open doors of a hallway in the Forbidden City

Part of a restored hallway in the Forbidden City

And I think the Vietnamese have the last laugh, since near the exit was this fenced compound where all these military tanks that stormed the fall of Saigon in 1975 along with a number of captured US bomber planes were proudly displayed for the benefit of the public. So hah!

US Military helicopter

An impounded US military helicopter

Love, Megan, John and Veronique


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