January 11, 2017:
Today was somewhat of a whirlwind day, as we left Ha Noi for central Vietnam, landing in the city of Hue, which is an important historical and cultural center of Vietnam for many reasons, and is a recognized World Heritage site. First among many reasons, Hue was the Imperial City of Vietnam, and was built starting in 1802, when the first Emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty succeeded in reunifying Vietnam for the first time in over 300 years. From 1010-1802, the capital of Vietnam was Hanoi; or as it it was originally known, Thanh Long, meaning “Ascending Dragon”. But back to Hue. The first Nguyen Emperor, Gia Long, built the Forbidden Purple City as the center of the new civic, and imperial center of Vietnam, and surrounded the whole thing with an incredible citadel stretching about three kilometers in each direction. The Forbidden City itself, which was occupied only by the Emperor, his wives, children and concubines, and the palace eunuchs, was modeled on the Forbidden City in Beijing, and was an architectural wonder!
Next, the area around Hue is home to many tombs and palaces of its former emperors, and these provide beautiful cultural and scenic opportunities for exploration. In fact, our first stop after we landed was at the Summer Palace and Tomb of the 4th Nguyen emperor, Tu Duc, who was not only the emperor who had to cede control to the French, but was also the longest reigning Nguyen monarch. This gave him years to design, build and enjoy his summer palace outside Hue. As you can see, there was much to enjoy!
We then had lunch at our new lodgings for the next couple of days, La Residence, which is a a jewel of Art Deco/Streamline Moderne architecture, beautifully restored. The hotel is the former French governor’s residence, and is located on the Perfume River, with amazing grounds. After lunch, we tried yet another local form of transportation, the cyclo, which is bicycle-propelled chair. Our cycle drivers took us en masse to see the Citadel and the Imperial City.
As we disembarked from the cyclos, we were fortunate to see a young Vietnamese couple dressed in traditional costumes. Her dress is called an ao dai, which the locals like to say “covers everything, and hides nothing”!
We approached the Imperial City through the the impressive Ngo Mon Gate, and entered the Hien Lam Pavilion. Sadly, the inner-most Forbidden City was damaged heavily by bombing during the 1968 Tet offensive, but the remnants still remain so you can get the sense of the place as it was in its former grandeur. We wandered all over the Imperial City, which was very photogenic in the late afternoon sun. Upon emerging from the far side of the City, our cycle drivers awaited us and drove us home to La Residence through the scrum of late afternoon traffic in the old streets of Hue.
We concluded our evening with a swim in the pool, and then attended a lecture by a former US Marine who had been stationed in Hue during the Tet offensive. I was not even 8 at the time of this long intense battle, so had little remembrance of the events, but the lecturer did a great job putting the battle in perspective.