Day 20: Hue, Vietnam

by - May 18, 2011

Gates to the Purple Forbidden City, Hue
Last night I got a true taste of the perils of sleeping in a dorm.  They are wonderfully cheap - my room cost only 3 pounds a night, compared with 13 pounds for a single.  Unfortunately, if you choose the wrong hostel, it is guaranteed that you will not sleep.  I was woken up three times at a painfully regular interval - at 1.30 as a group of drunk Australians got into bed, at 3.30 as a group of drunk Brits got into bed and at 6 when one of the hostel staff woke me up to tell me that my tour bus was waiting for me.  I hadn’t booked a tour - they had got the wrong person.  Amusingly, as the Brits got in at gone 3 with a whole lot of screaming and shouting, one of the Aussies got out of bed, grabbed one of the Brits and threatened to knock him out if he didn’t shut up and go to sleep.  Good entertainment, but not at that time in the morning.

I woke up as the Aussies left to go on the bike tour that I had done yesterday.  Figuring that I was doomed to not get any sleep, I decided to grab some breakfast and explore Hue before the sun came up.  I needn’t have bothered though, it was a beautifully overcast morning (a contradiction of terms to you maybe, but with sunburn a grey sky is a beautiful sky).  The main site in Hue, and one of the main sites in Vietnam, is the citadel.  It was built in the 19th century by the Emperor and took up a huge space to the north of the perfume river.  It was essentially a walled city, but was mostly destroyed by natural disasters and the wars with France and America.  It is really tragic, because what little remains is fantastic.  The perimeters walls still remain, and give a true sense of the scale of the area.  If you follow this link you can see just how the citadel dominates the area.  The major site is the Purple Forbidden City, where the Emperor lived.  It is something like a city within a city - urban development has spilled into the other parts of the walls, but the Forbidden City has been restored and repaired to give an indication of its former glory.

Inside the Forbidden City
I hadn’t particularly researched what to do once I got to the Citadel.  Lonely Planet had only given a vague ‘check out the Forbidden City’ bit of advice, so I expected to be in and out in perhaps an hour. It took me 3 hours to walk around it and I think there were probably substantial chunks I missed.  The areas is divided up into several quarters, the most complete of which is the central area where the Emperor lived.  This is where most of the tourists were and where the most impressive buildings had been restored. Outside of this however there were other interesting sites that were pretty much deserted.  Some, like the temples, were very well restored with money donated from countries as diverse as Poland and South Korea.  In the northern part of the complex however, the site really was a work in progress. Builders were still sat around the grounds of what were fairly complete, but in need of repair, buildings.  It would be interesting to go back in a decade or so, because it looks like the Vietnamese government is really trying to inject money into restoring what could be an amazing location.  There was a digital reconstruction being showed and the idea of it being rebuilt is actually quite exciting.

The grounds of the Citadel
I was catching the train to Hanoi at 5pm, so spent the rest of the afternoon stocking up on food and supplies for the journey.  It was set to be a 12 hour trip on a sleeper, arriving in the capital fairly early in the morning. I had only rushed through Hue, but it would be somewhere that I could spend a few days in the future.  The DMZ (de-militarised zone) from the war isn’t far to the north and the famous American fort at Khe Sanh (I had a brother, at Khe Sanh, fighting off the Vietcong.  They’re still there, he’s long gone) is accessible too.  Having said that, it seemed to be one of those places that attracted the kind of straw hat/ray ban/vest backpacker that I don’t like to spend time with.  It’s the price you pay I guess. Anyway, see you in Hanoi.

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