Huế Vietnam

After a long but interesting train ride I arrived in Huế last evening. Except for one British man in another car, I was the only non-Asian on the train. Since it was Saturday, there were several families on the train and a few business people. I met a very nice Vietnamese doctor who lived in the US for several years and went to Tulane University. He works with the CDC in Atlanta. He was very pro America. I enjoyed talking with him and he was happy to be able to practice his English. It’s great to mingle with the locals and soak in some culture. One little girl about three years old was curious about a different looking face in the crowd. I gave her my bookmark with a frog on it and in a few minutes she was saying “frog”. The Vietnamese on the train were very friendly. Two American movies played – Hitman with Timothy Olyphant and the animated movie Despicable Me – (strange movie choices) and they were both in Vietnamese.

One of the other tourists on the Halong Bay trip, an Australian history and philosophy professor from Sydney, referenced a couple of books (forgot the authors) on contemporary Vietnam and the new ideas and philosophies embraced by many of the people and their leaders. I will not travel again without an iPad or reader so I can download books and end the extra baggage weight of carrying around heavy bound reading material.

I’m reading a book that was left in my hotel entitled “The Tunnels of Cu Chi” by British journalists Tom Mangold and John Penycate. It’s about hero tunnel-fighters on both sides of the Vietnam War that fought major battles in 200 miles of secret underground tunnel networks built by the Vietnamese mostly around Saigon. The book is an interesting read and as the train passed village after village I could imagine underground tunnels connecting the hamlets of Cu Chi to aid the Viet Cong guerrillas.

Huế is the capital city of Thua Thien-Huế province with a population of about 950,000. It’s in central Vietnam on the banks of the Sông Hương (Perfume River) about 450 miles south of Hanoi and 700 miles north of Hồ Chí Minh City.

Between 1802 and 1945 Huế was the imperial capital of the Nguyễn Huế Dynasty and known for its magnificent monuments and architecture. Hue’s historical monuments earned it a place in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. Hue’s Imperial Citadel suffered from the Vietnam War and tropical weather but renovation is in process. The Citadel is modeled after Beijing’s Forbidden City. The Thiên Mụ Pagoda is another popular landmark. It’s the largest pagoda and Huế’s official symbol.

Huế has the mausoleums of several Emperors, including Minh Mạng, Khải Định, and Tự Đức. Each tomb has a unique style. There are a number of French-style buildings along the south bank of the Perfume River including Quốc Học Century High School, the oldest high school in Vietnam. The Huế Museum of Royal Fine Arts maintains a collection of various city artifacts. Dong Ba Market is another popular Huế landmark.

“Huế originally rose to prominence as the capital of the Nguyễn Lords, a feudal dynasty which dominated much of southern Vietnam from the 17th to the 19th century. It was the national capital until 1945, when Emperor Bao Dại abdicated and a new communist government took over. The doctor I spoke with on the Unification Express said the red in the Vietnamese flag stands for all the bloodshed in the country.

Huế’s central location places it near the border between North and South Vietnam. During the Vietnam War in the 1968 Tết Offensive, the city suffered much damage in the Battle of Huế. The damage was not only to its physical features but also to its reputation. Most of the damage came from American firepower and bombings on the historical buildings and the massacre committed by the communist forces. After the war, many of the historic features of Huế were neglected. The victorious communists saw them as relics from the feudal regime. The Vietnamese Communist Party doctrine officially described the Nguyễn Dynasty as ‘feudal’ and ‘reactionary’. There has since been a change of policy and many historical areas are undergoing restoration.”

Huế’s tropical monsoon climate has a dry, hot season from March to August. The rainy season is from August to January, and flood season is from October onwards. I will be in Huế through January 9th and then head further south to Danang and Hoi An. Unfortunately the weather today is foggy and overcast but hopefully it will clear later. It’s warmer than Hanoi and thankfully the further south I travel the warmer it will get.

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