Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Forbidden Purple City

Hue - The Imperial City, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

We are now in Hue, just 120 kms north of Hoi An, but a more than four hour drive in the bus, stopping along the way to pick up passengers, cross the mountain range, stop for half an hour lunch break at 10.00 followed immediately by another 30 minute stop for pumping up the tyres. We had had the choice of going by bus or by motorbikl and chose the former after our long day yesterday. This gave us time to visit the sights of Hue this afternoon, whereby tomorrow we can take motorbikes (with Mr Tuu) out into the surrounding countryside for half a day before catching the Reunification Express to Ha Noi overnight, sleeping in a soft berth!

Hue is the Imperial capital of Vietnam of the Nguyen Emperors who took over in about 1802. They built a walled citadel of about three kms across with three concentric enclosures, known as the Imperial City, in the middle of which was the Forbidden Purple City. This contains the imperial palaces, a palace for the Queen Mum, palaces for the royal concubines and pleasure pavilions, all set amongst beautifully laid out gardens. Unfortunately much was destroyed in the American War, but what remains is very impressive.

It is odd to think of Vietnam, a country for so long associated with the American War and subsequent re-unification, as having once been an Empire, and not all that long ago. Indeed, the last Emperor of Vietnam, Bao Dai, only died (in exile) in 1997.

The place seemed to be very Chinese and sometimes we almost think we are in China. However, we have been told that people here in Vietnam tend to be friendlier and more approachable than their Chinese cousins.

Anyway, the Imperial City managed to keep us busy for all of the afternoon, meaning that we missed out on lunch. A highlight was a music and dance performance in the Royal Theatre. There were thirty performers and tehy were willing to put on a thirty minute performance just for us, but fortunately a group of French people appeared at the same time so they, too, could appreciate the show. Again, very Chinese in appearance and sound (to my untrained ears), but then again, in the dances and the foot movements one could see echoes of Thailand and Cambodia.

Hue sees itself as being slightly above the other cities of Vietnam and, not coincidentally, in my view, iit clings on more to various French customs than anywhere else. For instance, we heard the word Merci many times during the day. There is even a patisserie (ooh la la!) near our hotel. However, it is fair to say that apart from baguettes and the occasional bottle of wine, and the names of various public institutions, there is very little remaining of French culture here in day-to-day life in Vietnam. Still, we see more French people than we normally see, although it must be said that, again, there are more British than anyone else, some Aussies, many Irish and various other Europeans. Dutch people are generally noticeable by the fact that they lug their bicycles onto all sorts of public transport while so-called cycling around Vietnam (or am I being too cynical).

Here we meet people going up and others going down the country, Hue and Hoi An, being approximately half way being excellent stop-off points. Hue may not be as pretty as Hoi An, impressive is more the word. If I was harsh on Hoi An the other day, I am sorry, it is a delightful town in a beautiful natural spot and the people are very friendly. I think I was reacting to the early evening crowds we had just sen and the proliferation of shops selling things which, in fact, had nothing to do with Hoi An and its traditions.It is definitely a place we could have stayed another two or three days, if we had had the time.



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