Tuesday 15 August 2017


H is for Hue and also for History. The Ngyuen dynasty was Vietnam’s last ruling family, who moved the country’s capital here in 1802 and built Hue's citadel and imperial city. Their reign was fraught with struggles against and later pacification and special treatment by the ruling French colonialists. Hue was also the scene of a terrible massacre by North Vietnamese forces after they besieged, bombed and captured it during Battle of Hue, part of their 1968 Tet Offensive. Modern day Hue is a small, quiet city centred around the wide lazy banks of the Perfume River. When we visited the town it had an unfinished feel about it, dusty roads and gaping holes in pavements. There is a sleepy romantic charm, with breezy riverside bars and a buzzing nightly market, but the rough undercurrent is hard to ignore, which makes the city appear neglected and wayward. Lounging cyclo guys tout for business as we walk by, and as night fell men riding mopeds sidled up alongside us with hushed calls of “Marry-wunna?” and gestures of puffing hard on a joint. We were accosted by a 10-year-old child, who walked with us, chatting, told us he was fifteen, and after we didn’t want to buy his multi-pack of Mentos, bid us goodbye when he saw some friends. There’s a tourist-borne ugliness here, making it feel as though Hue exists somewhat solely for visitors drawn there by the UNESCO citadel and outlying tombs. The citadel, or more specifically the Imperial City within, is a playground for anyone with imagination and patience and a couple of two litre bottles of water to hydrate you in the heat. We've heard it compared to the forbidden city in Beijing—nothing is forbidden here though, you can wander around everywhere from the ornate walled gardens of the imperial mother's residence, to the bombed-out shell of a former temple like a grassy wasteland in the midst of it all. It's an open-air museum with a peaceful and unhurried atmosphere. There's a lot of information in some places and none in others making it a nice mix of school trip and dreamy timewarp. A fantastic place to takes pictures, especially when the light is nice. Part of the entrance fee for the citadel covers the museum, five minutes up the road and round the corner from the citadel. You can spend a fairly interesting 45 minutes gazing at old keepsakes, clothing and fancy furniture from the rich remnants of Vietnam's last imperial dynasty. The emperor and his court was, in essence, powerless under French rule and had a lot of time for decadence and privileges such as a French education overseas and other leisurely pursuits—one of which was spending their time building elaborate tombs for emperors and family members in various sites around the city. With no real focus on them as yet as proper regulated "sites", some have an entrance fee, others are forgotten ruins. In the early years of its victory, the socialist Vietnam dismissed the dynasty and all of its physical leftovers and relics of its feudal past and did little to nothing in terms of preservation; aid from being made a UNESCO site in 1993 and more recently the promise of tourist dollars has changed the fate of the citadel and, hopefully, eventually, the tombs as well. The heart of present day Hue is found along the south bank of the Perfume River between two major bridges; in the evening the promenade awakens with gentle lights glowing in the dark, illuminating small market stalls selling things from your name on a grain of rice to traditional Vietnamese clothing. We bought a necklace from a cool girl who crouched over her small collection of handmade accessories. A group with Hue Acoustics printed on the back of their t-shirts put on sort of open-air open-mic event where singers along with musicians belted out Vietnamese classics. Crowds came and went, the ballads lingered in the warm glimmering air as we sat alongside the river and enjoyed a cold beer.

On another evening, in search of food we stumbled upon a promotional event put on by Tiger Beer. Mostly young people flung themselves off of a diving board onto a massive inflatable cushion, bassy dance music thundered through the streets and people attempted a rock-climbing wall. Crowds of scooter riders blocked the streets, parked up for a look at what was going on in their small town. The city sits in the middle of the country, neither North nor South, near the former DMZ, in-between and far-flung—hope here as always lives in the youth. One evening as we walked along the riverfront we went politely invited to donate what we could to help raise funds for a full moon party in a remote village. One of the girls fundraising was a student who hoped to teach English one day; she explained to us about the children who don’t have enough money to celebrate this really important festival as she led us down to the waterfront and we placed a paper lotus flower on the river and watched it float away.


  • Sunny A Hotel, £11.50 (35,0000 Dong)
    A pleasant surprise, Sunny A Hotel is located down a small alleyway which we walked straight past when we first arrived. We thankfully found the entrance after noticing a sign on the main road and we were happily welcomed in by the kind lady behind reception. We had been on a train all day and were practically overjoyed when we were shown to a room that was spotless, with a large bed and balcony. The location was very good, in walkable distance to the citadel and with restaurants on its doorstep. In the lobby they serve breakfast (extra charge) between bookcases filled with manga. We would stay again.

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