Before you say it, Hue is pronounce Hway in Vietnamese. Puns aren’t as fun when you have to explain them are they!
Our second day in Hue we spent a full day on rented motorbikes, checking them out for our ride to Hoi An, and scooting around the city. There’s tonnes to do around Hue; there’s 4 ancient emperor’s tombs, pagodas, temples, old French architecture and Thuan An beach just 15km away!
Can I just get a ranty bit out the way? Thanks. Ok so we were sat in our hotel, which by the way if you stay in Hue you should stay in, the friendliest staff i’ve ever come across, I mean they’ll just go out of their way to help you for literally nothing, so go and stay in the four seasons hotel, because it has a great name.
Anyhue – there it is again, we were sat there at breakfast and couldn’t help but overhear this English couple saying they had a day free in the city and that they’d ‘done’ the Citadel. I don’t like the use of the verb done nowadays, people seemed to think it’s an adequate replacement for go. Americans especially seem to use it. So they didn’t know what to do in the city and they wanted to ask the hotel man, he said there’s loads around the area. Tombs – no we’ve seen too many temples, not the same thing but yeah. There’s pagodas – they’re the same as temples aren’t they? There’s a beach only 15km away if you hire a motorbike…. This went on and on until the usually very nice hotel owner became stressed and walked away.
We’ve seen a lot of examples of this kind of ‘I can’t think for myself’ or ‘there’s nothing else we want to see here’ tourism and it leaves me wondering why they’re even here in the first place. It’s just a box to tick off for these people. In central Vietnam all the tourists get pushed to the three big coastal cities unless you want to explore the more remote mountains, which not a lot of people do. So you keep seeing the same people over and over again, which was strange after 9 months of not seeing anyone we’d met on the road after we’d left them the first time!
We met one couple who caught a 9 hour bus to Da Lat for 24 hours, then a 9 hour bus to Ho Chi Minh City for a flight to Siem Reap so they could see the temples for 1 day!!!!! I quote: “There’s nothing else in that area really” so they flew to Cambodia for a day and paid for a month visa then flew back to Ho Chi Minh, each to their own obviously but I find that shocking!
ANYHUE – is it funny yet?
We had some really nice fortune with the weather, it was a scorcher, and we both became very grateful that we’d learnt to ride motorbikes in the mountainous north because everything in central and south Vietnam seemed easy after that.
First stop was the tomb of emperor Khai Dinh. The emperors ruled Vietnam from as early as 2879 BC!! Under Chinese influence. Their reign over the country lasted until 1945 and the independence from the Japanese after the war.
The area is quite small but it’s an oppressive, intimidating homage to the emperor. Three stories, his tomb standing tall on the third, looking down over anyone who enters, just as he did on his chair when he was alive. Grey, solid rock.
The whole place kind of sums up the mantra of the emperor, a divine right to rule over others. Beauty out over his land from the tomb. A daunting entrance with a long staircase for the subjects. The buddhist shrine, with ornately carved temple dragons. It is made even more disconcerting, in my opinion by the European elite influence, the low lying walls on a terraced area just outside the tomb, beautifully decorated walls.
All these things should come together to be the typification of beauty, and they designed this tomb superbly, but it seems a little like he left his culture behind to chase a fancy in a way, and now it’s forever visible. In many ways that sums up Asian culture though, always looking west because they were forced to by the power of the European empires. Adopt western principles to be integrated into the empire’s structure. A way of not losing out in those times, now it’s adapted into shopping malls everywhere and iPhones. These are the times.
The best kept secret is his actual tomb. In the way that there’s no indication of this from the outside.
Isn’t it so ornate! Beautiful mosaic, a little overwhelming but opulent. There he is eternally sitting in his chair, greeting his subjects. I think it’s interesting that you’re allowed to enter his tomb, that’s a decision that he must have consciously made, as i’m about to explain there are others that chose against it. The other interesting thing is that there is a life size statue depicting him in his own tomb.
There’s hardly any colour outside the actual tomb itself, it’s like a slap in the face when you walk through the door. Maximum effect.
The dragons also resemble certain aspects of his face. Particularly the nose.
This is quite common in temple and tomb carvings.
So I mentioned above that there were others that decided to not go down the opulent road for their tomb and we hopped onto the bikes to see one of those examples. Emperor Minh Mang’s tomb could not be more opposite.
Wide expansive lakes surrounded by nature, view points from which to sit and gaze out over the serenity.
Perfectly proportioned buddhist temples in traditional colours.
The emperor specified that he wanted to be buried underground.
And once he was buried there, he asked that the tunnelled entrance to his tomb be blocked and no one be allowed to enter.
It’s a cool thing to compare the two very different styles of tombs, it reminds me of modern culture; everyone wants to show off on social media, promote their best self, hide their worst. In the end you realise that you have less space with more stuff crammed in than the people who leave it all naturally, spread out. Not sure if I really communicated myself there but you get the gist of what i’m trying to say.
Don’t get me wrong though, the two of them obviously both believed in their divine right to rule – and why would they not? They both meticulously planned out their tombs, they both have long staircases up to a higher point where they’re buried, they both have temple aspects, and they both have mandarins to protect them in the afterlife.
Some with books, others with swords. An elephant and a horse.
I think it’s cool that they wanted to be followed into heaven with an entourage, especially one containing scholars with books.
This is the beach in Hue by the way.
The rainy season is pretty stormy so it tosses up all sorts of seaweed and rubbish, and moves the sand around on the beach. It didn’t look quite like this when we visited but it was still lovely.
The last thing on the agenda for this day was the pagoda.
It’s a very pretty and serene place, if you ignore the tourists. It comes with a lovely temple and, randomly, the car that was in background of the famous picture of the burning monk. You can look it up if you want, just type in burning monk into google.
It was a traditional place for protest during empirical times, although I wonder what happened to you after you were allowed to protest.
It sits on the edge of the beautiful Perfume river.
I’ll leave you with this lovely shot of some temple goers outside the pagoda.