On a recent trip to Vietnam, I had the pleasure of having the company of several American veterans of the American Intervention into Vietnam. They had come along as part of a health clinic team both to help out with the clinics and to revisit places of their past. Seeing Vietnam through their eyes brought about a different and unique perspective. The veterans had varied experiences during their times in Vietnam, to say the least. Some saw no combat at all during their year here while others …. A couple of the veterans were American advisors to South Vietnamese military units - one remembered his ARVN cavalry unit suffering a casualty rate of some 150% during the time he served with it. Another gentleman served as an advisor to a local militia unit whose responsibility was to guard a train bridge across the Buffalo River just north from Hue. Our van driver was able to find the bridge after some time - there are only so many bridges when there is just one rail line. Then, we took off on foot to cross the bridge to look for the bunker - originally built by the French - where he had spent his time with the locals. Dubious at first, with our help, we found the old bunker now hidden away in the forest above the river. On our return, we shook hands with the present bridge guardians who ran back into their guard house when they realized we wanted to take pictures so they could grab their hats.
Rising somewhat incongruously along the north side of the massive Celadon Palace Hotel is the newest Cao Dai temple. Outside of temples erected in the US, this is the northernmost Cao Dai temple to be erected. I am not sure what kind of following the religion has this far north from its roots in Tay Ninh on the northern edge of the Mekong Delta next to Cambodia, but I do know that the temple in nearby Da Nang is the second largest Cao Dai church.
As I walked from the Bao Quoc Pagoda to the Notre Dame Cathedral, I came across this pillar-box type battlement that must have been a remnant of the Vietnam War. I think it's located along Nguyen Hue St where it has a junction with Hai Ba Trung St or somewhere near here.
Founded by the Hainan Chinese Congregation in the mid-19th century, Chieu Ung Pagoda was rebuilt in 1908. It was built as a memorial to 108 Hainan merchants, who were mistaken for pirates and killed in Vietnam in 1851.
D Chi Lang
From the Dong Ba Market, follow the road over the canal and it's on your left.
There are several places in Vietnam to see the smaller minority villages (some 54 minorities exist in Vietnam). Day trips from Hue often include them, particularly the DMZ tours.
Many of these villages live daily lives with the barest of essentials. Despite the fact that they do not have running water, many of them still have the paradoxical satellite antenna for their TV's.
They often still speak their own dialects and live self sufficiently by their own harvests. Many of them live by the farming practice of slash and burn. They burn portions of the forest. The burnt vegetation adds nutrients to the soil which will in turn fertilize their crops on the steep hills.
You can get to these by browsing the DMZ tour pamphlets.
Hue itself does not have a beach. The banks of the Perfume River are muddy. But, less than an hour's drive, 50km to the south, on the road to Danang, is Lang Co Beach, an unspoilt stretch of golden sand.
There is a luxurious, 4* resort here, with villas and bungalows from $59 upwards, if you want to stay for more than a day. But, the almost empty beach is open to the public.
If you really want to get away from the crowds, this is the place.
If you walk along the river in the old part of Hue after crossing over the bridge from the new part, you will see some vendors displaying their antique (or supposedly) wares along the sidewalks.
I even saw some war articles among the items.
Our van driver stopped at a resort along the way from Hue to Hoi An and when we were allowed to walk into it to view the beach and sea. It was a wet day with strong winds, and we saw huge waves crashing onto the shore. A mesmerizing sight although I didn't have the skill to get them on my camera.
The Thien Mu pagoda, located on the Perfume River is a beautiful (and free) place to visit of historical importance. It was founded in 1601 by Nguyen Hoang, the governor of Thuan Hoa province, because of a prophecy he had had: a 'fairy woman' (Thien Mu) had told him that if he had built a pagoda there, the country would have had a long properous time.
The first thing you'll notice is a spectacular octagonal 21-meter tall tower built in 1844, you will also see some smaller pavillions and statues, as well as a huge bell. There are also the living quarters of the monks residing there and a shrine dedicated to the now deceased monks... and a rusty Aston martin car. Why? because in this car a monk from the temple, in 1963, drove to Ho Chi Minh and set himself on fire to protest against the government.
The pagoda is located four kilometres from Hue.
though I was only about five years old at the time, the image is one that I still remember.
the Royal Tomb of Tu Duc's tomb is located near Thuong Ba village, in a pine forest 8 kilometres from Hue. it was built in three years, from 1864 to 1867. There are about 50 constructions inside, surrounded by a tall and massive wall, and one peculiar detail is that each one includes the word Khiem in its name... Khiem means modesty. he should have also included "harmony"...
In general modesty can be seen in this tomb... while beautiful, it is not stunning... at least in its architectural parts... what is stunning is nature here... the wood and the lotus pond. The wooden pavillion built over it is truly a gem. The emperor Tu Duc was also a philosopher and poet, so he wanted his tomb to reflect his "poetic" soul, for this reason he chose to have it as much as possible blended in with nature.
The hon chen temple is located the bank of the Perfume River, about 10 kms from Hue, on the slope of the mountain Ngoc Tran. Here people worship an interesting deity, Po Nagar, which was the the Goddess of the ancient Cham minority. If you go to Nha Trang you will see the Po Nagar Cham towers... Here in Hon Chen the goddess has changed name, nowadays, she's called Y A Na, but it is still the same goddess.
The Temple is also known for a festival organized twice every year in the 3rd and the 7th lunar months. There is also a night procession on the river, with lights... and then a performace. We came at the worng time, but we would have loved to have seen it.
Entrance to the temple (July 2007) was 22000 dongs.
The royal tomb of Khai Dinh (1885-1925) is the tomb I liked most, of the three I visited. Khai Dinh ruled Vietnam for 9 years, but his tomb took 11 years to complete... by then the Emperor had already been dead for six years.
Khai Dinh was a well-travelled man - he had been as far as France... so it's not a surprise to see some western elements in his tomb, together with more traditional eastern elements... and there was electricity, too...
The stone in which the tomb complex is built is very dark, so photos do not do it justice... but when you visit it, it's pure magnificence, in particular the colored glass and ceramic mosaics. The tomb is located on the slope of Chau Chu mountain (also called Chau E), 10 km from Hue. if you come by boat, you'll need to hire a mototaxi to get there, as it is quite a few kilometres away from the river.
The royal tomb of Minh Mang's is one of the seven royal tombs of emperors of the Nguyen dinasty. Its construction started in September 1840, and the Emperor died in January 1841, before its construction was completed. His son, Thieu Tri, had the task of finishing it... which was only in 1843.
In this tomb, spread over a large area, there are 40 constructions.... gates, palaces, temples, pavillions and so on.. all simmetric. The tomb itself is located in a circular mound/construction at the very end... on a tiny hill, after a crescent-shaped pond.
The commplex is divided in 3 main parts: the gates, the temple area and the tomb itself. This tomb is located 12 km form Hue, on Cam Ke mount, near Bang Lang fork, on the west bank of the Perfume River. If you come by boat, you can walk there in a few minutes.
Sea Cloud Pass crosses the Truong Son mountain range just over half way between Hue and Danang (it's closer to Danang), with the highway rising to approximately 500 metres above sea level at it's highest point (Ai Van Son peak at 1172 metres forms a dramatic backdrop). It's a stunning spot with spectacular views along the coast in both directions and hair-raising hairpin bend roads and slightly crazy drivers make it a memorable part of the journey!
With such views, it has been utilised in many wars - the peak formed the frontier between Vietnam and Champa in the 15th century, the French built a fort (still in evidence) and the Americans/South Vietnamese used the fort as a bunker.
Buses stop for a quick peak at the area - and you will be immediately swamped with souvenir sellers!
Sadly, my camera decided to have an off moment at the peak - worked OK until we stopped and started again after we left - so only have a couple of useable images - neither of which do it credit!
About an hour south of Hue is the cute lagoon/beach village of Lang Co. Stunning beach on one side overlooking the South China Sea, spectacular tourqouise lagoon on the other, with the lush green hills a verdant backdrop. It's a sleepy little place, but this will sadly change with the enormous bridge being built across the entrance to the lagoon.
If you are short of time, Lang Co is the break stop for the Hue - Danang/Hoi An tourist bus and, if heading from the north, is the start of the stunning Hai Van Pass.