Hue, Vietnam

Hue, Vietnam was the royal capital for the Nguyen Lords, a fuedal dynasty that controlled all of Southern Vietnam between 1744 and 1802.  They were able to hold the capital until 1945, when the last emporor adbdicated and the Communist party was established and based in Hanoi.

The Viet Cong took the city, which lies on the border between North and South Vietnam, against its will and summarily executed many of the rebellious citizens.  Dozens of graves containing up to 6,000 bodies each have been uncovered.  No one is sure how many people died. The center of Hue is dominated my the massive Royal Citadel that housed the Nguyen emperors.  The North Vietnamese used the structure as a stronghold and the US Army responded with round after round of air strikes and ground fire.  The complex was severely damages and only about 10% of it remains. What is left has been dedicated as a UNESCO world heritage site.

It has been drizzling intermittently since we arrived in Vietnam.  The rains have intensified in the last couple of days.  As if on queue Val is starting to sniffle and cough.  The evenings have been pleasantly cool but it’s muggy during the day.  The weather is nice today, but Val doesn’t have much energy, so we take it easy and just visit a couple places.  Outside of an auxiliary gate of the Citadel we are met by a pleasant man with a heavily pocked face.  His English is good and he tells us it’s quite busy inside at this time of day and it’s better to take a tour in his cyclo (bicycle taxi) and have the other sites to ourselves.  His price is as good as his smile so we oblige.

First Hoa, our driver, brings us to a tower on the outer city wall.  The vantage offers a view of the entire city.  Hua tells us about the war, he was only 9 years old but he remembers it vividly.  His family, like many people, just wanted peace and didn’t believe in either side fully.  His father was forced to become a soldier but luckily escaped the war with his life.

We move on to a quaint pagoda.  The monks are very interested in my tatoo, they’re a lot less serious here than in Thailand or Laos and are always very interested in a giant, bald, white man.  We pass floating gardens where women wade up to their chests to tend pedantically to their greens.  Our final stop is in a peaceful courtyard.  A gazebo, a koi pond, flowers, and a nice breeze all work their magic on us.  In the surrounding shops we watch men craft silver and marvel at some of the faciest shoes we’ve ever seen.

The next day Val is totally out of commission.  Besides that, it’s raining, hard.  The following day the weather is marginally better but we need to get moving so we bite the bullet and head for the Citadel, determined to see it before we leave.  The good news about the rain is that it keeps that crowds away.  We have the complex mostly to ourselves.  The bad news is that it’s gray and cold, which is not so good for Val or good photography.  The complex must have been magnificent before the war.  The remains are quite beautiful, particularly the various gates and gardens.  We take our time and leave just before dark, thus starting a mini-epic trying to figure out how to get to our next destination.  Hell or high water, tomorrow we’re moving South!

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Scott Dusek is a writer and photography originally from Seattle, Washingon.

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