Today, we left Saigon for a short flight to Hue, in the center of Vietnam, not far from the 17th parallel. This was an important boundary during the Vietnam War. After breakfast, we packed and went to the airport to continue our Vietnam experience.
After our one hour flight, we met our bus to go into Hue, a city with a lot of French influence. You can see this in the architecture, the prominence of French spoken and in the cuisine of this area. The temperatures were a little lower, in the high 80’s, but due to the humidity, it felt much warmer.
Our first stop was lunch at a Mandarin Chinese restaurant. The many courses were all very different and delicious. We tasted dishes that many of us had not experienced at Chinese restaurants before. From there, we went to the Imperial City, the walled 36.3 hectares, with the central area called the Forbidden City for royal ceremonies and regular audiences. It took almost 30 years to build, starting in 1804 and consists of 147 buildings for the activities of thirteen emperors of the Nguyen family (pronounced Wing), from 1802 to 1945. Once Vietnam became Communist, the royal family left the country and have never returned. Most of them live in France.
The buildings are graced with many wooden carvings, iron vessels, gold leaf throne area, and carved columns. Over the years, the decorations began to deteriorated and are now being restored through funds from UNESCO. It is a slow process, but hopefully will again return this iconic example of Vietnamese architecture to its original glory.
We walked and walked, seeing only a fraction of the buildings. The sky was rumbling, threatening to bring rain. Fortunately, when the rain started, it was very light. Time to move on, now visiting a Buddhist Temple, where a monk was supposedly burned alive in 1963 to bring focus to the atrocities of war. This was a very famous incident at the time. However, he didn’t move when he was doused with gasoline and set aflame, which has led some to believe that he was already dead. This would have been quite a blessing as burned alive doesn’t sound very appealing.
The end of our touring for the day brought us to the Perfume River to board a dragon boat and go down the river. On the boat, there were a number of local craft items, as well as Vietnamese-made silk kimonos, and men’s silk shirts. We had a great time encouraging some of the guys in our group to buy the shirts, and they did. Three of the men bought the exact same silk shirt, causing rounds of laughter and the decision that this should be our uniform!
With the drizzle continuing, we went to our hotel to check in. After our beautiful hotel in Saigon, the one in Hue was very disappointing. Our guide agreed and we will voice that information to the tour company. Dinner was provided, consisting of many courses, none of which peaked our interest. I guess it was the big lunch earlier that made the difference.
What we are finding is that each of the members of our group is interesting, funny, come from different backgrounds, are well-traveled and are a good fit with us all. We are very lucky to have such wonderful travel companions. We have a couple from Puerto Rico, a couple from Vancouver, two lady friends from the New York area, a couple and their grown son, a couple from Houston, a couple from New York City, a couple from Los Angeles and her brother. There is an endocrinologist, a dentist, a couple of lawyers, and several educators, some retired and some still working. It is a diverse group.