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Vietnam 2008 -- Hue


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Hue is the old Imperial Capital of Vietnam, and it contains remnants and reminders of most of the imperial history of the country within its domain.

The elaborate tombs of several of the country's most revered emperors dot the hilly terrain surrounding the city and, as with Halong Bay, together they constitute another of Vietnam's UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

In addition to the sprawling complex of tombs on the outside of town, Hue also has the Citadel, with its massive wall containing the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_City,_Hu%E1%BA%BF>old Imperial City on the inside, which was modeled after Beijing's Forbidden City . The Citadel is probably most well--known to Americans as the site of the Battle of Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive. Unfortunately, most of the old inner city was pretty much flattened during the bombing that ensued after the NVA took over the Citadel. Even now you can see evidence of bullet holes from that month--long running battle, and there is still a vast field where once stood buildings and temples.

Reconstruction work continues to this day, over 41 years after that bloody battle.

We arrived in Hue on the morning of Sept 16th and took a taxi to the perhaps unfortunately-named "My Dung" hotel -- a fine hotel in spite of the name -- and found that the tour we had previously

My Dung Hotel, Hue
scheduled had already left without us. However, as was the case with the staff in all of the hotels where we stayed, our concierge was able to find out where the tour was at the time, and two young girls who worked at the hotel zoomed us by scooter over to the Citadel, where we caught up with our tour just as it was leaving the one place in Hue that I really wanted to see.

Nevertheless, as happened so many times on the trip, the Vietnamese people are willing to go out of their way to help foreigners, and our tour guide agreed to bring us back to the Citadel at the end of our tour and give the two of us a personal guided tour. Of course we had to bribe him to do it, but it wasn't much, less than ten bucks.

It was a tiring day, zipping around in minibuses to the various Imperial tombs -- some of them are laid out over a vast area, and almost

Imperial Pagoda
all of them have extensive stone stairsteps. Fortunately by this time I was in a little better shape and didn't quite feel as if I were dying, the way I had felt in that cavern/grotto at Halong Bay.

At the end of the tour, after everyone else had been dropped off at their hotels, we went back to the Citadel. By this time it was fairly late in the day and we almost didn't get in. Our tour guide had to do some fast talking and fancy footwork to get us past the gate guard, but eventually he was successful and when we got in the place was almost deserted. It was much better that way, despite the fact that it was kind spooky being among all those ghosts of the past.

It's now difficult to imagine what it must have looked like prior to 1968, but they are slowly rebuilding the damaged areas. One part that is still undone is a large field that prior to the US bombing held the many houses, shops, temples, etc., of the old city.

We got back to the hotel before dark and while we waiting for our next "attraction", a boat ride on the Perfume River, I was standing outside the hotel smoking a cigar and looking around. A guy comes riding up on a scooter and stops in front of me.

"Hey," he says. "You want boom-boom?"

I hadn't heard the phrase in 40 years not since I left Vietnam the first time and my face must have reflected a surprise that he interpreted as ignorance.

"You know," he says. "Boom-boom? Fucky-sucky?"

"Naw," I tell him. "I'm too old and too tired."

"No too tired," he says. "You no worry, girl do all work, you just lay there."

After I finally shooed him away, it started to rain. And when it rains in Vietnam, it really rains. It was like a million garden hoses all bunched together with the pressure on full-blast. It rained so hard that the noise hurt my ears, and within five minutes the street had filled up with water and it started to lap inside the hotel lobby.

And then, in typical Vietnamese fashion, it stopped raining as abruptly as it had started, the water all drained away and within half an hour it was like it had never rained, except for a thin patina of dampness on the pavement, like a heavy dew.

The evening cruise on the Perfume River started when it was still light, but for the most part it took place after dark, with a traditional Vietnamese band playing folk songs from Hue, which I am told represent the finest in Vietnamese folk music. And I'll have to admit, the songs were very nice, very pretty some of them, once you got past the difficulty in hearing a tonal language trying to sing musical notes that tend to fight against that tonality.

After a late return to the hotel, we had to get up early the next day to catch the day train to the coastal resort of Nha Trang.