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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Hoi An to Hué

VIETNAM | Sunday, 20 April 2008 | Views [1482]

Last night had a super meal at the Hai Café in the old town. It also offers cooking courses, so the expectation of the quality of the food was high. Had a set menu of local specialities and it certainly delivered, with well presented and tasty food in a nice chilled setting.

Could have spent more time in Hoi An but decided to move on tomorrow.

Thu 17th Apr - Picked up 7:30am prompt by bus from the hotel. A bit lavish as this bus is a long distance sleeper with three rows of 2-tiered sleepers. Destination is Hué, to the north about 4 hours away. The coastal scenery on the way is awesome. Carst peaks, mountains, lush green paddy fields. Arrived in good time and set off to find a room, plaued as expected by touts along the way offering rooms, trips, motos. Didn't take long as there is plenty to choose from. Ended up at the hotel Binh Duong 1 for $12 a night. Free internet in the bedrooms (a PC) and a bath with shower.

Off to explore and find out info for the following few days as want to do many things here. Booked a boat trip on the wonderfully named Perfume river for tomorrow that will take in many of the important sights in the area. Many operators run 'Dragonboats', named as they have a colourfully  carved and painted dragons down the side. Plenty of time left and the temperature was comfortable, so walked across one of the bridges that link the north and south banks of the perfume river (aka son huong) towards the citadel. This is actually a citadel within a citadel within a citadel. Small bridges link each together. Walking around the quiet streets is pleasant but after not long the cyclos appear to canvass for business. One of the riders jumped off so that I could ride one myself. You sit very high and there seemed to be no breaks! Subsequently learnt that there was a string under the seat to pull. Decided to hire a couple for an hour's tour of the far side older parts. Turned out to be a good idea as we got to some places that you would not find on your own, other than by accident. An old house unidentified from the outside was full of old artefacts and a beautiful garden. An american war bunker and a couple of nice pagodas. Finished off at the highest landmark in the area, the vietnamese flag pole that stands in front of the main Ngo Mon gate to the citadel. Will be around here in a couple of days time, so didn't go in today as there is a fee of 55,000 dong and we didn't have enough time left to see the inside as it closes at 5:30pm. Back to town over the second bridge that crosses the river and time for a beer and watch the dragonboats go by.

Fri 18th Apr - Picked up by moto from our hotel for the dagonboat tour that left about 8:30. There are two types of boat, a narrow one and a twin-hulled broad one. We were lucky enough to be on the latter as there is space to move around, and it soon filled up.

First stop after about was the Thien Mu Pogdoa (free entry), which has become a national icon. The main octagonal tower above the entrance steps dates from 1844, whereas most of the pagoda dates from early 1700's. The main sanctuary houses a bronze laughing buddha and a glass case containing three buddhas: Past (A Di Da), Historical (Sakyamuni), and Future (Di Lac).

Behind the sanctuary is an interesting compound housing many buildings. The most famous houses an Ausin motor car. On june 11th 1963 monk Thich Quang Duc drove the car to Saigon. At the junction of Phan Dinh Phung street and Le Van Duyet street he got out of the car, sat down in the middle of the junction and set fire to himself in protest against the policies of south vienamese president Ngo Dinh Diem. A famous photorgaph of the incident was broadcast worldwide on TV and in newspapers. Following his 'Self-immolation', many others did the same. What sickened the situation further was when the president's sister-in-law, Tran Le Xuan (Madame Nhu), happily stated that the self-immolations were a 'Barbeque Party', saying 'Let them burn and we shall clap our hands'! She was labelled the 'Iron Butterfly' and 'Dragon Lady'.

Within the central area was a group of children dressed in brown clothing and a very unusual hairstyle...most of their head shaven but with bobs of hair at the sides and fringes back and front. Must be part of the local sect tradition and both boys and girls had the same style.

Back on the boat and onwards going west to the Tombs of Tu Duc (55,000 dong). The emperor had this enormous mausoleum built to himself - to be used both before and after, but isn't actually buried there. The actual location he is buried is kept a secret - the 200 servants who buried him were all beheaded to make sure of it!

After lunch served on the boat, stopped at another tomb (Thieu Tri), but didn't bother oin in as better one was to come further down river.

The final tomb of the day was at Khai Dinh (55,000 entry). The best was saved until last as this one wasw superb. You ave to take a moto (xe om) to get there, which was included in our ticket. A fairly recent tomb as he reined from 1916 to 1925. A totally different design to the others being more recent the entrance courtyard has an excellent display of stone mandarin 'honour guards', making a great photo opportunity. The octaonal pavillion in the courtyard, a standard feature of all tombs here, contains the 'Stele' which relates a form of autobioraphy of the emperor. The emperor's tomb is up another flight of stairs, and contains a bronze statue of him in ceremonial posture under a massive canopy - his body lies 18 metres under it.

Back on the boat for the return trip to Hué.

Will be heading north to Ninh Binh in a few days time, so straight off the boat and walked to Hue railway station, which is only a few kilometres along the waterfront. Quick and easy booking system as I had already checked the details and cost on the website. Costs 265,000 Dong for a soft seat. Not suprisingly, if you book a train at any of the travel offices in town, they will charge a fairly hefty commission fee.

Sat 19th Apr - Off around the old walled citadel. As mentioned recently, 55,000 dong entry fee but worth it. The main  Ngo Mon entrance gate opposite the 37m flagpole (the highest in Vietnam) is where the emperor used to do important public addresses from. Inside it leads to two lotus ponds teaming with hundreds of fish. There are many highlights here...the Thai Hoa Palace with its ornate roof, The Halls of the mandarins, where they used to prepare for ceremonies, the forbidden purple city which is undergoing major restoration. The royal theatre puts on traditional culture shows four times a day, so decided to go to one in the afternoon (50,000 dong). A technicolour feast with superb music provided by musicians playing authentic instruments.

A major highlight is the To Mieu temple complex, which has undergone beautiful restoration work. In the courtyard outside the main temple, a couple of dragons are encased in large glass housings. The roof in the temple is very decorative in red with gold ornamentation and oriental scripts. No photos allowed inside unfortunately. Spent about four hours or so wondering around the complex including the cultural show. Could spend longer but it is roasting and there are no eating facilities in the complex, only drink vendors, so had to escape.

On the way back to town a lizard fell out of a tree near to us. Yesterday a snake slithered along the pavement as we walked back from the railway station. Bright yellow furry caterpillars climbing up trees, red-necked lizards, geckos everywhere, flourescent green beetles...plenty of creature suprises about!

Sun 20th Apr - Booked onto a tour of the DMZ today, which is about 90min north of here and starts near a place called Dong Ha. Pick-up from the hotel at 6:20am. It's going to be a long day.

A bit about the DMZ.....

Following the Potsdam agreement in 1945, Vietnam was temporarily partitioned into the northern Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) under the leadership of Chiang Kaishek, and southern Republic of Vietnam (RVN) under Ho Cho Minh. The Ben Hai  River was the demarcation line. On either side of the river was an area 5km wide known as the De-Miliarized Zone. From 1954 to 1975, when the north vienamese tried to push south along the Ho Chi Minh Trail against the forces of the US army allied with the south vietnamese Viet Cong, the DMZ (about 100km long) saw most of the battles. The irony was that as the conflict grew, the DMZ became one of the most militarised zones in the world!

As a result of the extreme level of activity in this area, the zone remains a dangerous place to visit unless with a guide, as more than 20% of Vietnam remains uncleared of active live mortar rounds and land mines with an estimate of 3 million mines and 350,000 to 800,000 tonnes of Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) still out there! Since the end of the war in 1975, nearly 40,000 deaths and 66,000 injuries have occurred. The Mines Advisory Group (MAG) are the main group responsible for the clearance.

Today's tour takes in some of the places that became famous across the world as the war unfolded.....

Stopped for breakfast in Dong Ha and was joined by the vietnamese guide. He was a teenager during the war and reached 17 years of age when it ended, so didn't get conscripted into the south vietnam army, as did everyone from 18yrs and older.

Heading north along highway 1, a quick stop at Quang Tri, where a poigniant monument marks the location of an american ase tha could look out over an expanse of the DMZ.

A short way to the Ben Hai river...loudspeaker stacks either side to blast propaganda at each other. Vast wide open swathes of green rice paddies, making it obvious the reason why this was a de-militarised zone, as there is nowhere to hide.

Next to the Vinh Moc tunnels (2.8km of tunnels) in the village of Ho Xa . The difference between these tunnels and the ones I visited at Cu Chi, are that these were used to live in to escape the bombing overhead. They comprise a network of tunnels connecting together alcoves where families slept, areas for cooking, meeting, bathing and even a materniy unit where 17 babies had been born. Many entrances were constructed and they were also much taller than Cu Chi, to allow for people to walk upright. They are constructed on three levels oing down upto 30 metres below the surface. Air shafts had to be included at regular intervals otherwise they would have suffocated.

The US army knew about the tunnels and many bombing raids were made dropping 'Drilling' bombs. These would bury themselves upto 15 metres into the ground before exploding. The area is pitted with craters still, althouh many have gone due to development and restoring the land back to farming.

After lunch we head west along highway 9, aiming for 'The Rockpile'. When you look out across the beautiful vivid green acres of rice, it is hard to accept that this is still a dangerous country. A couple of months ago, a young boy had both of his legs blown off by a landmine. An old lady was killed...The beauy and the beast!

When we sit in our sterile worlds surrounded by all modern conveniences and the only risk we take each day is to get in a car to drive to work....meanwhile in other parts of the world people go into their fields to eke a living and never return.....makes you think doesn't it?

The forests along the way were smothered in 20 million tonnes of chemical weapons such as 'Agent orange'. To this day, three generations later, many people still suffer the legacy with babies being born with deformations.

The rockpile itself isn't much to see. It used to be where the US army had a lookout post as it had a good view along the DMZ.

Shortly past here, the road passes the stilt houses of the Bru people, who crossed the border from Laos.

Close to Khe Sanh, the road reaches the 'Ho Chi Minh Trail'. Built as a supply route from Vinh in the north through Laos and ending up in Saigon. Onwards to the Khe Sanh US army special forces combat base (green berets), which was built to recruit and train the local 'Montagnards' or hilltribe people. It was abandoned in 1968 and the US army were ordered to destroy everything before they left so that nothing was left that could be used for propaganda. Today the museum houses a small collection of scrap and some photographs plus a couple of US helicopters and a tank outside. To be honest, it is a long way to go with little to see. The DMZ in general doesn't have much to see as most stuff has been removed as scrap, so you have to accept that. I would say that staying a night in Dong Ha, and organising a tour from there would be better. But it is a bit of a non town, with everything flanking the very busy Highway #1.

Back to Hue on the bus with some useful information learnt from other travellers that should be handy up north.


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