After our mammoth journey of 22 hours aboard The Reunification Express we had arrived in Hué. We’d booked into our boutique classical Vietnamese town house the previous night, unpacked, cleaned up in the morning and were now ready to explore the city.
Hué promised much for the discerning traveller. Between 1802 and 1945, it was the imperial capital of the Nguyen dynasty and is well known for its monuments and architecture and was also the national capital until 1945, when Emperor Bao Dại abdicated and a communist government was established in Hà Nội (Hanoi), in the north. The city is located in central Vietnam on the banks of the Sông Hương (Perfume River). But Huế features a Tropical monsoon type climate so rain is an ever present companion (this we had found out the moment we had arrived on the train) and for the next four days we would remain sodden and wet.
The seat of the Nguyễn emperors was the Citadel, which occupies a large, walled area on the north side of the Perfume River this was where we were headed. Inside the citadel was a forbidden purple city where only the emperors, concubines, and those close enough to them were granted access; the punishment for trespassing was death. Today however the tourist trail has caught up with Hué and mere mortals like myself can wander around with gay abandon among the acres and acres of ruins in this UNESCO World Heritage Site without fear of death. A fear of slipping is more vexing though as the entire citadel is like a slippery bath floor due to the proliferation of moss, algae and other damp related fungi. Every step is a potential hazard!
The citadel got smashed mercilessly during The Vietnam War and as a consequence so much of the once impressive citadel is now in ruins. Enough can be seen however to get a glimpse into a time when it’s wonders would have impressed the many a foreign dignitary or adventurous traveller alike.
It is a huge complex covering an area of 520ha and comprising three circles of ramparts, Kinh Thanh Hue (Hue Capital Citadel), Hoang Thanh (Royal Citadel) and Tu Cam Thanh (Forbidden Citadel). It was said to be protected by the two sand dunes: The Con Hen and Con Da Vien on the Perfume River, as “dragon on the left, tiger on the right”. It takes hours to properly explore the whole complex.
But the rain had turned torrential and we cowered under our assortment of waterproofs struggling to wander around the muddy quagmire that had formed under countless stomping tourist feet.
After one slip too many the correct decision finally was made to abandon this folly and stop the exploring and instead just cut our loses and run for cover, instead we searched for a suitable exit from the gigantuan citadel.
We exited the royal citadel by what must have been the tradesman’s entrance and found ourselves dumped at the rear of the city across a moat and in the old capital citadel beyond. Now we searched intently for a coffee bar or similar just so that we could dry off and keep warm for a few minutes. Alas Hué is blessed with UNESCO sites but not any coffee shops at least not any that we could find so we continued to wander getting wetter and wetter in the monsoon like conditions.
Wet, downtrodden and with symptoms of the common cold beginning to surface enough was enough and so we sort out the dryness of a local travel agent down by the riverside. With the forecast for nothing but rain for the next three days we booked ourselves a driver and guide for a trip south to Hoi-An for the next day. But with half a day left we still wanted to see and do something while in Hué and so flagged down a taxi and all bundled inside with instructions to the driver to head for the Thien Mu Pagoda!
Nestling on the banks of the Perfume River the Thien Mu Pagoda was erected in 1601 as a Buddhist Monastery. It sits on a prominent piece of land jutting out into the river. The setting is exquisite and on any other day the views would be spectacular to say the least but today the rain would just not leave us alone and the views were shrouded in wet mist and claggy clouds.
But maybe all this rain and mist were just adding to the whole atmosphere of this mythical place. Way back when legend has it that the people around the area used to see a vision of an old lady sitting on this small misty hill. The old lady evidently dressed in a red long dress and green trousers claimed that this place belonged to some supernatural power, and that some day a great leader would build a pagoda at this site to bring peace to the country. After saying that, the lady disappeared in the cloud. As the story of this heavenly lady traveled, Lord Nguyen Hoang upon hearing the story, ordered the construction of the pagoda here in 1601 and named it Chua Thien Mu – Heavenly Lady Pagoda the rest as they say is history.
We saw no old lady or anyone dressed in a long red dress for that matter, but the Pagoda was powerful and emotive the umbrellas and rain around us all also adding to the scene and spectacle. Our waiting cab driver did not however add anything to the experience deciding not to wait for us as he had promised and instead speading off into the dreary sunset with some other gullible tourist sitting in the back seat. We conciled ourselves to a long and wet walk back into town along the banks of the now not so perfumed river.
But in Vietnam one persons lost sale is another man’s gain and in no time at all we were being coaxed onto a barely seaworthy Dragon Boat to sail back into town. The boat chugged up the murky brown waters against the flow towards town under the floodlit bridges that ciss-crossed the river. We were wet through, tired and knackered but we also felt that we had battled the elements and got the best that we could out of our very wet day in Hué. Tomorrow it would rain some more and the next day and the next day! Hué as I was learning really is the wettest place I have ever visited on earth!
You can see more photos from my Indochina Adventure on Flickr by clicking on this link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jameshandlon/sets/72157629031722105/