Our morning started floating down the Perfume River of Hue Vietnam on a small wooden boat. OK…Houston, we have a problem…our guide speaks about 10 words of English. How exactly are we suppose to learn about what we are touring when our guide doesn’t speak our language? It was actually kind of comical as he would think he was speaking English but we could not understand him…is that mean? Giff and I would take turns pretending to nod our heads at him while we really understood zero of what he was saying. It was actually a little painful because when we would tell him we didn’t understand what he was saying…it really got us no where fast.
Our first stop was right off the river at Thien Mu Pagoda (the tallest in Vietnam) originally built-in 1601, it has since been renovated a few times. The doors were closed so we couldn’t go inside but there were seven successive tiers…each representing the steps to enlightenment. We saw a giant bell as well as a large tortoise statue with some kind of inscription. As we continued walking around the property, we saw a building…we walked up to it and a big happy Buddha statue sat smiling at us. A monk would walk up to some type of brass bowl and bang on it to make it ring like a bell every few minutes. We took a few pictures and then walked down the small road where a few locals were selling food, that is when we finally saw the fruit we had been looking for everywhere…mangasteen! It is one of the healthiest fruits and one of the most sought after in the world. We had been looking for them everywhere as we moved through Asia but it seemed the season was already over until now. We stopped and bought a couple to have our very first taste. They have a hard purple shell which once peeled reveals a sweet and tangy white fruit. This fruit is native to SE Asia and most attempts to cultivate it in the US have failed. We were super excited to taste it and of course reap the benefits of the rich antioxidants.
Our driver picked us up and drove us to the citadel, a walled in fortress and palace which back in 1805-1945 was the capital city of the Nguyen Dynasty. It took about 30 years to build and was the most massive structure built-in Vietnamese history. The land total stretches 1,284 acres and is organized into two parts…the citadel and the forbidden city (only the royal family could enter that area) in addition to the mansions and apartments. Most of the buildings were destroyed in the Vietnam war but what remains are now being preserved and restored. We took our time walking around looking at the very eastern architecture. The colors were colorful and very detailed with figures like the dragon. There was also a museum which we walked through and a little art gallery on the side selling art paintings done by art school students on both rice paper and canvas. We took a few minutes to look through the pieces and ended up buying two small pieces painted on rice paper because….how cool is it to have rice paper paintings from Vietnam?
After the citadel we stopped for lunch at Lac Thien, it was a restaurant run by a deaf family and known for its good food. We sat upstairs on the patio looking over the busy street while we ate. First we ordered a couple local beers which were opened by a thin piece of wood with a nail on the end of it…interesting. Stuffed savory pancakes seemed to be the specialty so we ordered a couple which were more like an airy crisp taco stuffed with chicken, beef, shrimp, sprouts and an amazing sauce. The pancake tacos were oh so good. We also had some spring rolls amongst other yummy dishes. It was fun to drink our beer as we watched the busy chaos on the street below.
After lunch, we walked through the tomb complex of Tu Duc who ruled from 1848-83. He had over 100 wives and concubines (mistresses) but still was never able to have a son…he did end up adopting one who took over as ruler but died after only seven months. The entire tomb area is about 30 acres and has about 50 structures…gates, buildings, terraces and pavilions. It is set inside a pine forest and also has a couple of ponds with fish. Interestingly…his primary wife and adopted son were both buried on the tomb site but Tu Duc was actually buried in a secret location which is still undiscovered. The 200 workers who buried him were beheaded so no one would know the burial location…historians are still trying to find the real tomb.
After the Tu Doc tomb, we had one more important tomb to visit, Emperor Khai Dinh. It was set on the top of a steep hill so we climbed 127 steps to the main area plus a few more to reach it. Everything was made of concrete and stone, there were statues in a line facing the courtyard and the walls of one of the staircases looked like huge dragons. Once we got into the actual building…every inch of space was ornately decorated. The ceilings and walls were decorated with colored glass and porcelain and the floor was made of enameled flowers. In the back room was a statue of Khai, his altar and tomb. The architecture in general was very different from other tombs…it had both European and Asian influence and took 11 years to complete.
After our busy day of site-seeing, we went back to our room to relax a bit before heading to dinner. We found a place down a small street which had a big building set in a garden. There were 4-5 people playing local music with their instruments, and we ordered a few different dishes along with a hot-pot meal we had seen everyone order. It was basically boiling broth and they added raw seafood with noodles to it until it was cooked at our table. The taste was actually a little weird but we ate it and enjoyed the music…then got back toour hotel for a good night’s sleep.