Saturday, May 01, 2010

Huế: Citadels & Tombs

We arrived in Huế at about 7 am after an overnight train ride from Nhà Trắng. The ride was okay, nothing special apart from the married couple and their cute daughter bedding in the two bunks below us. Huế's swampy humidity was a big change from the beaches and blue skies of Nhà Trắng. Located in the middle of the country, half-way between HCMC and Hanoi, Huế is a former royal capital for the Nguyen Dynasty and played a central role in the 1968 Tet Offensive when U.S. forces claimed to have had to "destroy the city to save it."

After we checked into our hotel we had a delicious breakfast at the Mandarin Café, owned by Mr. Cu, a photographer.

I had my best bowl of phở in Vietnam here and a rich cuppa joe...

We explored the Citadel across the Perfume River (Song Huong), and the neighborhoods surrounding it. While most of the area was flattened during the war, the Citadel and its walls survived. They've got an ancient texture, coated with lichen and charred by the elements.

We rented a scooter and drove over to the Thien Mu Temple and then out to the royal tombs, getting lost on the way and soaked from a shower. The quality of light in and around Huế gave it a special resonance. The greyness of the sky highlighted the shadows and textures of the stonework, while the dampness coated everything in a glistening sheen.