Photo Essay: Show Me the Hue

by Ekua on May 20, 2013 in captured on memory card,history,Vietnam

In a pleasant departure from Vietnamese overnight trains, we travel from Hoi An to Hue by bus. We stop at the Marble Mountains to walk to the top of Thuy Son for panoramic views and quiet moments in gardens and grottoes. We continue on to Hue on the Hai Van Pass, a stunning coastal section of Vietnam’s Highway 1 which rivals California’s highway of the same name.

We’ve found out that Hue is pronounced “way” and all sorts of puns have ensued, but we still aren’t quite sure what there is to do or see there when we arrive. By now we know that in this scenario, it never hurts to explore by boat or motorcycle, so a few of us arrange to take a motorcycle tour. We’ve already had a spectacular day so it’s hard to imagine that the day can get better, but it does.

Motorcycle Tour in Hue, Vietnam

Moments after we set out from our hotel, our moto drivers ditch the city streets for paths that lead us through woods and quaint neighborhoods. I realize that without knowing it, this is what I’ve been craving—normalcy and detour from the tourist trail.

We stop in a forest and we assume we are there to explore nature, but our guides tell us we are not quite there yet. They lead us through a gate and we discover that tucked away in the woods is the Tu Hieu Temple. We head in the direction of the beautiful sounds we hear and see that we have arrived in time for the monks’ afternoon chanting ceremony.

Tu Hieu Temple, Vietnam

Tu Hieu Temple, Vietnam

Tu Hieu Temple, Vietnam

Tu Hieu Temple, Vietnam

Tu Hieu Temple, Vietnam

We sit for awhile and watch the ceremony, mesmerized and engulfed in serene contentment. One by one, we are eventually able to pull ourselves away to explore the rest of the gorgeous grounds of the monastery.

We learn that this this is where the notable Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh once studied. If peace can be extreme, Tu Hieu could be an emblem of that and it’s not difficult to see how a strong and steadfast peace activist could have emerged from this place.

Incense for sale in Hue, Vietnam

Incense for sale in Hue, Vietnam

Incense for sale in Hue, Vietnam

Our next stop is obviously a shopping stop. We visit an out of the way artisan market where we seem to be the only visitors. Vendors are selling cone hats, artwork, and abundance of incense. Incense is of little interest to me as it has been making me sneeze throughout Vietnam, but I like how artfully it is presented in colorful fanned out bundles or laid out on the side of the street. We poke around and a few people try rolling incense but we don’t stick around too long before we’re off to our next destination.

Perfume River, Vietnam

Perfume River, Vietnam

Bunker Hill in Hue, Vietnam

Bunker Hill in Hue, Vietnam

We speed up a hill  through a grove of small pines to a vista overlooking the Perfume River. Our guides show us around and we learn that it is not only a viewpoint, it is also the strategically located site of former American military bunkers. Being in the middle of Vietnam near the DMZ, but officially part of Southern Vietnam, Hue was hit extremely hard by the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army during the Vietnam-American War. It’s hard to reconcile Hue’s perilous history with tranquility around us, but without the museum-style experiences of Saigon and the Cu Chi Tunnels, the remnants of war feel very present here.

Ho Quyen arena in Hue, Vietnam

Ho Quyen arena in Hue, Vietnam

To reach our final destination, we zigzag along a narrow path that cuts through flooded rice paddies where the smallest  error could send us flying into the fields. It’s a thrill being so close to the rice fields and inches away from danger.

Our last stop is Ho Quyen, a former tiger and elephant fighting arena that was built in 1830 and used until 1904. The fights held there were staged by the emperors who had the tigers’ teeth and claws removed. Elephants were thought to represent royalty, and with the matches rigged, they won every time. We walk up to the top where the royal family and their subjects once stood and watched the matches and we circle the grass covered perimeter of the crumbling arena, reflecting on power and time.

We head back to the center of Hue as the sun sets over the Perfume River. We feel as though we have explored Hue and its surroundings in the same way we would if we were visiting friends who took us to fascinating local spots that are not listed in the guidebooks. Moreover, in getting from place to place we have experienced Vietnam as is, and the afternoon has been grand in its simplicity.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer May 21, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Albeit an obligatory shopping stop – your photos of the colourful incense are beautiful.

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Andi of My Beautiful Adventures May 21, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Wow just wow!!!!!

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Fly Girl May 22, 2013 at 6:22 am

The peace from these pix leaps off the screen. Lovely shots, my fave is the monks in the temple.

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Hannah June 7, 2013 at 10:46 am

The colours are so beautiful. Absolutely love the first photo – they have the fantastic sort of posture I try to teach my dance students ha! 🙂

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