Trip to Hue

We arrive in Da Nang around 11:30am and clear customs in 30 minutes. We are on our way down the road to Hue which is just a few miles away. In Vietnam there is only one highway connecting the north to the south of Vietnam and we are on it. Considering that there are 91 million people in this country, it is no wonder that the volume of traffic has our speed reduced to 20mph. The guide tells us proudly that the road is being widened to four lanes which I can see will be a big improvement over the one and one half lanes it currently has, Brave little scooters sandwiched between buses and trucks. You just have to hold your breath awaiting the crash but, they somehow carry on. The countryside is very lush and the flat land next to the Sea of Tonga and South China Sea quickly gives way to steep rolling mountains. Every square inch of available land is being farmed. Rice! and lots of it. Waves of lush green will soon be turning gold and harvested and another crop quickly planted. Central Viet Nam ( where we are) gets two crops harvested per year. South Viet Nam gets three. Viet Nam was the world’s largest rice exporter but Thailand has now taken that honor. The road construction has made a mess of the road with pot holes everywhere. The guide tells us that Viet Nam is giving us a free massage. You cannot enjoy the scenery for fear that your life is soon to end in a crash as buses, trucks, and scooters horns are blaring demanding to be let into the traffic flow. Oncoming traffic doesn’t slow down and dares them to come in. I keep telling myself that the worst thing that can happen to us is a fender bender because no one can get going very fast. We are climbing through a curvy mountain pass which adds another level of excitement. James is telling me that during the war, we had bases in this area and the soldiers would try to keep this road open all the while being shot at from the houses and hillsides. We are really trying to find a reason we spilled the blood of some 58,000 American lives on this soil. You also must recognize the tenacity of the Vietnamese people who have endured a century of horrible fighting and crazy leaders. The current regime is trying to adapt to moderm ways and trying to make capitalism work while hanging on to political power. Their changes have made it possible for the citizens to own their own homes. They can lease the land and build a home which usually costs $50,000 but they only earn $4,500 a year. From the looks of it, I don’t think many of them can swing this so they have these shambles of little shops where they try to eke out a living while they live behind or above it. The hovels are right next to the road and the construction dust and dirt makes it even worse. Thin gaunt people squatting or sitting on small plastic stools all in front of their shops. Everything is for sale here and about every tenth store is a scooter repair shop. Dogs, chickens, goats and toddlers are all wondering along the side of the road. This is just a tragedy waiting to happen. Soon we are traveling next to the sea where vast fish farms are located. Fish on one side and rice on the other for miles and miles.
Ninety minutes later we arrive in Hue, the former Imperial City. No tourist can sightsee on an empty stomach so, lunch first! The restaurant has gone all out with a welcome banner, a band, and a lovely buffet. We are assured they are not serving any dog. The hostesses are dressed in native costume and the band is providing music. It was one of our better group tour lunches.
First we travel to the Citadel of the former Imperial City.It has the basic ” Forbidden City” layout. Some of the Veterans on our tour explain that the US was trying not to destroy the place but, the Viet Cong used the area to fire on our troops. When we had had enough, General Westmoreland ordered it bombed. About 70% of the buildings were destroyed but it is being rebuilt as before. A part of the structure was the living quarters of the Emperor which was called the Forbidden Purple City. For safety’s sake, no man was allowed to enter just Eunuchs. The Emperor had a queen and many concubines. Like 600 or so for his entertainment. His selection for the evening was determined by where the Royal goat went to eat. Outside of each girl’s residence was a garden which she hoped would attract the goat. Why not!!
Next we went to a shrine sitting atop a pleasant little hill overlooking the Perfume River. Many boats with dragon heads on the front are moving up and down. The shrine has monks who are chanting and the people are burning incense. It is an old dark structure that is set off by the colorful monk gowns and the flowers.
Back on the bus, we head to the tomb of Minh Mang the Emperor who died in 1841. He had required the construction of a mountain, a pond, numerous gardens and all the monuments and buildings within 3 years. 10,000 men died getting it done. No one knows the exact location of his grave as the people who buried him were killed. He was a brutal man. He killed men that opposed him by putting them into cannon and blowing the body parts to pieces so the person, according to their religion, could not enter a second life. Keeping the body intact was very important to these people. Even the eunuchs kept their balls in wine until they died so everything could be buried together. The women who earned his wrath were pulled apart by 5 elephants. I have had about enough of this shit.
Back on the bus we have another one and a half hour exiciting bus ride. It is evening and quitting time, it is dark, and all the scooters are out. You would have to see it to believe it. One girl has tied live chickens on the back of her scooter, one man even has a live cow tied on the back on his way to the butcher. Everyone fighting for space on the road. We see a scooter crash site with bike pices and little helmets strown across the road. One bus driver stops half off the road and relives himself against a tree. He later passes us while facing oncoming traffic head on. He was going to stay on schedule no matter what. We finally get back to the ship and I am so distracted that I leave my purse on the bus. What is worse, out ship is leaving the port in an hour. Our crew sprang into action and contacted the bus and our guide who were on their way back to Hue. They turned around and brought my purse back to me with all my valuables intact including $900 in cash. There are still some honest decent people in this world.