Kaspar posting from Manila, Philippines covering Sept. 15-17th
The first time I ever heard about Hue was in the movie Full Metal Jacket where the platoon engages in the offensive during the Battle of Hue. After the battle they are hanging out within the walls of the ancient city, much of which had been reduced to rubble. It is hard to imagine the destruction that was caused to this cultural treasure during the course of the war. Now life continues within those same walls where people pull fish from the moat and enjoy the view while crushing beers and devouring dinner.
Construction on the citadel began in 1804 after Emperor Nguyen decided this would be the best center for the empire based on the advice of geomancers. My favorite part was the Purple Forbidden City and the Queen Mother's private garden (see picture above). It feels as if every aspect of the design is intended to evoke a utopian feeling, every detail relates to the layout and there are perfect views from every vantage point. When we were there we were mostly alone and you got the feeling that the 19th century royal family members must have had ensconced in this oasis.
Oh fuuuuuuuuuuuck...plop. The stillness was broken by me dropping the lens cap of the camera over the moat wall. This was not a huge deal, except that we have no way to get a new lens cap and this is not the first time I have dropped the cap in a really bad place. This is a pristine garden with not even a lose stick to try and fish the cap out, not to mention that the wall is like 10 feet high. We both just strolled around trying to find an elegant solution. Ali found a dust bin with a 3ft handle. The end was perfect for scooping the cap out of the water, but we had nothing long enough to get it down to the water and even if we did we had no tape or way to attach it to the scoop. I discovered a scrub brush on a handle, but it still only had about a 3 foot handle on it until I realized that it was telescoping, but still no way to attach it to the scoop. The handle on the scrub brush had a slight lip on it to prevent a hand from slipping off of it. The handle on the scoop was just friction fit, so I pulled it out and the the handle of the scrub brush fit perfectly with the lip on the handle locking the scoop in place. With this apparatus and one leg up on the wall I was just able to reach the cap. One inch farther and the cap would have been lost.
There was just something so fortuitous about the way the objects were found and a solution came together so easily in a place where even attempting to retrieve the cap seemed futile. It was as if this moment was meant to be, a challenge dictated by circumstance, a problem construed by fate.
After the long day of looking at the citadel in the walled city we were ready for a motorbike excursion. There was rumored to be a sacred river called Suo Voi or "Elephant Springs" on the road back to Hoi An so we took the 1.5hr ride. I needed a break from the driving along the way so we kicked back with some coconut juice. On the way to Suoi Voi there is a beautiful pagoda. Once you arrive there are pools of clear blue water, although when we were there the tsunami had just passed through so they were still cleaning debris from the pools. It was still a nice way to relax and cool off.
Back at the GreenHome our hosts Hai and Nam (nicest people on the planet) who also had another guest named Charu were making dinner. These guys could cook. In the picture immediately below Charu was actually making us pizzas. He lives in an Italian neighborhood in Australia, go figure. They made amazing meals every night of mushrooms, banana flower, fish...etc. One of my favorite were these little river crabs (all the fish/crabs come from fresh water because apparently the ocean was polluted or something). It was like eating mini soft shelled crabs. You just pop the whole thing in your mouth and the shell added a nice texture. Hue is also known for a particular type of Bun Bo, so on our last day we had a really good one at Quan Bun Bo. The broth is prepared with beef bones and then seasoned with fermented fish sauce and chili for spice. Then you walk up and pick the ingredients you want in your soup.
For our last day we did some touristy stuff like going to the Temple of the Celestial Lady (built in 1601) and then we went to a bookstore to satiate Ali's appetite for mystery books. At first we didn't even think they had books in English and I could barely fit in the store because the books were stacked in rows so narrow that I had to shuffle sideways to get in. Among the precarious stacks Ali found a book with a misleading cover, because the shop owner had replaced the cover and wrote the name of the lending library on it rather than the title of the book. It was, The Curse of the Pharaohs, by Elizabeth Peters. These are the types of challenges that make travel fun. It is easy to show up where trip advisor suggests everyone goes, but it is hard to find a used mystery book in English in Hue, Vietnam.
Afterwards wedecided to drive to an area called Than Tien where we heard people are pretty crafty. We drove through empty fields and came to some houses along the Perfume River. Inside one house there was a woman making these paper flowers. She gave us a full tutorial on how to make them and bought a few to bring back for Hai and Nam to decorate the GreenHome.