VIETNAM TRAVEL

 

Central Vietnam

Demilitarised Zone - Dong Ha - Lao Bao - Quang Tri - Hue - Around Hue - Suoi Voi Bach Ma National Park - Lang Co Beach - Hai Van Pass Tunnel
Ba Na Hill Station - Suoi Mo - Danang - Around Danang - Hoi An - Around Hoi An My Son - Tra Kieu - Tam Ky

AROUND HUE

Thien Mu Pagoda
Built on a hillock overlooking the perfume River, 4km southwest of the Citadel, this pagoda (Linh Mu; admission free) is an icon of Vietnam, The existing 21m -high octagonal tower, Thap Phuoc Duyen, was constructed under the reign of Emperor Thieu Tri in 1844 and has become the unofficial symbol of the city. Each of the seven storeys is dedicated to a manushi-buddha, which is a Buddha 1 hat appeared in human form. Thien Mu Pagoda was originally founded in 1601 by NguyenHoang, governor of Thuan Hoa province. According to legend, a Fairy Woman (Thien Mu) appeared and told the people that a lord would come to build a pagoda for the country's prosperity. On hearing this, Nguyen Hoang ordered a pagoda to be constructed here. Over the centuries its buildings have been destroyed and rebuilt several times. Since the 1960s it has been a flashpoint of political demonstrations. To the right of the tower is a pavilion containing a stele dating from 1715. It is set on the back of a massive marble turtle, a symbol of longevity. To the left of the tower is another six-sided pavilion, this one sheltering an enormous bell, Dai Hong Chung, which was cast in 1710 and weighs 2052kg; it is said to be audible 10km away. In the main sanctuary, in a case behind the bronze laughing Buddha, are three statues: A Di Da, the Buddha of the Past; Thich Ca, the historical Buddha (Sakyamuni); and Di Lac Buddha, the Buddha of the Future. For a nice bicycle ride, head southwest (parallel to the Perfume River) on riverside Đ Tran Hung Dao, which turns into Đ Le Duan after passing Phu Xuan Bridge. Cross the railway tracks and keep going on Đ Kim Long. Thien Mu Pagoda can also be reached by dragon boat and a visit is included in most city tours.
Royal Tombs
The tombs (Time 6.30am-5.30pm, 7am-5pm in winter) of the rulers of the Nguyen dynasty (1802-1945) are extravagant mausoleums, constructed along the banks of the Perfume River between 2km and 16km south of Hue. While many of the tombs can be reached by boat, you'll have more time to enjoy them by renting your own bicycle or motorbike - if getting lost is part of the fun - or hiring a xe om (motorbike taxis) or car for the day.
TOMB OF TU DUC
The majestic and serene tomb of Tu Duc (admission 55,000d) is set amid frangipani and pine trees. Emperor Tu Duc designed the exquisitely harmonious tomb, which was constructed between 1864 and 1867, for use both before and after his death. The enormous expense of the tomb and the forced labour used in its construction spawned a coup plot that was discovered and suppressed in 1866. It is said that Tu Duc, who had the longest reign of any Nguyen monarch (1848-83), lived a life of ultimate imperial luxury. Though he had 104 wives and countless concubines, he had no offspring. One theory has it that he became sterile after contracting smallpox. His tomb is entered from the southeast via Vu Khiem Gate. A path leads to a boat landing on the shore of a lake. The island to the right is where Tu Duc used to hunt small game. Across the water to the left is Xung Khiem Pavilion, built on piles over the water, where the emperor would sit among the columns with his concubines, composing or reciting poetry. Across the courtyard from the landing are steps leading to Hoa Khiem Temple, where Tu Duc and Empress Hoang Le Thien Anh (Tu Duc's wife) are worshipped. Before his death, Tu Duc used this as a palace, staying here during his long visits to the complex. It contains a number of interesting items, including two thrones, the larger of which was for the empress (Tu Duc was only 153cm tall). Minh Khiem Chamber, to the right behind Hoa Khiem Temple, was originally built for use as a theatre. Tu Duc's mother, Tu Duc, is worshipped in Luong Khiem Temple, directly behind Hoa Khiem Temple. At the bottom of the stairway, the path continues along the shore of the lake to the Honour Courtyard. Across the lake are the tombs of Tu Duc's adopted son, Emperor Kien Phuc, who ruled for only seven months (1883-84), and Empress Hoang Le Thien Anh. After walking between the honour guard of elephants, horses and diminutive mandarins (they were made even shorter than the emperor), you reach the Stele Pavilion, which shelters a stone tablet weighing about 20 tonnes. It took four years to transport the stele, the largest in Vietnam, 500km from near Thanh Hoa in the north. Tu Duc drafted the inscriptions himself in order to clarify certain aspects of his reign. He freely admitted that he had made mistakes and chose to name his tomb Khiem, which means 'modest’. The two nearby towers symbolise the emperor's power.Tu Duc's tomb, enclosed by a wall, is on the other side of a half-moon-shaped Iake, He was never actually interred here. The sit where his remains were buried (along with great treasure) is not known. Because of the danger of grave robbers, extreme measures were taken to keep the location secret - every one of the 200 serv ants who buried the king was beheaded. Tu Duc's tomb is about 5km south ol Hue on Van Nien Hill in Duong Xuan Thuong Village,
TOMB OF DONG KHANH
The smallest of the Royal Tombs, Dong Khanh's mausoleum (admission 30,000d) was built in 1889. Emperor Dong Khanh was the nephew and adopted son of Tu Duc, and was placed on the throne by the French after they captured his predecessor, Ham Nghi. Predictably, Dong Khanh proved docile; he ruled from 1885 until his death three years later. Seldom visited, there is a certain serenity here. It is just over 5km from the city, 500m behind the tomb of Tu Duc

A FIERY PROTEST
Behind the main sanctuary of the Thien Mu Pagoda is the Austin motorcar that transported the monk Thich Quang Duc to the site of his 1963 ,self immolation. Thich Quang Duc travelled to Saigon and publicly burned himself to death to protest the policies of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. A famous photograph of his act was printed on the front pages of newspapers around the world. His death soon inspired a number of other self-immolations. The response of the president's notorious sister-in-law, Tran Le Xuan (Madame Nhu), was to happily proclaim the self-immolations a 'barbecue party', saying 'Let them burn and we shall clap our hands'. Her statements greatly added to the already substantial public disgust with Diem's regime; the US press labelled Madame Nhu the Iron Butterfly' and Dragon Lady'. In November both President Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu (Madame Nhu's husband) were assassinated by Diem's own military. Madame Nhu was oversias at the time. Another self-immolation sparked more protest in 1993. In this instance a man arrived at the pagoda and, after leaving offerings, set himself alight chanting the word 'Buddha'. Although the man's motivation remains a mystery, this set off a chain of events whereby the pagoda's leading monks were arrested, linked with the independent United Buddhist Church of Vietnam, the banned alternative to the state-sanctioned Vietnam Buddhist Church. This led to an official complaint to the UN by the international Federation of Human Rights accusing the Vietnamese government of violating its own constitution, protecting freedom of religion.
TOMB OF THIEU TRI
Construction of the tomb of Thieu Tri (admission 22,000d), who ruled from 1841 to 1847, was completed in 1848- It is the only Royal Tomb not enclosed by a wall. The tomb has a similar floor plan to his father Minh Mang’s tomb but is substantially smaller. During his lifetime, an effort to preserve Vietnamese independence by cracking down on missionaries resulted in a French naval attack in 1847, where Vietnam's coastal forts were destroyed and three junks sunk. The emperor's response was to decree that all Christians be summarily executed. The orders were never followed and Thieu Tri died shortly afterwards. The tomb is about 7km from Hue, in a peaceful rural landscape, and is off the tour bus trail. If you're walking, cycling or on a motorbike, there's a pretty 2km or so cross country track that leads here from the tomb of Dong Khanh.
REGAL RESTING PLACES
Although all are unique in structure and design, most of the mausoleums consist of five parts. A stele pavilion in which the accomplishments , exploits and virtues of the deceased emperor are engraved on a marble tablet, usually written by the dead ruler's successor. A temple for the worship of the emperor and empress. In front of each altar, on which the deceased ruler's funerary tablets were placed, is an ornate dais that once held items the emperor used every day. such as his betel-nut trays and cigarette cases. A sepulchre, usually inside a square or circular enclosure, where the emperor's remains are buried. An honour courtyard paved with dark-brown bat trang bricks, along the sides of which stand stone elephants, horses, and civil and military mandarins. The civil mandarins wear square hats and hold an ivory sceptre, the symbol of their authority; the military mandarins wear round hats and hold swords, A lotus pond surrounded by fangipani and pine trees, Almost ail of the tombs, which are in walled compounds, were planned by the Nguyen emperors during their lifetimes. Many of the precious ornaments that were once reposited in the tombs disappeared during Vietnam's wars
TOMB OF KHAI DINH
The hillside tomb of Khai Dinh (admission 55,000d), who ruled from 1916 to 1925, is perhaps symptomatic of the decline of Vietnamese culture during the colonial era. Begun in 1920 and completed in 1931, the grandiose concrete structure is completely unlike Hues other tombs, being a synthesis of Vietnamese and European elements. Even the stone faces of the mandarin honour guards are endowed with a mixture of Vietnamese and European features. After climbing 36 steps between four dragon banisters, you reach the first court yard, flanked by two pavilions. The Honour Courtyard, with its rows of elephants, horses and mandarins, is 26 steps further up the hillside. In the centre of the courtyard ;is an octagonal Stele Pavilion. Up three more flights of stairs is the main building, Thien Dinh, which is divided into three halls. The walls and ceiling are decorated with murals of the Four Seasons, Eight Precious Objects and Eight Fairies. Under a graceless, one-tonne concrete canopy is a gilt bronze statue of Khai Dinh in regalia. His remains are interred 18m below the statue and he is worshipped in the last hall. The tomb of Khai Dinh is 10km from Hue, in Chau Chu Village.
TOMB OF MINH MANG
Perhaps the most majestic of all of the Royal Tombs is that of Minh Mang (admission 55,000d), who ruled from 1820 to 1840. Renowned for its architecture, which harmoniously blends into the natural surroundings, the tomb was planned during Minh Mang's lifetime and built between 1841 and 1843 by his successor. The Honour Courtyard is reached via three gates on the eastern side of the wall. Three gates staircases lead from the courtyard to the square Stele Pavilion (Dinh Vuong). Nearby there once stood an altar on which buffaloes, horses and pigs were sacrificed. Sung An Temple, dedicated to Minh Mang and his empress, is reached via three terraces and Hien Duc Gate. On the other side of the temple, three stone bridges span Trung Minh Ho (Lake of Impeccable Clarity). The central bridge, Cau Trung Dao, constructed of marble, was for the emperor's use only. Minh Lau Pavilion stands on the top of three superimposed terraces that represent the 'three powers': the heavens, the earth and water. Visible to the left is the Fresh Air Pavilion; the Angling Pavilion is to the right. From a stone bridge across crescent-shaped Tan Nguyet Lake (Lake of the New Moon), a monumental staircase with dragon banisters leads to the sepulchre, which is surrounded by a circular wall symbolising the sun. Behind the bronze door in the middle of the enclosure is the emperor's burial place: a mound of earth covered with mature pine trees and dense shrubbery. The tomb of Minh Mang, which is on Cam Ke Hill in An Bang Village, is over the bridge on the west bank of the Perfume River, about 12km from Hue.
TOMB OF GIA LONG
Emperor Gia Long, who founded the Nguyen dynasty in 1802 and ruled until 1819, ordered the construction of his tomb in 1814. According to royal annals, the emperor himself chose the site after scouting the area on the back of an elephant. The rarely visited tomb (admission free), which is presently in a state of ruin, is around 14km south of Hue and 3km from the west bank of the Perfume River. Temple of Nam Giao: The Temple of Nam Giao (Temple of Heaven; admission free} was once the most important religious site in all of Vietnam, It was here that, every three years, the emperor solemnly offered elaborate sacrifices to the All-Highest Emperor of the August Heaven (Thuong De). The topmost esplanade, which represents heaven, is round, while the middle terrace, representing earth, is square, as is the lowest terrace representing humanity. After reunification, the provincial government erected an obelisk in memory of soldiers killed in the American War on the site where the sacrificial altar had once stood. There was strong public sentiment in Hue against the obelisk and it was finally torn down in 1993. Nam Giao remains unrestored and crumbling. To find it, head south on Đ Dien Bien Phu for nearly 2km after the railway tracks.
Thanh Toan Bridge
Situated 7km east of central Hue, the Thanh Toan Bridge is a classic covered Japanese foot bridge. Architecturally similar to its cousin in Hoi An, it receives far fewer visitors - it's mostly used by local villagers for naps in the shady walkway. The bridge is best reached by motorbike or bicycle. Finding it is a bit tricky, but tolerable if you consider getting lost part of the excursion. Head north for a few hundred metres on Đ Ba Trieu until you see a sign to the Citadel Hotel. Turn right here and follow the bumpy dirt road for another 6km past villages, rice paddies and several pagodas until you reach the bridge.
Duong No Village
The peaceful village of Duong No makes for a refreshing trip from Hue. The main attraction here is the well-preserved, modest and beautiful Ho Chi Minh's House (Nha Bac Ho; admis- sionfree), where Uncle Ho lived from 1898 to 1900. Walk a few metres further along the riverbank to Ben Da, the steps down to the water where Ho bathed. Another 300m or so beyond them, over a quaint bridge, is an Am Ba ('female spirit' temple). It's in some disrepair, but it's quiet and contemplative, with ceramic mosaic work decorating the walls. Duong No, 6km northeast of Hue, can easily be reached by bicycle or motorbike. Look for a small wooden sign on the left at a bridge off the main road; cross over the bridge and turn immediately right. Ho Chi Minh's House is a few hundred metres along the riverbank. A loop can be made by following the path beside the house to a road at the end; turn left and continue through a pretty rural village for a couple of kilometres. Turn left again, and the road rejoins the bridge to the main road.
Thuan An to Vinh Hien
Thuan An Beach, 15km northeast of Hue, is on a splendid lagoon near the mouth of the Perfume River, at the tip of a long, thin island. It's lovely for beachcombing, and is quite undeveloped except for a few kiosks, but between September and April the water's often too rough to swim in. It is joined to the mainland by a short bridge, and beyond the beach a 50km scenic road (actually Hwy 49, though you'd never guess) stretches the length of the undeveloped island (no maps give it a name) from Thuan An to Vinh Hien. This makes a great day trip by motorbike or car from Hue. It also offers an alternative route to or from Hue for travellers making their way on two wheels along the coast road. Coming from Thuan An, the island is skinny and the road winds along with the lagoon on one side and the ocean on the other. There are several villages on the way with stacks of enormous nuoc mam (fish sauce) jars lining the outer walls of many houses, and miles of fertile raised vegetable gardens. But most extraordinary are the vast, colourful and opulent graves and family temples lining the ocean side of the road; there are thousands upon thousands of them. In Vietnam the area is known as the 'city of tombs', with families vying to outdo their neighbours' ancestral monuments. There was a huge outflow of boat people from this area and the overseas Vietnamese now provide the funds to construct these excessive structures
GETTING THERE & AWAY
There are at least three options for driving this road: two for day-trippers from Hue, and one for through travellers. Those on day trips can just drive as for as they like and then return to Thuan An. An alternative is to drive to Vinh Tanh and, about halfway along the road, turn right and head to a wharf where a ferry runs back and forth across the lagoon until about 4pm. The 20-minute crossing costs 5000d for motorbikes and 30,000d for cars, and moors 13km from Hwy 1A, a little south of Phu Bai Airport. An option for through travellers continuing south after visiting Hue on motorbikes and bicycles only - is to make your way to Vinh Hien and, from there, catch a public boat to Cau Hai on the mainland, close to the Bach Ma National Park access road. The cost for two people and a motorbike is 5000d, and the journey takes an hour or so. Be aware that weather conditions affect the running of the boats, so be prepared to backtrack if necessary.