Sitting at breakfast this morning I had a strange feeling something unexplained had happened overnight. The rain was sheeting down outside and ‘silent night’ was being piped into the dining room. Was I still in Vietnam or had I been transported to Christmas in Glasgow? I rationalised it by considering that this was just another example of how far people here go to make you feel at home.
In days gone by we would have hoped this was just a passing shower but the miracle of weather apps showed us it would take some ten days or so to pass so it was on with the waterproofs and up with the umbrellas. Best foot forward, into a large puddle as it happened, and what the hell let’s do this!
Our guide and driver met us and we headed out of town to the tomb of the Nguyen king Khai Dinh. The Nguyen dynasty of kings ruled from 1802, making Hue the capital of Vietnam until ceding control in 1945. For much of this time they were a puppet regime under French control. The Kings built tombs to the west of the Imperial citadel, preparing them for their pleasure during life as well as glorification in death and the hope of reincarnation.
Khai Dinh was very much influenced by French fashion and architecture and the palace he built at the top of the steep site of his tomb is very much in the French style, including intricate mosaic decorations.
As the rain continued, we headed for Dieu De pagoda. In addition to the pagoda and temple there is a car driven by a Buddhist monk who self immolated in Saigon in protest at religious suppression in 1968. This footage was shown in the recent BBC documentary, which made riveting if discomforting viewing.
Our final destination was the massive Imperial City, a vast complex sprawl of buildings and palaces. Our guide took us patiently and wisely through the crowds and the increasingly flooded terrain to help us appreciate this fascinating site.
We entered through Ngo Mon gate, from where the emperor looked down on his subjects.
Before us stood Thai Hoa palace, the grand throne room of the emperors.
Feeling we had been granted admission we moved on, feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the scale of the site. Hiem Lam pavilion, built in 1824 defied the rains. The emperors’ mothers were housed in a palace complex, Dien Tho, with servants rooms, reception areas and tea houses.
The eleven emperors are honoured with a shrine each in The Mieu. Final stop was the theatre, where performances of Nguyen music and theatre continue. But by now the efforts of walking ankle deep in puddles had rendered us ready for the warmth of our hotel restaurant and bar.