Unlike a lot of places in
Vietnam, Hue (pronunced, smoothly and quickly, like "huh-WAY") isn't
that old. But it's one of the country's main cultural and
religious centers. Its beautiful buildings are the main attraction for
tourists, but its main attraction for me -- in this web page, at least
-- was the more-relaxed pace of life.
It was a great break after hectic
Hanoi. (As it turned out, Hoi An
was even calmer -- as I'll try to show you on that page.)
There's a lot to see around Hue. Unfortunately, this time of the year (November), a lot of what you see isn't only on the ground: it's falling from the sky. It's the rainy season, and that's what we got. (If you go to Hue, avoid this time of the year!) The sun came out two of my six days there. One was the day I left, and the other was this one. I headed for the Citadel... but it took me three hours to walk the kilometer or so from my hotel to the Citadel's main gate because there was so much life to see!
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One of Hue's tourist hotspots is along the south bank of the Perfume River, the main river through the area. I don't know which came first: all of the tourists, or all of the dragon boats. (Maybe it was something in-between.) Anyway, it's hard to take a peaceful stroll here; your quiet contemplation will be shattered every few seconds by "Hello! Wanna boat ride? Hour on the river, cheap!" Egypt was the first place on my trip that I ran into people pushing me to spend money (or to, uh, take advantage of their services). By now, I've gotten used to smiling and saying "no, thank you," which usually ends the conversation right there... at least it seems to in Vietnam.
Tourism is big business here -- as this group of blue-suited young women or their teacher will tell you, I'm sure. (They were fun to watch. They seemed to be studying something about the dragon boats.) Hue wasn't a tourist magnet when the communists took over in 1975: the beautiful buildings were left to decay as (my guidebook said) "politically incorrect" and "a sign of the 'feudal Nguyen dynasty'." Something changed in 1990, though (Vietnam's plummeting economy, maybe?) and the city's heritage began to be restored. In 1993, Unesco named Hue a World Heritage Site, and the rest is, well, history.
Life's a breeze when you're a dog catching ZZZs next to the dragon boats... or you're a passenger on one of them. I didn't try the boats, though: I walked up onto the bridge nearby and crossed the river on foot.
Not everyone was taking it easy. Everyplace I've gone in Vietnam I've seen people carrying incredible loads of whatever... on foot, on a bicycle, on a motorbike, or however. They're working, on their way to work, or trying to sell something somewhere. One of my guidebooks suggested that the industrious people of Vietnam -- especially the ones from the south -- could pick up the economy if their government would let them. I got the feeling that my guidebook was right:
The most captivating sight was of what looked like a family fishing on the river. Two of the typical long, narrow boats -- each with an adult and a few children on board -- moved slowly together downstream. A man at the end of each boat -- the father on one and one of his sons on the other -- cast their nets over the river, almost in unison. They'd wait a minute, then pull the nets in. I wish I could show you the movies I took, but maybe these still photos will do:
(These photographs are Copyright © 2003 by Jerry Peek. Much higher-resolution versions of most images, and many other images too, are available at Jerry Peek Photography. Photos are available at reduced prices, or free, for non-commercial use.)