We took a small bus from Phong Nha to Hue via TNT (Tan Nhat Travel). It was a fairly pleasant four hour trip, most of it through heavy rain. We booked a room at the Jade Hotel ($20/night including breakfast). It is a nice hotel, and to our great joy we found an Indian restaurant about a half-block away that serves up excellent thalis.
We woke up to heavy overcast and rain. This is normal for this time of year in Central Vietnam and it is good for the farmers, not so good for us. We are thinking that it may be best to head for the Mekong Delta sooner than we planned, then come back to Central Vietnam in December-January after the rains. We are also thinking that we will need to extend our visas since they expire on December 7 and we still have a lot of the country to see. We could easily be here well into January at the rate that we are going.
During a break in the rain we toured the Imperial Enclosure within the Hue Citadel. Hue was the capital city during the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945), and the Imperial Enclosure was the Emperor’s residence and administrative center during that time. There were 13 emperors in the Nguyen dynasty. The last one (Bao Dai) handed over power to the Viet Minh, the communist resistance movement headed by Ho Chi Minh, following the Japanese surrender and retreat from Vietnam at the end of World War II (see historical note at the end sf this post).
Many of the structures in the Enclosure were damaged or destroyed as a result of the heavy fighting that took place in Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive, though portions have been restored and the restoration work is continuing. The remaining/restored structures are beautiful and the setting is quiet and peaceful. We spent a half-day here, but it would be easy to spend a full day or more exploring everything. We were lucky that for the most part the rain let up while we were wandering around.
The next day we took boat tour on the Perfume River, which runs through the center of Hue. The boat captain started the motor, which appeared to be as big as a 6-8 cylinder car engine, with a hand crank. He gave me a thumbs-up and a smile when it turned over. Though it rained most of the afternoon we were able to have a nice ride on the river and toured the Minh Mang tomb; he was one of the Nguyen Dynasty emperors.
We also took a private tour to a couple of places near what used to be the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) during the American War. First we went to see the Vin Moc Tunnels. These were built to protect the seaside village from American bombing. The tunnels extend to a total length of about 2 km, have three levels varying in depth 10 meters to about 30 meters, and included space for the village families (about 60 to 90 families, depending on which source you look up) and soldiers, cooking facilities, and a medical unit (hospital). All this was dug by hand through the limestone rock.
We also visited the Mine Action Visitors Center Museum in Dong Ha, which is jointly operated by Project RENEW and the Vietnam Department of Foreign Affairs. We spent a lot of time talking to Mr. Phu, the Center Director, who explained to us the extent of the problem of unexploded ordnance (UXO) left over from the American War and measures that Project RENEW is taking to educate the local population of the dangers of UXO and how to identify and report the location of UXO so it can be safely removed or detonated, and to help assist victims of UXO explosions. The hope is that the model of Project RENEW, currently focused on Quang Tri Province, can be extended to the other Provinces in Vietnam where UXO is still a problem. Please visit the Project RENEW web site (http://landmines.org.vn/) for more information, and please consider making a tax-deductible donation to this very worthwhile organization.
The overcast and rain continued for the five days we spent in Hue, but we did manage to see some sights between downpours.
According to our Lonely Planet guide book, “Between 1944 and 1945, the Viet Minh received funding and arms from the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS; today the CIA). When Ho Chi Minh declared independence in 1945, he had OSS agents at his side and borrowed liberally from the American Declaration of Independence.”