Hot in Hue

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Following our unexpectedly picturesque interlude in Ninh Binh, we continued our southward journey down the curvy Vietnamese coast to the old imperial capital of Hue (pronounced hoo-ay), which sits on the banks of the poetically named Perfume River.

The Hue Citadel by night

Outside of Hanoi and Saigon, most Vietnamese towns have imposed power cuts in the summer to save on electricity of which there isn’t enough. As these things have it, the hot summer months are when people use the most electricity to power fans and air conditioners. As such, that is also when the power cuts are scheduled. Some towns cut power on alternating days, while some towns have daily cuts but at scheduled times.

Incense sticks by the Perfume River

We arrived in Hue early morning on a steaming hot day, and wouldn’t you know it, right in the middle of a power cut. We booked ourselves into an air conditioned room, only to discover that we were in the midst of a black out, and our hotel didn’t have a generator. We were exhausted from our overnight bus ride so we lay there, sweating, until we could no longer bare it, and then decided to go for breakfast and a stroll.

Marc tries to shield himself from the sun, local style.

From there on, our schedule in Hue was basically dictated by the power cuts. Some days the power would go off at 6am, and we would be forced out of bed not too late after that. The power would come back on at 2pm, when we would promptly return to the luxury of an air-conditioned room. On other days we would stay in bed a little longer, as the power wouldn’t get cut off till noon, but then we would stay out until past dinner, once the electricity was back on at 9pm.

Guarding the imperial tombs.

During our heat-enforced expulsions from our room, we visited the many Nguyen emperors’ tombs and pagodas in the Hue surrounds, as well as the Citadel, which is similar to the Forbidden City in Beijing, and heavily bombed by the Americans during the Vietnam War. Many parts of the Citadel are in a state of disrepair but slowly being renovated; despite its crumbling walls and overgrown gardens one can still see that this had once been a great, lavish and rambling compound filled with imperial opulence.

Not a royal concubine, nor a eunuch.

Interesting bit of trivia: Vietnamese emperors all had loads of concubines – one particularly energetic fellow apparently had 300 – and the “citadel within the citadel”, or the Purple Fobidden City, was where they lived and the emperor led his private life. To avoid any funny business with anyone but the emperor, the only servants allowed in this area were eunuchs.

Pagoda gate

Phuoc Dien Tower at Thien Mu Pagoda

The tombs of some of these emperors were equally impressive, and in much better condition. The most interesting of these was that of Emperor Khai Dinh, who ruled from 1916 to 1925.  Decreed by the emperors themselves, each imperial tomb is a reflection of their individual tastes and the architectural trends of the times. Emperor Khai Dinh’s tomb is perched high on a hill, and successfully mixes European and Vietnamese architectural elements to create an almost baroque feel to a very Asian structure.

Emperor Khai Dinh's tomb

Modestly decorated inside.

Marc wants to order this as a banister in his London home.

Our visit to Hue also coincided with the start of the biennial Hue Festival, which brings artists and both Vietnamese and international performers to the city for ten days of exhibitions, concerts and plays. One evening, on our post-dinner stroll, we heard some jazz coming out of a courtyard next to one of the restaurants. We got closer to take a look and, sure enough, there was a 12-piece brass band playing jazz funk to a gaping Vietnamese audience and the Western diners at the French restaurant. Some Western guys started break dancing to the music, and, soon enough, the Vietnamese audience were clapping and swaying to the music as well, smiling and whooping. It was one of those cheesy moments where you think, music truly does break barriers.

Impromptu jazz and breakdancing session

Optimistic about the Festival, we decided to attend the opening ceremony, which would be held in front of the Citadel the night before we left. How wrong we were. Seated in front of a giant field with the stage far off in front of us, we sat through speeches we did not understand and dancing we could barely make out, to music that was too slow.

Not even the fireworks could make us stay.

To top things off, it started pouring before we were half-way through. We decided to abandon our mission and walked back in the rain, huddled under our one mini umbrella we had bought in Hong Kong but still getting soaked, and went for dinner feeling grumpy and pretty miserable.

Unhappy campers

But all’s well that ends well: we discovered a great little restaurant off the gringo guesthouse alley/banana pancake trail, which was cheap and delicious with all the Vietnamese favourites and local specialties on the menu. We liked it so much we went back the next day for an early lunch before we continued onto our next destination, Hoi An.

Obligatory food shot of happiness.

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One Response to “Hot in Hue”

  1. cynthia cutler Says:

    I have visited Hue but not when the power cuts were on. You are both still having a fantastic adventure. Where to next I ask !!!

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