Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The serene center

Members of my generation don't usually associate Da Nang and central Vietnam with the word "serenity," but things have changed in this part of the country since the 1960s and '70s. It is home not only to the former wartime U.S. air base (now the domestic airport) but also to the beautiful World Heritage towns of Hue and Hoi An, which were calm and serene during our visit. Our guide for the area, Mr. Thuan, was so calm and placid it seemed like we were in a trance. He spoke good English, really slowly, like he was speaking to someone who didn't really understand the language. He was a pleasure to travel with.

Part of the Citadel in Hue

Both towns had experienced heavy rain and flooding last week, but now they are back in business; the only sign of the bad weather was the brimming big rivers that they sit beside.

Hue was the imperial capital of the Nguyen dynasty until 1945, when the communists moved the government to Hanoi. The reason we were in Hue was to visit the famous Citadel, Vietnam's equivalent of the Forbidden City in Beijing. This vast area was the home of the emperor and his court but is now open to all Vietnamese and frequented by the many tourists who visit the city. It's an impressive sight that has undergone restoration, more or less, after much destruction in previous decades.

Two of the nine imperial urns--nine is a good number for emperors

Also beautiful and serene were the two emperors' tombs we visited (emperor #2 and #4). These parklike places have a definite aura of the past about them. Since they contain the bodies of the emperors, they are treated with great respect by Vietnamese. We visited toward the end of the afternoon, when the light was beautiful. 

One of the tombs

Hue is also noted for its cuisine, and we had one of the best meals so far of our trip there, at the Y Thao garden restaurant. And we stayed at a nice, modern hotel, the newly built Romance Hotel, with the best breakfast we've had in Vietnam. Both are recommended if you ever visit Hue.

On the way from Hue to Hoi An we stopped at the Cham Museum in Da Nang, which houses most of the best sculptures from what's called the Champa holy land, My Son. I understand why so much ancient statuary and stone artwork is kept in museums, but isn't the best place to display the relics of a site at the site itself? We think so. At My Son, which we visited the next day, there are only a few remnants of the sculptures. Nonetheless, it's an evocative place, especially in the morning rain that fell on the day we visited. Temples that pop with vegetation are so beautiful--even if the plant roots aid in the destruction.

In the rain at My Son

 This is our second night in Hoi An, another neat town that spreads along a river. (We took boat rides on the river in both Hue and Hoi An.) This was a former trading port that was frequented by European, Chinese, and Japanese traders and developed as big commercial center until the harbor silted up and most maritime trade moved to Da Nang. The people of Hoi An are still engaged in commerce, though--they've made the place into a go-to center for tourists who want to get suits and dresses made to order overnight. We passed on that but did more delicious Vietnamese food at one of the garden restaurants.

The town of Hoi An straddles the big river

Casting nets along the river

 Today, besides visiting My Son, we drove to a beautiful vegetable farm that caters to tourism as an aside. We had lunch at an open-air restaurant on the farm and then toured the paths. Unexpectedly, we were pulled into the work of preparing a small plot and planting cabbage seedlings--hoeing, spreading seaweed fertilizer, watering...kind of hokey but it really did make real what I've said all along on this trip: it must be hard being a farmer! Of course the farmer we were "helping" said we looked like a couple of "professionals." Ha ha, they say that to all the tourists. We were dripping with sweat after we'd finished preparing and planting a plot about 2 feet by 6 feet.

News alert: I'm not going to give up my day job

Beach time in Nha Trang coming up, as we head south toward Ho Chi Minh City.

1 comment:

  1. Love the picture of you working on the farm. Classic! You fit in beautifully. Finally got caught up on your blog and looking forward to the next post!