Big Question Marks

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Getting Imperial in Hue

For the last few days we've been enjoying the old imperial capital of Hue. It was noticeably cooler-- rainy too-- when we stepped off the train from Danang (a beautiful three-hour train ride along the coast, high up on the sides of mountains) and we could definitely feel that we were out of the tropics and into the north.
Hue is built along the wide Perfume River, which we would cross every day by foot to get to the old walled Citadel (and the locals would look at us like we were crazy, as no one walks in Vietnam!). The Imperial Citadel is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and though bombed a bit in the American War, is constantly being restored, and wandering around within the high walls is a fantastic way to spend a day (even a rainy one!). The Imperial City housed the long-running Nguyen dynasty, who reigned in the 1800's and early 1900's. It's a real fairy-tale kind of place, with calm green moats and ornate palaces and pagodas within.
We also hopped on bicycles one day and headed outside the city limits to visit emperor Tu Duc's tomb-- more like an giant elaborate park than a tomb! It seems the life of an emperor isn't a bad one at all. (Though the life of a servant isn't so good... apparently all 200 of the servants who buried Tu Duc were beheaded, as to keep the secret of where he was buried from potential grave robbers.)
Among other things, the Nguyen emperors were known for being fussy eaters, so we splurged a little to sample some Hue-style cuisine at the often-recommended Y Thao Garden restaurant. We pretty much had to roll out of the restaurant after eating our 8-course meal served most artistically, with bean cakes shaped like roses and spring rolls served from a glowing jack-o-lantern peacock carved from a pineapple and carrot feathers. Too awesome.