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Tomb Strolling in Hue

Hue is our next destination. The old capital of Vietnam kingdom, chosen hundred of years ago because of its strategic location right in the middle of dragonish geography of Vietnam. After a serious delay courtesy of Jetstar, we landed on a small airport of Da Nang and continue our journey to Hue by car. Flying is just not as fun as driving through the land especially if it was as scenic as the trip we took. Our driver, a silent Driving Miss Daisy type, was not much of a company but he was being complimented by his sister side kick, a bubbly Vietnamese girl whose name just lost me completely. She talked and asked me so many questions along the three hours trip including ‘why you no marry’ to ‘how rich are you’. Even coming from a country where curiosity toward stranger was the norm, I still found it rather winchingly uncomfortable. Nobody ever asked me ‘how rich are you’ back home. Along the up and down hilly ride, I saw many small shrines by the road which apparently to honor people who died on the road which was not such a great surprise considering how they drive their bike there. The big question is: if they build a shrine every time somebody dies, will there come a day when the hill would just turn to be a big hill of road kill shrines?

Arriving in Hue at night, starving and dusty, we were welcomed by the owner of the Huenino hostel we stayed in that night. Wait, did I say hostel? It was better than hotel. Try to name one hotel where you were welcomed with cold towel, orange juice, hot soup and a cake upon your arrival and enter a spotlessly clean room with fragrant sheet. That night I had a short but memorable meeting with a couchsurfer, a sweet and by far the best English speaker I’ve encountered, Ngan (spelled ‘Ngeng’). She told me about her life, her work, Vietnamese war and what she dreams about to be. I could see Vietnam in her. She’s growing to be a cultivated English speaker, eager to welcome change and development and more tourists and although scarred by the war and at times uncertain to step forward, will find its way to be big.

We joined a half day tour to visit some of the tombs scattered around Hue. I hate to join this kind of tour but considering the limited time we have, few stops to incense stick stall ormartial art performance had to be accepted. Tomb of Minh Mang and Tomb of Khai Dinh are two of the best examples. If you have a limited time, do visit those two because all of the tombs are similar. Although they are called tombs no actually bodies of past emperors were buried there. The compound has lakes and leafy gardens to sit down and enjoy the view (which was clearly out of the questions for me at that time since the tour leader already waving his flag around). The renovation was partially done so it was nice to see the actual form before the flashy paint job covered it all.

Tomb of Khai Dinh was in fact quite recently made and therefore more “Europeanized” than the others. It was located on the top of a hill so it was quite a hike to go up. The Emperor was guarded in his after life by stone knights, ministers and general. The white stone used in the facade has grown black over time and serious restoration is needed but it retains some of the charm.

Before leaving for Hoi An, we managed to try the local cuisine. We tried bánh bēo, a canape of sticky rice, shredded shrimp and crunchy pork skin, eaten with a drop of fish sauce. A special mention need to be made for Vietnamese fish sauce. It was good, so good in fact, that I have adapted the Vietnamese habit of adding fish sauce in anything that I ate during my stay. I loved it so much I even took a bottle of home along with the instant pho, soy sauce and dry spring roll skin.

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