Hue Hunger Games – April 18, 2008

Ngo Mon Gate – where Emperor Bao Dai abdicated to a Ho Chi Minh delegation in 1945

The ancient capital of Viet Nam is a fascinating place. The citadel is actually three nested citadels: imposing grey walls protected by a moat, a second citadel whose entrance is shown above, and a third “citadel” called the Forbidden Purple City, territory that excluded all except the emperor, his family and inner coterie. The top photo is the Ngo Mon, or Noontime, gate to the second citadel, the central door being reserved for the emperor himself.

Inside the To Mieu Temple complex honouring the Nguyen Dynasty there are nine urns dedicated to the nine Nguyen emperors, the largest being dedicated to Nguyen Anh (Emperor Gia Long), founder of the Nguyen Dynasty in 1802 A.D.

The nine dynastic urns; and below the gorgeous  gate to To Mieu complex, its detail and, last, the long, low To Mieu Temple:



To Mieu Temple




Thanks to B52 bombing during the Vietnam War (Vietnamese call it the American War) there was nothing much left of the Forbidden Purple City, but some sort of restoration had begun back in 2008 when we were there. We were instructed by signs not to venture off the approved path for our own safety. Below, the Forbidden Purple City ruin:



And a few more photos of the Citadel:




 We  arrived in Hue in the dark on April 17, after taking an afternoon flight from Saigon to Da Nang and driving a short distance north to Hue. We ate by Hue’s Perfume River in a floating restaurant and Anita was disappointed to learn, on our fourth night in Viet Nam, that “rice fried chicken” is not the same as “chicken fried rice.”


The Hue bridge over the Perfume River captured from our table


Our April 18 Hunger Games:

Hue is not a large city, but it is complicated enough to be no fun navigating in the dark if you are dropped off by a cyclo driver somewhere other than where you instructed him to take you. Here’s that story:

Anytime we left our hotel (the Thai Binh II on Hung Vuong Street) there were cyclo drivers waiting to take people where they wanted to go in the city. After a very busy April 18 we wanted to try supper at a Japanese Restaurant famous in Lonely Planet for its owner’s wonderful work with hundreds of Vietnamese street children and well-liked for its food and its service. Though it was a fairly short walk away (260 metres) I thought it might be generous to use one of these sad-looking, solicitous fellows to take us there. I wrote down the address in modern Vietnamese characters and showed it to him. We got in the cyclo and off we went. He took ages to find the street (it seemed like 45 minutes) and when he did we got off as soon as we could and started to walk toward the address. Every junction we came to seemed to have 4 or 5 options to continue on the street. So we would pick the most likely one and cross the square to it and then I would brave the motorbikes to cross the street to make sure we had guessed right. Most of the time we hadn’t. Often I had forgotten the name on the street sign by the time I re-crossed the river of motorbikes.

Someone borrowed my pen to draw a map for us and I left it accidentally with her.

Then my flashlight packed it in.

I didn’t have a travel cell phone or a wifi device in 2008, so we were dependent on our Lonely Planet guidebook, instinct, intuition and local maps when not with a local English-speaking driver. Google maps now shows me the walk would have been really short from our hotel. We were getting hungry and Anita feels ill if she goes too long without eating protein. When we eventually found the address (our driver had dropped us off much farther from the restaurant than we would have had to walk) the restaurant had closed!

So now, without flashlight or pen or protein, we tried to figure out how to get back to our hotel and the place where we ate the night before. We didn’t agree and, hungry and tired, we began to argue about which way to go. And, once a minute since we had left our useless cyclo driver, we were were solicited by other cyclo drivers. At this point I was feeling quite murderous…

Finally Anita announced, righteously, that she was going back to the hotel by herself. I know in my bones that she could have done it. So I said:

Fine! You go back to the hotel. I’ll kill something and bring it for you to eat.

Then the gods smiled on us. They sent us two saviours who had witnessed our embarrassing interchange. They were Kim and Sandra from Sydney, Aus. Kim told us exactly how to get back to our hotel and where to eat right near it. It was 5 or 10 minutes walk. We exchanged addresses and agreed to meet in Hoi An – the city we would all be in on the 19th and 20th. We are still good friends and hope to see them in our town in Ontario again this summer.

Other Places We Went on April 18:

Now, here is a summary of where we went in Hue on that fateful April with Sang, our wonderful driver:

  1. Tu Duc’s tomb
  2. Minh Mang’s tomb
  3. Nam Giao Temple
  4. Lunch at Y Thao Garden – Imperial Cuisine
  5. Thien Mu Pagoda
  6. Hue Citadel

Tomb of Tu Duc, the longest reigning Nguyen Dynasty Emperor:





Tomb of Minh Mang:




Nam Giao Temple was once the most sacred in the country. Here the Emperor would offer elaborate, sacrificial homage to Thuong De. Now it is neglected but very peaceful:




Imperial cuisine at the Y Thao Garden:




Thien Mu Pagoda – the most sacred place, 3 km from Hue – honours 7 buddhas:




Small wonder we were tired that evening. Poor decision I made. We had only 260 m to walk. We would have learned quickly that the Jass Man’s Japanese restaurant had closed down and gone to the river for more “rice fried chicken.” But then we would never have met Sandra and Kim from Sydney…


War On… II

War On...

This is an experiment in combining a short poem, such as a haiku, with a photo. In the past I have separated the photo from the poem as I originally did with this haiku. A fellow blogger, with great generosity of spirit, liked the poem and suggested that I do it this way, even showing me what she meant. This change gave it a format that her site could easily use to reblog the piece to her followers. JoAnn’s helpful comments (the early, public ones) are here on the original post. I encourage you to see the great work that her site,, is doing to increase public awareness of where the powerful would like to put us.

Hoi An

Hoi An, in central Viet Nam, was a centre of the Hindu Cham civilization between the 4th and 14th centuries C.E. Linguistic evidence indicates that the Cham came from Indonesia.

My Son was the spiritual Cham centre. We took a taxi before dawn from our hotel to the site, and had it basically to ourselves. My Son suffered much bombing damage during, as the Vietnamese call it, The American War.

The city itself is wonderful: very old and very welcoming. The riverside is picturesque and very busy. We were here for the monthly full moon celebration. At night, at every full moon,  small boys sell paper boats with small candles to people, who then place them on the water.  When I took out my money to buy a couple, we were surrounded so fast by flaming boats that I feared we would burn to death.

It is a very picturesque tradition, worth risking your life for… The buildings are beautifully illuminated with colourful lanterns.

Savouring, or “Drinking In”,The Mekong

Not too private, but comfy enough

Our 2008 visit to the Mekong Delta included two days of touring the area in a small boat operated by a man and his wife. We had a personal guide with us for both days. Our home stay on An Binh Island required crossing a narrow, bamboo bridge over a canal to get to bedroom number two of four (see above). We used the mosquito net in case, but the night was not buggy at all.

Negotiating the bridge after drinking rice wine shots with our host occurred without mishap. “Mot, hai, ba…YO!” means “One, two, three… CHEERS!” How could I forget that?

Anita, under Dao’s tutelage, wrapping rice paper spring rolls before supper.

The rice paper spring rolls at our home stay on An Binh were the absolute best we’ve ever tasted. Dao, our guide, taught us how to wrap them. She later left us, as she lived on the island, and brought motorbikes (and drivers, and helmets) the next morning to take us to our boat.

I booked the two day Mekong trip (including this home stay) from Canada via email with Cuu Long Tourist. The staff there are wonderful. We paid for nothing until we arrived, and were very graciously received, at their office in Vinh Long. Though our driver from Saigon (pre-arranged with Cuu Long) spoke little English, we were in easy contact with Cuu Long staff via his cell phone and visited three places we wanted to see along the way.

Colourful boats at Cai Be floating market – Mekong Delta