Our time in Hue was the subject of a lie, not a deliberate one or a nasty one but an untruth none the less. Let me explain; when I was booking our accommodation we got a great deal in a lovely new hotel. Only room they had left was the honeymoon suite so I booked it, thinking we could explain when we arrived that it was the only room left. It didn’t quite turn out like that… we had taken the overnight bus from Hanoi which was fine but not the best night’s sleep. We arrived early in the morning so headed straight for the hotel, hoping to be able to at least leave our bags. However when we got there they made a big fuss of us insisting that we have a free breakfast while they got our room ready. The reception area was staffed by a team of 4-5 girls one of whom came up to me and said ‘I remember your booking, you are on honeymoon!’ we did attempt to explain the situation but tiredness and the language barrier made it easier just to accept it! When we finally got to the room it was covered in rose petals, some artfully arranged on the bed in hearts, along with some ‘Just married’ balloons. After that there was no way we could shatter the illusion, so had to pretend for the next 3 days that we were indeed on honeymoon, after 23 years of marriage that is quite an undertaking!
The highlight of our time in Hue, apart from the hotel, was undoubtedly the tour we did of the DMZ on the back of motorbikes in the pouring rain. It became quite surreal at times as we traversed the countryside either on little more than farmtracks or on the one motorway that runs the length of Vietnam. The history of the war is so recent that many of the artefacts are commonplace and not really preserved in any particular way. We started at one of the many war cemeteries, the dates on the headstones all the more chilling as they came within our lifetimes, unlike those of WW2 cemeteries which are more common to us. We stopped at the shell of a church with the artillery marks clear on the walls, the bikes pulled in on the hard shoulder and we thought that maybe they needed a break but in a clearing about 2 meters from the road stood a rusting US tank. The war museum tried to give some history as to the cause of the war, most interesting was the comment of one of the guides. She said that Vietnam needed to decide for itself between socialism and capitalism. It would abide by a decision taken by its own people but not one enforced on them by others. Unfortunately at the time it wasn’t given that choice, however she also said that at the moment her family is split between the best way forward. The fact that they are able to discuss this so openly certainly surprised us.
Hue was also the capital of Vietnam for a time and because of this has a number of mausoleums as well as the citadel. The citadel was used up until early last century and the most recent mausoleum has a similar date. However there were also more ancient mausoleums set into the hillsides nearby. On our way to these we stopped off at a King-fu school, it seemed a bit incongruous but was fascinating. The usual breaking of tiles, blocks and such was impressive but even more so was the co-ordination and choreography of their fights involving various lethal weapons.
Hue was at turns bizarre, joyful and thought provoking. Certainly a place to return to some day!