Saturday, August 20, 2011

Lost in Hue

By Fiz
Photos by: Kathleen Ahamed-Broadhurst

Hue is a relatively young city sprung up in the country side of central Vietnam.  The monuments don't date back much farther than the early 1800's, though due to World War II and the Vietnam War the ruins look more like they were from the 16th century if they are standing at all, despite the best efforts of the large scale renovations taking place.

There are two real claims to fame in Hue that live up tho their reputation. The first is the Forbidden Purple City, which lies directly across the Perfume River from downtown, and the Tomb of the self-critical Emperor Tu Duc.  Another big draw is the food, because the members of the Imperial family had a bad habit of being picky eaters.  Every few years the royal cooks were forced to come up with innovative dishes to appease the members of the court.  They mostly took very simple meals from the surrounding country side and tailored them to the specific palates.  I must admit though, I was unimpressed.

Now there are probably over a hundred ruins around Hue, and many are worth seeing, many are not. Most aren't even on the tourist map, neither are most of the roads, actually.  we didn't know this upon arrival, or after we had taken a good long gander at the map, which wasn't in english.  In fact, the only time the map really was useful was when we were lost.  Not for the reasons one might suspect.

We set out for Emperor Tu Duc's  Tomb on a scooter we rented from our guest house, our map , and not very much water.  We naively assumed the map would be accurate, and that all the streets would have signs.  Within minutes it should have been apparent to us that neither was the case, but no, it didn't even occur to us.  Nothing seemed slightly amiss, even when the the roads narrowed and turned to dirt, even when we started getting queer looks from the locals in front of the few cafes and 'shops', even when we drove past this absurdly loud concrete monstrosity of a building right out of 1984.
It wasn’t until we were asked where we were trying to go by a guy on a motorbike driving his kid home from school that we realized that we had driven right by the left hand turn we were looking for, we didn’t know yet how far passed it we had come either.

So turn around we did and took what we thought to be the appropriate road.  It wasn’t. It went from asphalt to gravel, then got steadily narrower, and finally became a path of sand wide enough for two scooter to squeeze past one another.  At this point the flowering trees on both sides of the road gave way to soybean fields for miles in either direction.

We had to sop for a bit to take it all in.  beyond the fields were jungles, and beyond those were the mountains of Northern Vietnam, and to the west the mountains of Laos could be seen towering over the hills of Vietnam.

Still thinking we were aimed in the right direction we pressed onwards.  What we had taken to be wild growth turned out to be cultivated banana trees and other fruit bearing trees we never had even heard of before, or seen since.

Houses began to appear on the side of the road before too long, which we took to be a good sing, because the map said, from what we could decipher, to turn left at he village.

So we did.  The houses grew closer together and better kept till, out of nowhere a temple sprung up on the right.  We knew it wasn’t Tu Duc’s Tomb because according to the map the Tomb was on the left.

We had hardly slowed down before people came streaming out inviting us inside.  Curious we hopped off the scooter and allowed ourselves to be shown around by beaming men and women, children and grandparents.  Then sat us down after allowing us a moment to pay our respects to the temple deity (which I think surprised them).  And to our great surprise brought forth a meal with more courses and dishes than we had seen yet.

From the rice noodles in chicken foot soup to the crispy ginger noodle salad to the fresh mini bananas right off the tree, the meal was hands down the best yet.  Much to everyones dismay, ours as well, we had eaten lunch not 45 minutes before.  Still we ate a polite portion of each dish as everyone stood around us with huge toothy grins.

While we were eating one of he only people who spoke English was found and we got to ask some questions about the temple, and through him we got asked some questions ourselves.

Strangely enough it was only after Kathleen brought out her camera that there was any trace of shyness.  Pictures were taken and we showed them our map, this is where it came it handy.  After some deliberation it was decided that we were some three inches off the left hand side of the map, they couldn’t figure out anything more.

So off we set, backtracking to the main roads.  At this point we gave up on the map and after asking directions a couple more times we arrived at our destination two hours after we set out.

Knowing the area quite will at that point, when we decided to return home, it took us a measly 15 minutes.

Sometimes you have to get lost to find the most beautiful things in life.

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