30 days seems like such a long time, heck so does 90, but more and more we are starting to feel as if we are going to run out of time to see everything that we want to see in Southeast Asia. At home, a whole month could drag across what seemed an eternity as each day brought monotony. While traveling, each day has been a new adventure. Perhaps it’s a new town to check out or maybe a new restaurant we have been reading about. Either way the theme is new, each experience uniquely a first. Time has literally sped up around us! The start of this feeling happened after we left the south part of Vietnam, and realized how BIG Vietnam is. From end to end, it is roughly the size of the south of California to the north of Washington state, the entire Pacific Coast. Leaving Da Nang with 9 days to go on our Visa in Vietnam we were starting to feel the time crunch. Something about booking a 20-hour bus ride from Da Nang to Hai Phong, followed by a ferry to Cat Ba, just felt terrible, so we started planning a route that included some cities along the path north that looked interesting. First stop, Hue.
Although we only had one day to spend in Hue, we got a sense of the in-between nature of the central Vietnamese, both unique, and the same as its Southern and Northern counterparts. The city of Hue offers some of the best food we had in Vietnam, also, free beer! An ancient Chinese citadel stands in the center of the city which happened to be the site of the longest and bloodiest battle of the Vietnam War.
We chose to walk around the city instead of paying for taxis or renting a motorbike as we arrived in the afternoon and would be leaving early in the morning. Walking through a nice city park on our way to the Citadel I think gave a good perspective on how huge the walls of the Citadel truly are. Entering through the outer walls, we walked over to pay our entry fee and enter the main Citadel, still in awe of the wide-open nature of the area.
From a tourist standpoint it seemed fairly priced to start but got steeper once we were inside. The entry fee of 150,000 dong (roughly $6) bucks per person was fine and got you into the Citadel, but each attraction within cost anywhere between 200,000 to 350,000 per person. We avoided these extra additions (i.e. a virtual reality tour of the Citadel rebuilt to its former glory and what sounded like a traditional Vietnamese dance show.) We were still able to enjoy it however using our own imagination and reading the signs which dated the items we were viewing. Oh, and prepare for a walk if you visit, the entire compound has a circumference of 10KM!!! Our feet were TIRED by the end of it!
The ancient architecture is fantastic, and we truly felt the weight of the history. This citadel was built by the Chinese as a central location for their imperial capital in Vietnam. During a 1,000-year period, Vietnam was occupied by the Chinese emperors, much of the history we viewed was from the Nguyen dynasties. From ancient urns to the long hallways where guests and vassals were greeted, we tried to imagine what the life of an imperial official would be like as they walked around the bustling castle.
Unfortunately, much of the Citadel had been completely destroyed in the Vietnam War. Late in the Vietnam war, a major offensive was launched by the Vietcong through southern and central Vietnam hitting over 230 locations simultaneously in the early hours of the morning, known as the Tet offensive. In the cover of night, the Citadel and city of Hue were taken by the Vietcong. The street by street battle taking back the Citadel and the city lasted 26 days resulting in over 200 American deaths and almost 10,000 Vietnamese including both the southern and northern forces. The scars remain to this day. Its easy to forget the war was truly not that long ago, and as we continue to explore the Southeast Asian region, we realize truly how war torn the area was a mere 40-50 years in the past.