Thursday, 24 March 2011

The Imperial Citadel

Thursday 24th March 2011

MP3 track of the day: Raindrops keep falling on my head – Burt Bacharach

Weather: Temperature gooood. Rain baaaad.


Casting my mind back to other dorms I've stayed in, I cannot think of another bed that has been so comfortable. Looking at the 8am weather it was overcast and drizzling. It took a lot of effort to eventually prize myself from my covers. I went downstairs for the usual 'bread roll with butter' free breakfast before heading out into the city. It had stopped raining, however the clouds above threatened a downpour at any given moment. I stopped by the riverside park – taking a couple of photos of the public art – before heading across two bridges and towards the ancient citadel of Hue.

Just before I'd made it to the front gate the rain started to pour. I decided that, given the weather for the next five days is forecast to rain continually, I would just have to get on with it. It wasn't the rain, or the cold, that bothered me, it was the fact that the sky was a bright white colour making any photos, which included elements of the sky, rubbish. Ngo Mon Gate, the main and best preserved gate within the Imperial city, is the only tourist entrance. The gate had five entrances; back in the day the middle one was used by the emperor, the two either side for civil and military mandarins and the final two for the royal elephants and subjects. As I walked through one of the giant stone archways I paid the 55,000 Dong entrance fee (almost £2.00). Making a sharp left I followed the notice boards, which directed me up a set of stone steps, leading above the gate. The red, wooden pavilion on top had a very Chinese feel; it had nine roofs which, is said, resembles five birds in flight. Once I had battled my way through numerous tour groups I made it to the center of the pavilion looking south towards the city of Hue. Just encase anyone had forgotten what country they were in – which wasn't hard considering the whole area felt very oriental – there was a huge Vietnam flag lying from a stone fortress. As I looked to my left, and right, I noticed that the red pavilion has two small wings, both looking down onto the five entrances. I spent little time up here due to the huge amount of tour groups. I left rather quickly and headed, not north towards the main temple, but east. I soon found myself alone.

With the removal of tour groups the eastern side of the citadel seemed rather pleasant. The only problem was that, due to the rain, the tiled red walkway was incredibility slippy. My rate of progress slowed. I hit the eastern wall of the citadel and so I headed north. After a few cautious steps I found two beautiful gates. The first, an inner gate, had its wooden doors shut. The majority of the gate was red, however the colour had faded and evidence of conflict was ever present. The second gate, an outer gate, was located a little further up on the right. Hien Nhon Gate was it's name and it was an impressive, three door, golden yellow gate with three smaller windows located directly above. The art work, on the gate, could be seen however it was a little faded in places.

Continuing north I found an ancient garden. In 1883 the emperor would leisurely walk around the garden consisting of large ponds, Chinese semi-circled bridges and beautiful trees. Now you could hardly see this former beauty as the area was in urgent need of repair. At this point, due to the north path becoming a dirt track, I headed west and I found myself at, what I thought, was a temple. I went through the gate and made my way to the red wooden building in front of me. As I made my way up the stone steps I took my hat off, glad to be out of the rain. I could hear music being played within, but I couldn't see what was happening. The main doors were shut, however a lady pointed to a side door and I went through. This building wasn't a temple but in fact a concert hall. I had walked into the middle of a concert with around twenty Vietnamese dancers performing a traditional dance. The dancers had glass-coloured flowers, with candles in the middle, in each hand. I took a seat on the back row and watched this beautifully choreographed dance routine take place. Either it wasn't very long, or I had come in towards the end, however after ten minutes the main doors opened and I was allowed to exit. For the first time no money was asked which made a pleasant change.

I went back down the stone steps, putting my hat back on as I went, and back through the gate. I continued my walk north until I hit the northern wall. Again a bright yellow outer-gate could be seen. I headed west and past said gate. I was now at the northern central part of the citadel. My plan was to continue to the western wall to complete a loop before investigating the middle, more touristy, sections. As I walked I looked through two gates to my left which is when I saw the royal pavilion. I went through one of the gates, which had seen better days, to be confronted by a large field with two red pavilions. I looked around these pavilions, plus water gardens, before heading back out the way I had come.

I couldn't make it all the way to the western wall due to a water garden being in the way. I finally started to head south and looked through a gate to the right of me. The gate was the familiar golden yellow colour with three doorways. I went through and found a very beautiful garden. From a birds-eye view you would see a squared moat; within the center stood the main temple. The usual Chinese curved bridges were located at three points of the moat. The edges of the moat slopped inwards with stones on all banks. The building wasn't that different to the others, the usual Chinese style building, but with the moat and the white bridges (plus trees) it looked very beautiful. I was surprised that, so far, I hadn't bumped into any other tourists since the main gate … not one. Sure the weather was bad but I knew there were tourists within these four walls and I wondered if tour groups ventured this far north.

Finally I bumped back into the tour groups … which was rather annoying. I was lining up a photo of the eastern outer-gate when, without warning, a huge tour group of old people came bumbling around the corner and stood right in the way. I stood there and waited, and waited until the 'over 80's tour group' waddled past me. I made it back to the southern wall where, before visiting the main temple, I went through another golden yellow gate and had a look around a beautiful, two building temple, with a stone courtyard in the middle.

The time was now midday and I found myself with my back against the main gate. Looking north I could see 'Thai Hoa Palace'. I crossed a beautiful white bridge and made my way in. For the first time since entering the citadel my ticket had to be checked. I got my wallet out and handed my ticket over to the ticket officer. It took the officer a fairly long time to clear me; probably due to the fact that I had purchased my ticket three hours ago and so, many numbered tickets superseding mine had already come through. Eventually the guard let me go and I found myself within a huge, mainly empty, wooden room. With not much to see I made my way to the back of the temple where a DvD presentation, on how the city who have looked, was playing. I watched the DvD twice; firstly to concentrate on the English subtitles and then to focus on the CGI'd images. The Imperial City of Hue would have looked very impressive in it's day and, if I had a TARDIS, this would certainly be on my 'wish list' of destinations.

It had taken me four hours but finally I had seen the Imperial City of Hue. For me, I would say that this citadel was just as interesting as the temples of Angkor and its a crime that the French, and American, armed forces destroyed 80% of the complex. When I was in Hiroshima, it was documented that the Americans decided not to drop the atom bomb on Kyoto due to 'important historical buildings'. Why the same rule didn't apply here I do not know.

I headed out for something to eat before making my way back into the main part of the citadel. As the time was 2:30pm I had a couple of hours to wander the streets. I went this way and that and found streets that were for tourists, and ones that weren't. The buildings were the standard mix of South East Asian sheds and concrete structures. The rain was still coming down, but I was still able to smile and say hello to a few locals. My feet were wet – I think I have holes in my shoes – and so I decided to head for my hostel. Once there I booked onto a tour, to the old Vietnam War de-militarized zone (DMZ), for tomorrow.

I got changed, put my socks up to dry, before having something to eat and finally going to sleep. My tour tomorrow starts at 6am and so I need an early night.

Toodle Pip!

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