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Wednesday, October 23: Day 184 – Huế Cool!

Huế is pronounced Way and is a fun city to explore especially by motorbike. Today we are a convoy of motorbikes taking a city tour.

We are passengers (thankfully) and here is my driver.

When taxi cab drivers started to lose jobs, local tour companies hired drivers to give motorcycle guided village tours.

Here was my view. I wrapped my arms around him and shot pictures from his chest. One can see me in the rearview mirror.

It was so much fun that we downloaded the Grab App so that we can find a driver to take us. Grab is the motorbike version of Uber, although you can get a taxi this way as well.

The old culture was in Huế, and the Citadel is the home of the last monarchy and its royal lifestyle.

People in Huế were influenced by royal lifestyle and costume. The conical hat plus long tunic came from royal influence. Huế is now a center of education (10 universities) and festivals and a capital of Buddhism.

Phoung, our local guide, has a name that is popular for boys AND girls. He was born in 1976. He remembers going one month when his mother was not there to fix him breakfast since she was out in the fields.

Vietnam is a young country with the average age of 31. Old people are mostly ladies because of war.

Gustave Eiffel built bridges in Huế and Hanoi, but bridges are always the first to go in a war and were destroyed. In 1990 they started to repair the Citadel which had been destroyed by war.

The Citadel has three layers and is in the middle of the city.

With 1,864 miles of coastline, Huế is a strategic location and has the best feng shui. The Citadel looks to the south with water in front for fresh air and mountains behind for protection (from China…last capital was too exposed.)

Ninety-nine percent of Vietnamese are superstitious. When a structure is designed, fortune tellers, architects, and magic men are consulted. Everything is considered – neighbors, head of bed, etc.

Vietnam was two countries. It was here in Huế, Vietnam’s narrowest point, that the DMZ was established.

Forbidden Purple City or Imperial Palace was built with materials brought here by horse, elephant or boat. Beijing is model for the Imperial Palace. All the people worked to complete it. The Citadel wall is a zigzag and encompasses almost 1,300 acres.


The French used the scorched earth method which destroyed 60% of the Citadel. No one took care of the Citadel after the French left in 1954. Three thousand Americans set up base here as it was well fortified. It is very hot, and there are many pictures of soldiers and fans.

Tet is a holiday that occurs 10 days before the Vietnamese New Year. The North Vietnamese planned a Tet Offensive which was during the Year of the Monkey. Americans did not think the Vietnamese would fight during the holiday and were not mentally prepared. In 1968 it was the longest and bloodiest battle in Vietnam.
Huế locals ran away, yet 15,000 were killed along the way. Napalm bombs and long range artillery were used by America. Bombs burn and are easy and quick. Airplanes carrying bombs could not land with their payload so bombs were dropped in Laos before the planes landed.

There were three months of nonstop fighting. Mortars and grenades were used on the doors. Bullet holes remain.

The American M16 didn’t work well in this humid, rainy, dusty environment. Many soldiers were killed by gun cleaning. The Russian AK-47 would work in the mud and rain.

We saw the remnants of a Claymore mine. It has 100 holes and was the color of grass so it was difficult to see. At the high ranking mandarins gate, a large hole was made for the tanks to come through.

Much of The Citadel was reconstructed with past knowledge from parents. Blue marble had been dragged 110 miles by elephants. No building could be built higher than the 44-foot Imperial Palace.

The last king of Vietnam lived and died in France. He is buried in Paris. He had two princes and three princesses. The sons did not have children. One has died and the other one is still living at 80. No more monarchy.

The last dynasty in Vietnam was Nguyen with 13 kings from 1802-1945.

The last king abdicated because he wanted to live in a free country and not an occupied or country at war. This paraphrase is a very historic comment which served to mold the mind of Ho Chi Minh.

Ho Chi Minh asked his friend if he wanted to go overseas.


“To rescue the country.”

“We have no money.”

“Money is in your hand…you can work.”

He spent 30 years in 28 countries. When leading North Vietnam, it took him four years to establish the new government based on what he had witnessed in other countries.

The dragon faces the king. It is disrespectful to show your backside to the king.

The king meets with his mandarins two times per month. There are military mandarins and document mandarins. The ones who excel are called super mandarins.

Columns in the emperor’s Throne Room were made of ironwood. It is strong like iron, heavy like steel but it still can be attacked by termites. (Neither bamboo nor eucalyptus are affected by termites.)

The ironwood must be soaked for two years, then dried for 1½ years. Next, they are painted with 12 layers of lacquer with each layer taking three months to dry. The columns are placed on a marble base. This is done during the winter months since that is when the water table is the lowest.

Another famous picture from the Vietnam war shows soldiers in the Throne Room. This was very disrespectful to the Vietnamese people. It was rebuilt based on prewar pictures of the Citadel sent back to Vietnam.

Now The Citadel is an International property since it is funded by UNESCO.

The Meditation Garden was 100% destroyed, but it is now completely restored. The color and type of fabric demonstrates social ranking.

Paper from the Emperor’s library was strewn about in the street and was collected and used to package tea.

This beautifully restored room features paintings on glass that are painted from the back.

We went to the Buddhism Pagoda built in 1601. In the garden we saw a lychee tree. This was only to be consumed by royal women. If one eats five per day, one will have skin like a new baby.

There are 60 Buddhist monks aging from 4 to 75 years old. Sometimes orphans or children with hard or poor lives come to grow up here. Some parents sent their children from Hanoi.

Two parents took their one-year-old child to the temple. He cried and did not want to go back home. After he returned home, he never ate meat again. He was only happy at the temple.

Our local guide has two nieces who are Buddhist nuns. They came to live as nuns at 10 years old. They are now 40.

Buddhists will pay for education. Some will come to live as a monk if they have a broken heart or are old or want to live in peace. They seek enlightenment and a chance to put a situation behind them. Monks in Vietnam are not required to stay to end of life. They are able to leave at any time and return at any time.

We ate a delicious vegetarian lunch in the temple prepared by 23 nuns. They are not allowed to work so this is a way for the woman to make money.

The Most Venerable Thich Quang Duc went from An Quang Pagoda to the intersection of Phan Dinh Phùng Street and Lê Văn Duyệt Street on June 11, 1963, in Saigon.

As soon as he got out of the car
The Most Venerable sat down in the
lotus position and burnt himself to
death to protest against the Ngo
Dinh Diem regime policies of
discriminating against Buddhists
and violating religious freedom.

He sacrificed himself by lighting himself on fire in Saigon in protest of the persecution of Buddhists by the Vietnamese leader who was Roman Catholic. Diem would take the guillotine to rural villages to intimidate the people. He wanted to eliminate Buddhism and make everyone Roman Catholic. No one can or should force another to believe something.

On June 11, 1963, Malcolm Browne took a photo that was seen around the world. The monk was very calm and poured aviation fuel on his head. He burned for ten minutes during deep meditation. All that remained was a piece of coal. When they broke it open, his heart was inside. It is preserved in a temple in Saigon.

Buddhist monks were onlookers, but they did not try to stop it as they knew what he was going to do. Twenty four others followed his example.

He became a monk at 7 years old and died at 66 years old.

Sala fruit is unusual as it comes from the branches. It is sometimes called the Buddha tree. The fruit is not edible, but the flower has great aroma.

Dali lama says (paraphrased), “Things you like, do it for people. If you don’t like, don’t do it. Do this and you will sleep well.” Sounds like the Golden Rule and good advice.

We hear gongs from the temple. They are not associated with time, but signal prayers have been offered. It is like pushing the send button!!

Happy Buddha is on display here. Material goods make people fight. The bracelet is for meditation. He has long ears which represent long life. And a round belly for good food. If you give, you will receive. Respect for parents. If one is good to parents, this is an indication that they are a good person.

Anyone can become Buddha, the enlightened one. There are seven levels. A monk wears the orange color robe indicating high rank and in service.

They don’t eat onion or garlic because those stimulate sexual feelings.

The Royal Tomb was built before the Emperor’s death as he wanted to see where he would be buried. It took eleven years from 1920-1931, the longest to build AND the most expensive. In fact, they ran out of money and decided to impose a 30% tax.

The style is Indian Gothic and the marble was shipped from France.

Khi Dinh King lived from 1885-1925. A sacred tunnel was made to carry the king. It was an honor to the carrier and his family, but he was killed so the location would remain a secret. Out of respect, people don’t look for secret tombs.

Here is Rob with his new friends!!

In 1849, this arena was built for the royal family only.

They would watch a fight between an elephant and a tiger. The elephant must win so the contest was rigged. The tiger’s claws and teeth were cut, and he was not fed for 5 days prior to the fight. This sad spectacle was last performed in 1904.

This gecko doesn’t seem too scared of being in the mouth of the fish.

We continued our ride to the highest point in Hué. This was a strategic point in the war to monitor and control the air space. We saw several American bunkers with tunnels between them. The Perfume River was below, and there were many American ships.

Perfume River is due to the aroma of the plumeria that used flower there. The blossoms would open when the boats passed by. They no longer grow there due to flood, war, and tides.

The French were here in 1947 and the Americans in 1965. In 1968 battles destroyed all of the trees so one sees new forest that has been planted.

We met a friendly young fellow and I taught him the secret handshake.

We stopped at a colorful incense factory.

and I got the chance to make incense.

Watch this one-minute video to ride through the narrow streets of Hue

to have tea with a woman who makes conical hats. It takes her four hours to make one, BUT she only has one arm due to the war!!

She even has her own personalization. It is newsprint between the two bamboo layers.

I bought one ($3) because we are going to be in Southeast Asia for three months. It provides ample shade so that sunscreen is not needed.

In 1776 this covered bridge was erected. Here is Phoung posing for me.

It was originally for homeless people…I guess that is us!!

We also saw flood markers along the water. Phoung remembers a flood and was unsure about his parents for several days. Natural disasters are worldwide.

We visit a rice museum as we keep learning more about this important crop.

There are ten kinds of rice. Brown rice is grown in brackish water. The leftover straw is used for burning.

The rice is dried for three days and is turned every 15 minutes. One sees more old people working in fields. The young have other careers. However, if they are not working, they must return for the rice harvest.

As a young boy Phoung remembers his father saying that he must come immediately when his father called him. Phoung’s responsibility was to hold the water buffalo poop basket at the key moment. The buffalo walks on the harvested rice to release it from the stalk. When the tail comes up, he catches the poop.

It is a crappy job but someone has to do it!!