Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Hue Streetscape

While Hue was calmer than Hanoi, its streetscape was just as colourful. Motorcycles were still the dominant vehicle but we felt safe crossing the streets.  We went on a walking tour of the town and came across many food stalls that were very similar to the ones in Hanoi but their food often had a Hue twist.  Hue is situated right beside the water so shrimp is easily available - just about everything we ate had shrimp in it.   We ate a meal at a family-run restaurant with only five items on the menu.  Read about our Hue food experience on Foodsparks.

Interesting mix - produce sold on curbside and housewares and clothing in the stores inside with what looked like different owners.
Exotic cow penises to order on a street stall - supposedly good for the same part of the human male
The dessert counter!
This is an antique street stall more than a century old and still in use!

A "modern" street stall

Snails galore 

I forgot to ask why the rolled dough was left on the cylinders

Lineup of dragon boats for tourists to cruise the Perfume River

The historic Hotel Saigon Morin from the turn of the century (1901) 

Rush hour on the Truong Tien bridge (another one built by Eiffel in 1899) - but look at the little kid clutching on for life!

It's an easy walk across the bridge to the market, except when you have a load on your shoulders
At the market - I like how neatly the lettuce was arranged

and the different fish portions

This is the place for bananas - they were very sweet

Random orchid on roadside tree
The Vietnamese seems to like travelling in their national costume

Colourful Vietnamese outfits for different ages 

Imperial City Hue

Just an hour by plane south of Hanoi, Hue seemed peaceful, quiet and organized after the bustle and havoc that was Hanoi.  Hue is famous as the home of the Vietnamese Imperial City from the time of the Emperor Gia Long, built in the early 1800's, modelled on the Forbidden CIty of China and even bore a similar name.  Many of the buildings were destroyed during the Tet offensive in the Vietnam War but a number are being restored.

Looking at the historical structures made us realize the close ties that Vietnam had with China, including the use of a modified set of Chinese characters in its written language, likely the result of it being under Chinese rule for a thousand years.  We were surprised that we could read everything that was written on the historical monuments, including the stelae identifying the national scholars, who had to go through a system of exams very similar to the ones in imperial China.   And of course, many of the symbolism used in the food and culture had Chinese origins. 

I am writing this during an unsettling time in Vietnam when centuries old animosities towards the Chinese were bubbling to the top.  I am relieved that we visited Vietnam when we did, before the attacks on the Chinese took place but saddened by the situation - it would have been so much more productive otherwise.

Thien Mu Pagoda built in 1601 dedicated to the "Celestial Mother"

Bronze bell cast in 1710 weighing over 3000 kg could be heard 10 km away

Lovely lily pond on the grounds

Burial stupa in the garden of pine trees

The temple had extensive patronage from the dynastic rulers

The Citadel of the Imperial CIty, surrounded by a wall and moat

The Noon Gate under restoration - one of ten gates into the Citadel, it was also the one where important announcements were made

Thai Hoa Thien, Palace of Supreme Harmony, was used for important ceremonies and meetings.   The roof was crowned with nine dragons.  It was also known as the Throne Palace and this could be seen in the elaborate interior, supported by red pillars decorated with gilded dragons, the symbol of the emperor.

A side gate to the Hiem Lam Pavillion and the Temple Hung Mieu

Temple Hung Mieu built in honour of the parents of the emperor.

Hien Lam Pavillion, across from the temple, built in 1824 in honour of all those had contributed to the Nguyen Dynasty.  There are nine bronze dynastic urns in front of the Pavillion, each dedicated to an emperor, symbolizing his qualities.

The ornate entrance gate to the Hiem Lam Pavillion

Inside the Hiem Lam Pavillion

Long corridors of lacquered wood displayed achievements of centuries of academic awards based on an old Chinese system 

On the outskirts of Hue, we visited the tomb of the emperor Khai Dinh, who became emperor in 1916.  Construction of the elaborate tomb began before his death in 1925 and was completed in 1931.  
The gate to the Khai Dinh Tomb

A second set of steps to climb before what appeared to be the mausoleum but which in fact was not

Stele monument 

Stone bodyguards

Carved dragons on pillars

Khai Tanh Palace - where the actual grave of the emperor was located

Chinese porcelain decorations inside the palace with Japanese bottled glass trims

Statue of Emperor Khai Dinh cast in Marseilles

Roof decoration

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Enchanting Halong Bay

Halong Bay, about 4 hours east of Hanoi, was the high point of our 6 week trip in terms of scenery.  It's the kind of scenery that always made me wish I could paint as it was so hard to capture the essence on camera.   It was foggy and hazy when we arrived in the early afternoon, after a bumpy ride on a highway under construction.  I was worried that it would stay that way, making it almost impossible to take a good picture as even the foreground was barely visible.  We were lucky that by mid-afternoon, the sun broke through and there was a combination of light and haze that allowed us to take some decent shots.  It lasted a few hours and that was it for the rest of our cruise, including the following morning.  While it was magical to watch the rock formations through the fog, we were glad we got our pictures in that window of a few hours.  You could see the results below.  The first photo was taken when we first arrive, it was impossible to capture both foreground and background in the haze.  Interesting as the fishing boat was, one couldn't place it in Halong Bay without capturing the background.

The haze slowly lifting...
These two rocks look like cocks fighting

Small fishing boat with nets and floating markers
A small floating fishing village
A small temple built into the rock face across from the fishing village

Eagle like rock formation as we approached the limestone cavern

There was a moment of sun before we entered the cavern, by the time we came out, it was gone.  This was a view from the cave exit.

The walls and ceiling of the limestone cavern were quite spectacular

The people on the path provide an indication of the huge size of this cavern

A floating shop just outside the cave

The many caves in the area are great for kayaking

Fishing boat on its way home

We cruised around the bay and then anchored in a sheltered cove together with other cruise boats for the night.

In the morning, it was like a Chinese brush painting...