Motorbiking . . .

10 May

A nice short trip from Hoi An to Hue this morning..well, that makes a change!

A few years back, when I was running a conference in France, we finished a bit early – so I decided to find out how much of Paris you can see in four hours. Quite a lot, as it happens.. leaving enough time over to realise that Charles de Gaulle station is not at Charles de Gaulle airport.

So, when I rocked up in Hue, the same challenge was on. How much can you see between the bus arriving at 11:30 and it departure at 5pm? Well, if you have the services of a cheerful but slightly bonkers moto driver… quite a lot.

So, first stop is the Citadel. Hue is a walled town, and right in the middle is the Citadel, Kinh Tahn, built in 1805 or so, for the Emperor Gila Long.

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Although a lot of the buildings were destroyed in 1947, it seems that the ones that remain have a grave serenity to them. Chinese design palace buildings and theatres vie for my attention with dragons and guardians. The moat adds an extra dimension, and ceramic roof decoration, red painted wood and pottery decoration are everywhere. I wonder what it would have been like when it was in its heyday – perhaps a bustling palace – a hive of activity, with oases of calm amongst the frantic activity. It’s full of details.. beautiful bonsai trees, fercious dragons, inexplicable topiary turtles…

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You can see how complex it all was from the reconstruction.

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On to the bike and off to the iconic Thien Mu pagoda. Set in a beautiful garden on top of a hill overlooking the Song Huong river, the peace is disturbed, but only very slightly, when every few minutes a monk strikes the singing bowl. The outbuildings hide their own secrets – a bell in one, an inscribed tablet in another, a turtle carrying a slate in another.

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And then off to the final stop – after the obligatory stop for me to buy souvenirs and dinner, and the driver to get his finder’s fee – it’s all OK and just part of the game. Here I am at the tomb of Tu Doc. It’s a huge complex, where the emperor used to relax on a lake created by diverting a small stream (very Capability Green) with fir trees and frangipani softening the landscape. The emperor, the empress and their son are buried here, with each of the tombs seeming to whisper secrets, somehow. It’s a wonderfully peaceful place, and I could have spent several hours just watching people come and go, and soaking up what feels like a wonderful deep and soulful peace.

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Chay has found something to protect my paintings, and we’re off again after a couple of beers (should I really be buying alcohol for my driver?). By going direct to the bus depot I get a good seat on the bus (quite a good plan, as the bus is overbooked – and you can’t add more seats to a sleeping bus by simply putting chairs on the floor).

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I devour the crazy sweet sesame treats I bought at the tomb.. like sesame seeds wrapped round chewy Turkish Delight. This is a much better bus, probably only a few months old, with seats that work – and a toilet that works too, even if I do wish I was a little bit further away from it. 12 hours overnight to Hanoi… and time for more adventures at the embassy.

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